What's in Your Garage? 15 Drivers Share Their Ride
You've read the expert's opinions: "Buy car X because it's safe but avoid car Y." "Car Z will last forever, but car A won't." But have you ever wondered what the experts buy?
We got curious about what people who make a living thinking about cars, fixing cars, or even just using cars are driving these days.
Irv Rubin, Buffalo, N.Y., who spent many years in Ford Motor Company's corporate affairs department, drives a Ford product called the Volvo station wagon. "It's large, it meets all the demands I might have for a car, moving four or five people, schlepping lumber or bags of fertilizer," Rubin says. "People have a tendency to select a vehicle for the most demanding needs that they can project."
The needs of cabdriver Maggie Siegfried include transporting guitars, amplifiers, and lumber for home fix-up projects. The part-time singer and guitar player uses a 1983 VW Vanagon as a "band car. I use it to haul equipment and 'shop' on the curb. It's hard to find a decent car for a decent price; it's really a rolling storage container."
Big is also beautiful to Vicky Moser, owner of Crestwood Auto in Madison, Wis. "I have a Chevy Avalanche, primarily because I like the convenience of having four doors and comfortable spacing. I can change the back into an 8-foot bed, it's totally open, and it gets decent gas mileage. I like big, I like seeing over the little imports."
Stephen Brobeck, CEO of the Consumer Federation of America, Washington, D.C., is driving one of those imports: a '92 Honda Accord with 150,000 miles. "I don't like to spend money on goods that don't appreciate in value," he explains, "and it's dangerous and aggravating to drive a new car around [Washington, D.C.], and park on the street, because of everything from dings to car theft."
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On the virtue of a well-seasoned car
Old is also beautiful to Philip Weber, owner of Phil's Auto, Buffalo, N.Y., who pilots a '97 Buick LeSabre that he bought from a long-time customer. "I knew the people who owned it. I don't care about the brand, as long as it was well-taken care of. Obviously I wouldn't buy a car from a 25-year-old kid." Finding quality, he says, "comes down to luck ... You can be surprised."
A "mature" car also suits Clay Kearley, who directed the Car Facts program at ORNL Federal Credit Union, Knoxville, Tenn. Kearley drives a 1993 Toyota Camry. "We've been loyal Toyota owners since we bought our first one over 20 years ago because they have, in our experience, the best combination of safety, reliability, comfort, performance, and affordability. They last forever if taken care of. Call us old-fashioned, but we believe an auto is a long-term investment."
Buying a new car is the start of a long friendship to Susan Tiffany, director of personal finance information for adults at Credit Union National Association, Madison, Wis. "I research the best car for my needs. For me, it happens to be a crossover utility style, a '97 Honda CR-V. I buy a new car and drive it for 15 years, but I put on relatively little mileage." And, no surprise, "I always finance at my credit union."
Safe is not sorry
Given that about 43,000 people die on American roads each year, safety was on the mind of several experts we talked to. Clarence Ditlow, of the Center for Auto Safety, Washington, D.C., drives a Chevrolet Prism. "It's got good crashworthiness ratings, good fuel efficiency, and it fits my budget." He advises would-be buyers to "get our 2006 Car Book and sort things through."
Have you ever wondered what car experts buy?
Susan Ferguson, senior vice-president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (INHS), Arlington, Va., drives a 2000 Audi A4. "I wanted 4-wheel drive to go skiing, but didn't want to drive an SUV, because they have a big rollover problem," she explains. "The A4 had side air bags, which are a major advantage in terms of staying alive in a side impact with a high-riding pickup or SUV." An IIHS analysis found that the side air bags mounted near the head reduce the risk of death in a driver's-side impact by 45%.
Safety was on Ralph Nader's mind in the early 1960s when he helped found the consumer movement by writing "Unsafe at Any Speed," a book that exposed the rollover hazard of GM's Corvair. So what does he drive, we wondered? Nader drives nada. Through an intermediary, he told us he doesn't own a car because he doesn't want to add to urban congestion. But he does walk a lot.
Andy Muzi, owner of Yellow Jersey, a bike shop in Madison, Wis., actually drives a 1966 Corvair, although it does not have the dangerous design. "The original Corvair, 1959, had swing axles, so when you hit the brakes on an off-ramp, you flipped over," Muzi says. "By September, 1964, before Nader's book, they had redesigned it." His "true love," however, is a 1953 Raleigh Sports 3-speed bike. "It just fits," he says.
Hauling bicycles is critical to Eric Zuelow, an associate professor of history in West Virginia, who devoted his youth to racing bicycles. Zuelow drives a Honda Element. "It's an all around great car. It has plenty of space for me to carry my bikes on the off chance that I actually get time to ride them, a fine sound system, and the first scheduled maintenance isn't until 110,000 miles!"
Given that about 43,000 people die on American roads each year, safety was on the mind of several experts we talked to.
Martin Buser, of Alaska, is still a racer, although his vehicle is powered by 64 feet (on dogs), not two pedals. Buser, a four-time winner of the grueling, 1,150-mile Iditarod race, uses a 4-wheel drive Ford F550 truck to lug as many as 40 dogs to a race. "Nye Ford has been a sponsor, and I needed a big truck," he told us across a static-filled phone line. The 550 has a long wheelbase; it's definitely the way to go." Buser is known for vehicular innovation; the sleds he builds have a seat in the middle. "It has better balance, but most important is the creature comfort. The long races--eight, 10, or 12 days--they take something out of you."
Cars and trucks are a menace to Charles Komanoff, a freelance transportation and energy consultant, who "drives" a mountain bike around New York City. "It's really unhealthful not to ride a bike," he says. "You are losing the opportunity to get very healthy exercise as you go from point A to point B." Komanoff admits that "at any moment, an inattentive or hostile driver can kill you. But after a long ride from one end of town to [the] other, I have this amazing exhilaration for having gotten there safely."
David Tenenbaum drives an old hybrid bike in town, and also a '94 Honda Civic. "It drives like a sports car, but doesn't cost like one," he says. A shorter version of this article appeared in the print Home & Family Finance magazine; we wanted to be able to share all the stories with readers.
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