My Car Is Toast!

In February, I told you about an ethical dilemma I was facing: my car needed an expensive repair to prevent it from polluting, but it was drivable. Therefore, I could ignore the issue indefinitely.

I decided to get a second opinion. The other shop confirmed I did need a new catalytic converter. They didn’t charge me for the inspection, either! So I called the dealership to schedule the job, and they ordered in the parts.

Meanwhile, on a few occasions, I thought I smelled coolant. In January, I had a pressure test on the coolant and there were no leaks found. Before getting the catalytic converter installed, I had the dealership check the engine. Lo and behold, the be-fouled spark plugs indicated that a head gasket job was needed. It takes 8 hours of labour to take the engine apart to diagnose it, followed by whatever parts and repairs are required.

To top it all off, it was probably the coolant leaking internally that ruined the catalytic converter in the first place!

I had already decided that if I needed to pay more than $2400 to keep my car afloat for another 2 years, I wouldn’t do it. So, much to my chagrin, I am now shopping for a new car. My Suzuki Aerio was bought new, was maintained properly, has 145,700 km on it (90,500 miles), and is only 7.5 years old. I honestly expected it to last 10 years.

I admit I did not give any serious thought to becoming a one-car family or taking public transit daily. I live in the suburbs and the bus schedule would make my work day unacceptably long. My spouse and I don’t always work the same hours, so we each take a car to work if necessary. I also use my car during the work day, to travel between various work locations. I expect we will continue with two cars unless one of us has a job change.

So! I have spent the past 2 days researching vehicles. Here are the factors I’m keeping in mind:


I can’t imagine buying a car from a manufacturer with a poor track record on safety, like Toyota, who consistently refused to act on critical safety defects that killed people. No manufacturer is perfect, but some are less criminal than others.

Size (in car lingo: cabin space)

With a household of two, I barely have to think about passenger space and rear seating. I wouldn’t go out and buy a roadster, but given how seldom I will have more than one passenger, I will not be putting a priority on their comfort. Sorry, Link! (our grown child who has moved away from home)

Size (cargo space)

I actually do haul a lot of stuff. I’m not a huge shopper, but I do replace and maintain things. I need a cargo space big enough to take my lawn mower in for servicing, or bring home a bookcase, or hold a few suitcases.

I am committed to buying another hatchback. The big flat area created by folding down the 60/40 rear seats is ideal for hauling just about everything. And, it is nice to just push stuff into the back through the hatch, rather than lifting it in and out of a trunk.


I currently have an all-wheel-drive subcompact and I have decided not to buy another AWD. Although we have up to 4 months a year of snow and ice, an AWD is a heavier vehicle and it continuously burns more fuel, even on dry pavement. This time around, I will just use snow tires, or even studded snow tires, if I have to. All 2012 cars have a mandatory Stability Control feature now, so that’s a plus.

Fuel Economy

I do almost all city driving – stopping and starting and idling in traffic. Fuel economy is high on my list of priorities. I just have to avoid a gutless car that won’t climb hills in winter. I am hoping to get a car rated around 8 L/100 km (29 mpg). My current car ranges from 10.5-13.5 L/ 100 km (17-22 mpg) – verified by me. Awful! rated it at 22 mpg city. So now I can visit that website and know their ratings match what I can get in a “best case scenario.”

Price versus Features

The base price listed on car websites is for a manual transmission and no options. Like 95% of North Americans, I will be driving a car with an automatic transmission. The latest thing is to pay extra for an upgraded auto trans with better fuel economy, like a CVT transmission. Call me a princess, but the features I can’t live without are air conditioning, power windows, power locks, and keyless entry. To get all of those, I will have to move up one or two levels of options packages.

Here’s an example: the base price of a Honda Fit is $14,580 CDN with manual transmission. Adding the auto trans and air conditioning package brings it up to $17,080. It then also comes with power windows. To add power locks and keyless entry, you have to buy another options package which brings it up to $18,180. With that, you get a spoiler, cruise control, heated side mirrors, and a hands-free Bluetooth phone feature, none of which I want. But do I want to own a new car for the next 7-12 years and need to put a key in the door lock every time I use it? NO!

And finally…The Frivolous Stuff

According to stereotype, men go for horsepower, sport handling and tech toys; while women go for colour, cuteness and kid-friendliness. Count me in for some of both! You can bet I have checked out the factory-installed stereo systems on every car I’m considering, and I know which ones I would junk and replace with an after-market stereo! However, maybe this is counter-balanced by not wanting a GPS or a DVD entertainment system. Being a stats freak, it would be awesome to have a trip computer that tracks your daily fuel economy, but I wouldn’t pay extra for it. Appearance-wise, I would like to avoid a plain, boxy car like a Hyundai Elantra Touring. There are some ultra-kawaii new cars on the market: the Hyundai Veloster and Nissan Juke are too cute for words! I could justify either of them with the gas mileage, but the cargo space is so small, I’d have to investigate if they are adequate for getting groceries.

I am hung up on colour. So subjective! My current car is silver. The one before that was red. My spouses’s car is red. I don’t want to have 2 red cars in our driveway (!) I don’t like black or white cars, and I find all the shades of grey rather dull for my tastes, besides being too close to the silver I have now. I am leaning toward another bright colour like blue, orange or green. I am concerned I might get tired of them in 2 years, but on the other hand, I don’t have to worry about resale value because I will be keeping the car until it dies.

I am looking forward to the test drive stage, and I’ll report back on what I buy!

Here are all the models I am considering (North American market) with their fuel ratings, along with the shocking prices after freight ($1495) and taxes (15%) are added and all manufacturer’s advertised deals are factored in:

  • Honda Fit LX (27 mpg) – $22,626
  • Kia Rio 5 LX+ (30 mpg) – $20,337
  • Mazda 2 GX (28 mpg) – $20,675
  • Mazda 3 GS CVT (28 mpg) – $26,571 (non-CVT is $4300 less and gets 22 mpg. The CVT version has no sales or incentives right now)
  • Nissan Versa SL CVT (28 mpg) – $20,396 (non-CVT is about same price because CVT model is on sale now – the non-CVT gets 24 mpg)

Unless I go for a cute one!

  • Nissan Juke SV (27 mpg) – $24,640
  • Hyundai Veloster Eco DCT (29 mpg) – $25,310

What do you think?

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  1. Zip Cars and public transit for when a personal car isn’t necessary. Zip Car stations all lver HRM

  2. Mel

    My fav is the Mazda 3 – in blue. However, we have been extremely happy with our Honda and Nissan vehicles and I could just as easily pick one of those. The test driving will really help to make your decision. Good luck!

  3. The Honda Fit has the best reviews out there, however I just bought a Ford Fiesta and just love it. Although it’s not huge inside for hauling stuff, the back seats does fold down and I managed to get four cases of wine, and upright vacuum cleaner and a few other things in there no problem one day. The Ford Focus is larger inside and does have good reviews.

    I managed to get $2,000 for my old Taurus, and ended up paying $20,400 for the Fiesta, and it has a/c, automatic, it has the hands free cell phone thingy (I am one of the woman who knows nothing about cars) and a lot of things that I will never use. However I saved money by buying it off the lot and so it is black.

    Good luck in what you decide to buy……me I would go for the Honda Fit from your list.


    • Thanks, Gill. I am glad you are happy with your Fiesta! I bet I will end up buying off the lot to save money too, and forgetting about my own colour choice!

  4. Fiona

    Hi Dar, I couldn’t resist searching back to see your car-buying criteria. I must have similar criteria as I’ve been weighing up the Kia Rio, Mazda 2 & 3 and a few Hyundai models, among others.

    I can’t recall what you bought so I’ll have to search up more articles!

    (my public transport experiments this week have been disastrous!)

    • I hate to admit it but I would never go for public transit here. We don’t have rapid transit. The bus system is slow and only semi-reliable. When Rom gets home from work (8 hours plus 3 hours travel time), he is exhausted. I got a Nissan Versa (now called a Nissan Versa Leaf) and I am very happy with it. Rom has a Hyundai Accent which he rarely drives except on weekends. But we both find it comfortable to drive. I test-drove a Mazda 3 and found it a bit too big for us and it drove too sporty for my tastes! But might be just right for a family of 3. Also test-drove a Honda Fit (called a Honda Jazz in the UK) and found it didn’t have enough power (worried about winter driving in it). Good luck!

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