Sunday, October 6, 2019

Vroom vroom: car shopping with the Troglodytes

HALLIE EPHRON: My husband and I buy cars new and drive them into the ground. That's how we ended up with an 18-year-old Honda Civic. Yes, it still runs, reliable as all get out. But it was time to get something new. My car shopping was shaded by an experience I'd had a few weeks earlier, renting a car at the San Francisco Airport.

Enterprise has a weird system. You 'reserve' a compact basic sedan and end up getting whatever's available. Standing in the SFO parking garage, the first car that rolls down when it's my turn is a Volkswagen Beetle convertible. Uh, no. Waaaaay too small. Then they want to put me in an 8-passenger van. Too... you know. I'm starting to sound like Goldilocks.

The third car that rolls out is a Cadillac. I gather it's what they call a crossover. Not too big, not too small... And it has on-board nav and I'm running late so I take it. 


I get in and nothing, literally nothing, looks familiar. There's no key hole. In fact, there's no key. The dashboard is an array of places where you can wave your hand or touch a screen. A nice sales woman gets in and gives me the rundown on how the thing operates, which I promptly forget, but at least she programs the navigation system to get me to my hotel. 

I take off. Realizing immediately that instead of the GPS telling me where to turn, the audio system is broadcasting what sounds like a Chinese radio station. Loudly. I have no idea how to turn it down or switch it off and get it to broadcast directions. 


By now I'm in traffic. On the highway. And the AC is on full blast and I am freezing. And no, I cannot figure out how to turn it down. Or off. So I'd better open the window. But there's no recognizable window control.

I manage to turn off the damned radio (which also turns off the navigation system), fish out my phone, and get to where I'm going. I'm freezing by the time I get there but in one piece. At least it wasn't raining because I'd never have found the windshield wipers.

IMHOP, that car is way too smart for its own good. 


So, when I go car shopping a few weeks later, my criteria is NO TOUCH SCREENS! Knobs and buttons and open it with a key, please. We settle on a new Honda HR-V. 

See, its controls are basically in the same place as they were on our 2001 Civic, plus a slot for CDs (which may not have been invented in 2001.) 


Not too big. Not too small.  In other words, just right. We drove it home the next day, and they gave us a whopping $250 and didn't charge us to take the old car.

Have you car shopped lately? If you were, what would "just right" look like for you?






69 comments:

  1. Oh, Hallie, what a horrible experience.
    We’ve not been car-shopping in several years [I shudder at the thought of replacing Miss Phoebe]. Truthfully, “just right” for me would be never having to drive, but since that’s not even remotely feasible, I’m certain I’d need recognizable controls, too. And definitely not too big. I might like to have back-up sensors, though . . . .

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    1. The backup camera is wonderful... but I still don't trust it. We didn't go upscale enough to get actual sensors.

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    2. Oh Hallie, you didn't get sensors?? that's the best part! I hope you can open your doors with the key this time:)!!

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  2. I know what you mean, Hallie. New cars friends have seem like space ships to me. We are saving up for an electric car, possibly a Kona. Expensive up front but then no gas cost...ever! Hydro is affordable in Manitoba and maintenance costs are minimal, I understand. Fingers crossed for a purchase in a year or so!

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  3. That must have been scary! We are a two Prius family, one ten years old and the other the mallet Prius C, six years old. Love them both and I figure it's our gift to the environment in a small way.

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  4. I'm a Goldilocks buyer too--not too small, certainly not too big--and I want to be able to sit in a sitting position, not reclining, when I drive. Visibility is important--so an actual back window would be great. And controls I can understand--the most important! Enjoy your new car!

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    1. The back window! Huge issue for us - which was why we went for boxy instead of streamlined

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  5. I currently drive a 1994 Plymouth Colt Vista wagon that doesn't start in rain or high humidity. I have actually (a couple of years ago) gone to look at other cars, but they just don't make 'em like they used to.

    The current car fits into a compact parking space but can contain an eight-foot cabinet (I've moved using it a number of times.) But the best thing about it is that it is higher than a car but lower than a van or SUV. I can slip right in. At my age, that's a necessity. (It also has, at my insistence when I bought it [new], roll down windows. If I ever get caught in a flash flood, I AM getting out!)

    I guess I'll drive it till I can't.

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  6. It's lucky you survived the rental car drive, especially in San Francisco traffic!

    I had a similar, although scarier, experience, years ago. I was driving from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Topeka, Kansas, which at the time had pretty much nothing in between except a lot of dead armadilloes on the road. At 70 mph the hood popped up--not all the way because of the detente, but enough that it was vibrating and causing the car to slew a bit in the crosswinds.

    Later I realized that what I'd thought had been a trunk release during a gas pit stop had actually been the hood release on that car. That could have been a lot scarier.

    WHY does every car have to have different controls? Nothing is standardized, and even different models within the same manufacturer have more than one configuration.

    The last time I was at Malice, my battery died, and I was unable to use my keyless entry fob to get into the car, which I'd parked, head-in, in a dingy garage in Arlington. That was another fiasco, until I remembered there is an actual key inside the fob, and an actual keyhole hidden in the handle of my 2014 Civic. But our neighbor's Tesla not only does not have a keyhole, the actual door handles vanish as soon as the key fob gets further than some distance away from the car. He can, though, unlock the car or start it from a long way off, using his phone. Their car has a massive touchscreen, too, which I find distracting, frankly.

    May your new car take you safely to every destination for many years, Hallie.

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    1. This is reminding me when we went from floppy disks to cds - oh dear

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    2. They expect you to at least scan the controls section of the Owner's Manual, Karen.

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  7. Car shopping has always been a nightmare. First, car salesmen. Aagh. Dickering over the price. Sitting in the finance guy’s office even if you’re paying cash. Hate it all. I drive a 2003 Jeep Liberty. No GPS. No backup cameras. I’m perfectly happy with it. I had a major meltdown a few months ago when I had to replace the radio/cd player. I turned the project over to my husband because I was shorting out. I just wanted a radio, cd player, and a clock. That’s all. That simple combo doesn’t exist. The new setup includes blue tooth capability and you can set up your phone to come in on the radio. I didn’t. I drive or talk on the phone but I don’t do both at the same time. I can’t figure out the damn radio. It is not user friendly. There is a clock but it doesn’t show if a cd is playing. At least I haven’t found it. When it does appear it’s too small to read. If I have to replace my vehicle in the future I’ll try to find a used one as electronics free as possible!

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    1. Pat D., this connects with Judi's and Roberta's good salesperson comments (maybe it's a Subaru thing). Bought my 6th Subaru from the same salesperson (same dealer), salesperson says, "if you want to activate phone, GPS, Bluetooth, come back and I'll do it for you." He had already done the radio (just to play as a radio) and the CD player and the clock. :-)

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  8. Hallie, that is indeed the stuff of nightmares! I hate trying to drive a strange car and you were doing it in a city - you have my admiration for sure.
    I plan to get a new car in the spring so I have been thinking about it quite a bit. I think I'll go with a new model of the Subaru Forester which is what I have now. I hope it won't be re-designed to the point I have troubles such as you did. BTW, when I bought that car I did it all by myself, drove in to the dealership and out with a new car! I must say I absolutely hate having to put up with car salesman, not just because my former husband was one, but I must have found a great dealership - no pressure at all. Believe me I was prepared to walk out at any time if I wasn't happy.

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    1. WE love our Subaru Judi, and I shopped for it with my sister-in-law and we had a nice woman salesperson. I'm pretty sure she thought Jane and I were married. By the end of the visit, she wanted to go to lunch and shopping with us--we were that much fun:)

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  9. congratulations! When our beloved (sob) '97 Honda van with station wagon doors turned up its tires, I went to the dealer and, in under 15 minutes, had selected a 3 year old lease return Accord and taken it for a test drive. 2016 is the last model year for CDs and my husband adores the backup screen. He's figured out how to turn on the radio, wipers, and a/c.

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  10. Hallie, I know what you mean about problems with the new cars of today. Once when I had to leave my previous car in for repair I got a loaner and I couldn't even figure out how to turn the radio on. It was rather embarrassing.

    When I took my Ford Escape in for a routine oil change this summer, the service people called me out to the bay to show me what they'd discovered when they lifted the car up to do that maintenance. Not being a car guy, they explained to me that essentially the undercarriage was and had rotted away. I asked what they recommended and they said they recommended I cut ties with car. Turns out part of that rotting away left the now unprotected gas tank riding on the exhaust pipe and I'd pretty much been driving a literal ticking time bomb. One spark and Jay Go BOOM!

    In a way it wasn't easy to part with the car because it had been my mom's car and for some reason giving up the car made it feel like I was losing at least a part of her all over again. Logically that sounds stupid, but since I'm not actually Mr. Spock I'm not beholden to the path of pure logic.

    So I had to go shopping. But budget and the quick need for a new car made fast shopping a necessity. But I was able to find a car that fit my needs. It's lower to the ground than I have been but the price was good and since it had been used for test drives only, I ended up with a 2016 Toyota Corolla with only 6,000 miles on it. I got the car loan (which was a bit of a shock since I've really never bought a car before...long story) and now I have the first big payment under my own name every month.

    What were my requirements for the car? Well, I had to fit in it comfortably. I'm a bigger (read...FAT) guy so I have to be able to sit in the car without feeling like the inner workings of a sausage casing.

    It needed to have a radio and CD player. I don't need all the bells and whistles that come with the new cars. No satellite radio hookup or a GPS built in. It's got one of those backup cameras which I don't like but that's the only thing it came with that I didn't want, so I can live with it. The rest of the stuff that came basic with the car is fine and pretty workable for me. I've figured most of it out.

    But I hope that what everyone has said about the Toyota is true...that you can drive it forever, because I really don't want to have to buy a new car anytime soon. The amount of "smartness" they are putting into the vehicles these days makes me think Jeff Foxworthy will soon be hosting a "Are You Smarter Than Your Car" game show.

    Oh, and though the car is red and looks all snazzy so far I haven't been stopped by the cops yet. That's the good news. The bad news is that the nice looking red car has yet to turn me into a babe magnet. But I guess that just means nothing in my life has really changed other than I now have the car payment each month.

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    1. Jay, it makes total sense that you'd feel nostalgic about giving up your mother's car! this conversation reminds me--I'm shopping for a new oven. You wouldn't believe the bells and whistles. You can ask Alexa to turn these things on and a million other features--THAT I DON'T WANT!

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    2. I wanted a red car! Jay our first 2 cars were fords - brand new - and both rusted away before they hit 80k miles. I look at fords in parking lots and even the new models are rusting ... no more fords for us

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    3. Lucy, I have a feeling that I'm becoming more and more of an analog guy in a digital world.

      Hallie, I honestly did love the Ford Escape. If the prices hadn't been so dadblamed high, I probably would've gotten another one. But the Toyota Corolla was far more affordable on my limited budget.

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    4. I think that's the REAL reason I am planning on a new car - I want a red one! I plan to drive it until the wheels fall off or I fall over! I've promised the car I'm driving now to my granddaughter.

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  11. OMG, Hallie, I can't stop laughing about that awful rental car!

    I love my Subaru Imprezza sedan. Like Hallie, I tend to keep keep cars until I drive them into the ground. OTOH, I'm getting a Standard Poodle puppy soon and I wonder if that sedan is going to be big enough for me, my husband, and a large dog. If I upgrade it will be Subaru Outback, which I'll keep until I drive it in to the ground.

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  12. Like Margaret, above, and Hallie, I do long-lasting Hondas. I'm now on my fourth Civic since 1991. Only the first one was new. And only the automatic ever gave me grief. So when that one died (got 100 for the car, 100 for the four extra tires & rims) I got a Civic just off a 4 year lease, with various features I'd never choose, but now, well, I kind like. Except the back-up camera, which never tells the whole story.

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  13. I love our 8 cyl Jeep Grand Cherokee. My husband will not settle for anything less than 8 cyl and must be an American car. He calls Hondas, Toyotas, etc. wind up toys, lol!

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  14. As for rentals, oh the horrible stuff they force on you. Yup,that damn navigation system. It was un-turnoffable and was aimed AT the airport. So of course that, um, lady kept demanding we turn around and head back the other way. We actually knew where we were going, so no harm, just frustration. Fortunately, it wasn't downtown San Francisco but St. John's, Newfoundland.

    (To give you an idea about how lovely and low key Newfoundland is, even at the airport in the capital city, when we told the car rental agent what neighbourhood we were heading to, he said, "Oh, you're going to stay at Sandra's, eh?" and pulled out the map to direct us.)

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  15. When we rented a car in the Yucatán it was like that - just not that mAny roads and locals got around on bikes and motor bikes

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  16. My favorite car we ever had was our Toyota Avalon, which was fabulous and we had for 12 years. Now we have a newer car, which is fine, but I really miss built in navigation, and I can’t gauge the back up thing. It’s so hard to figure out what is really showing. Plus, the air conditioner just blasts on the passenger seat, gripe gripe gripe. :-) I don’t feel connected to the new car at all, and “new” means we have had it for six years. :-)
    And as a writer, the whole car thing is a true mess. No more turning the key in the ignition, right? And no more getting lost, you know, because everyone would have GPS. And if they don’t, that’s silly.
    But I really really wish we had sensors, especially the ones that beep when you’re verging into the wrong lane. I think that seems like such a brilliant thing.

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    1. the sensors are the best--really save dents and embarrassment and you can pretend to know how to parallel park:)

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    2. My 2014 Honda Civic has a side view camera, for the right, and it is awesome for helping to parallel park.

      I bought the car for that feature alone, since I have a blind spot on my right eye, and I'm so worried about whether or not newer cars have any such thing.

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    3. Is that the car I was in? Very nice vehicle-- but I think that if I had a farm, I'd be driving what has always been my dream car (I know, I'm weird), one of those car/truck hybrids that they used to make. I think the Ford Ranchero was one of them, and maybe the Chevy El Camino?

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    4. Yes, Ellen, it was! I'd forgotten that I'd driven you when you were here.

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  17. Hallie, congratulations on the no sensors decision. I cannot bear things that beep at me -- oven timers, vehicles backing up, smoke alarms (found ones that say "Fire fire, fire" or "Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Monoxide" between beeps). A car with sensors beeping would likely find me off the road in a ditch as I covered my ears. I do love the backup camera and I do trust it. Thinking that my current Subaru -- with real key, instruments I can understand -- will probably last my remaining driving days. It's 5 years old and has only 15,500 miles. You didn't mention a "new car smell" or has technology eliminated that? Happy Driving.

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    1. Good question/ now that you mention it there’s no ‘new car’ smell

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  18. Hallie, my daughter in law loves her HR V. You’ll be happy with the extra trunk space
    My Mercedes has all the bells and whistles including telling John that he needed to pull over and take a break. He was so mad. “No damned German is going to tell me what to do,” He said

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  19. I was reading the previous comments, and it occurred to me that when I have rented cars while traveling, they have given me an inkling as to what new cars were like. That has influenced my car buying, even though I buy a car on average every fifteen years. But when my beloved candy-apple red '67 Beetle died in 1978, I bought a Honda CVCC wagon because driving it felt vaguely like the Beetle. Alas, there was a time in the late Seventies when you could stand in front of a Honda and actually watch it rust. And if you needed a part, it had to be shipped in from Japan, with a six week wait. I kept that car the shortest amount of time of any vehicle I've ever owned, except for the pre-Beetle Ford I bought out of a junkyard for $100 which disintegrated on the highway on my way to law school (It was my only used car ever).

    I understand that Hondas have gotten better, and I nearly bought a lime green Del Sol convertible instead of the current Plymouth Colt Vista (I had just turned 50, and a convertible seemed like a good idea at the time.) But I had gotten into gardening, and I couldn't figure out where I would put sacks of dirt or flats of vegetables in that trunkless (when the top was down) car. Then my parents got old, and I wound up schlepping them and their caregiver and the wheelchairs (and my dogs) and I was so glad I'd opted for the mini station wagon.

    My sister has a Volvo that I'm afraid to drive. It has all kinds of bells and whistles, like heated seats and separate heating and a/c controls. I drove it back from the airport once, after dropping her off, and I couldn't figure out where the headlights or the windshield wiper controls were (so Hallie, I feel your pain about that rental car). I had the same problem when driving a U-Haul Econoline van when I was moving two years ago.

    I wonder if anyone will sell me a Model T?

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    1. OMG don't get me started on rented moving trucks. I rented done once for a move in Manhattan. I was VERY young and it had a very temperamental stick shift.

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    2. Did I already mention the controls section of the Owner's Manual? Very helpful.

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    3. Neither my sister nor the rental van had manuals.

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    4. Hallie, I have a story about temperamental stick shifts that involves Les Aspin (yes, the former Secretary of Defense) when we were both very young and working on a Bill Proxmire campaign, and Les tossed me his keys and asked me to move his car so he wouldn't get a parking ticket, and I couldn't get it out of the parking place.

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  20. Yikes! No electric cars or hybrids at the car rental? This reminds me of when my mom rented a ZipCar while her car was at the auto repair. It was a MiniCooper and there were no keys! You had to press a button to start the car. And I noticed that when my Mom rented a car when we travelled, there was a GPS. Unfortunately, the GPS is NOT deaf friendly from my experience.

    When the family Volvo died, we had to buy a new car. I meticulously read through Consumer Reports for the best cars available. We wanted a car made in the USA. We bought a car manufactured in Indiana and that was before the 2016 election. (Not sure if they are still manufacturing automobiles in Indiana or if it has been outsourced to Mexico?) . We decided on a car and it turned out that there is a better auto repair within walking distance from home that fixes this type of car. In the last four years, the car has been running very well, with a few mishaps like flat tires from nails left on roads (construction work). There is a lot of construction work going on!

    Happy Sunday!
    Diana

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  21. Hallie, my Honda Accord is 11 this year, so I'm contemplating a new hybrid C-RV. Haven't test driven but I'm a pretty dedicated Honda fan. I think this Accord is my 5th. I've had a little experience with the bells and whistles because I've driven my daughter's new Accura a good bit, but the first few times were terrifying. I couldn't figure out how to do anything! Let us know how you like your H-RV!

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  22. Hallie, not being able to turn the radio noise off might have sent me over the edge. I'm glad you were able to cope with it and all the other unfamiliar features enough to get to your hotel. I'll remember your horrifying story the next time I have to rent a car.

    I hate car shopping, but I especially hate it with my husband. I drive a Ford Escape, three years old, and I'm quite happy with it, but I let my husband rush me when we bought it. He's the type of shopper that you go one place, know what you want, and you buy it. When he got his new truck last year, he saw what he wanted in the dealer's ad, told the salesman that's what he wanted and bought it. Unfortunately, in the get it and get out purchase method I didn't get my leather seats that I wanted. I had them in my previous vehicle, and it's just the one luxury I enjoy. So, now I have to wait a bit to get them again.

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  23. My car has to almost die before I'll go car shopping. Hense, when my sister showed up two years ago to help make decisions about our mom's care and borrowed my car for the day, I ended up at Carmax within 4 days. Seems I was driving on borrowed time. I know absolutely nothing about cars beyond gas, oil, water and have air in the spare tire. My new car doesn't have a spare tire and it's on-board computer is telling me I need to have my mobility something or other needs to be serviced. I know it (the something or other) is under the front passenger seat. Hybrids - gas and larger battery means no spare tire. Very weird. Luckily I live across the street from a Firestone store so when my tire went completely flat for no reason I drive across the street and paid for a new tire, walking home to wait because other people already had appointments that morning. The weirdest thing about my car is when the engine switches to battery and is absolutely silent, two years later, I still think the engine has died at the traffic stops. My requirements were few: rear window defroster and air conditioning. It does have a key with buttons to unlock the doors but the key does work in old fashioned key slot in the door and read hatch if necessary, I tested it to be sure. I did find out these keys with buttons are not easily replaced, it's about $400 per key, probably it's those computer program stuff I'm sure. Needs to be done since my spare key is being used as the primary after I "lost" my keys a few months ago.

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    1. Deana, please get that "something or other looked at!"

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  24. Absolutely will not by a tiny car, hybrid, or electric!

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    1. I'm wary of any newish technology... I always assume they haven't gotten the bugs unkinked. And I like a car tall enough that the driver in front of me can see in his rearview.

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    2. Tesla’s are great cars! I know several who work for Tesla and my next new car will be a Model 3.😎

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  25. My sedan, a former lease vehicle, came with 2 car manuals totaling 650 pages. Somewhere in there, I'm sure, are instructions for resetting the clock. But until I find it, I'll just keep adding 3 hours and 20 minutes to the time displayed on the dashboard.

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    1. Ha ha ha! In our house, setting the car clock is 'men's work.'

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    2. Did I already mention the controls section of the Owner's Manual? Very helpful There should be a "starters guide" or "quick Look" or some such, just a few pages, to explain things like the clock

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  26. In 2013, I bought a 2011 Subaru Legacy. My brother wanted to me to get a Forester like he and his wife had but I said "I have to clean the snow off this!" It was way too tall. I had trouble getting in the car since I'm not fluent in Icons. I didn't realize that the key would open the door and start the car since my other 2 cars had separate keys. After a co-worker explained the clicker, I took the car to Subaru where the saleslady showed me how to use the car and set my radio and other things. I still need the manual if anything goes wrong.

    When my mother was living, we didn't use the radio but the service people always turned it on and we had to check the manual to shut it off. Now I keep the radio on, the service people turn it off!!

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  27. My, my, so many difficulties with cars! We keep our cars about a dozen years, then narrow down what we want to get next and do the research. We have a 2007 Infinity G35, 2 door, sports car, very fast and agile. Almost exclusively driven by my wife. Our regular car is a 2015 Subaru Outback, and we really love it. We bought the top model, but deleted the GPS option, and there's no need (phones are for that). There's not a single thing we don't like about that Subaru.

    The first thing to do when buying a car is to READ THE OWNER'S MANUAL. Just sayin'. The I find sitting in the driveway and trying the controls and doing the settings pays off. We've had no problems and will undoubtedly buy another Subaru when this one gets to be a dozen years or so old.

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    1. Fast, lol! My husband would call it a wind up toy

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  28. OMG, this made me laugh! We have two cars that are both 17 years old and our "new" car is a 2015 Civic. I HATE all the computer stuff. But here's the flip side. When my daughter was little we rented a car that only had hand-cranked windows. I told if she wanted air, she'd have to roll down a window. And she said, "How do you roll down a window?" She'd never done it!

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    1. We have a. Very old dial of
      Phone in our front hall... same deal, young people are baffled

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