Sunday, February 28, 2010

Prius II

So I threatened in my earlier post to compare the operating costs of three Toyota vehicles, the Matrix, Corolla and Prius. I chose those three cars because I have firsthand experience with them. I still own a '99 Corolla (102,000 miles, baby, and still going strong!) and J drives a '04 Maxtrix (90,000 miles).

However, the April 2010 edition of Consumer Reports* makes the comparison pretty easy for me, and actually solved the problem of what category a Prius actually falls into. Right now, Consumer Reports classifies it as a family car with a price tag of around $26,750 and a cost per mile of 47 cents. This is comparable to a Volkswagen Jetta ($23,939, 48 cents per mile). A Toyota Camry has a price tag of about $22,850 and a price per mile of 53 cents. The cost per mile, by the way, includes depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance/repairs, etc.

The Toyota Corolla LE, which is a more upscale version of the one I own (a CE) is $16,205 with a cost per mile of 45 cents. So yes, it would be cheaper for me to own an LE by about 2 extra cents per mile, but it would be a small car comparatively and that's not what I wanted. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports didn't provide a cost per mile for the Toyota Matrix, so I can't offer you that information right now.

Overall, the Prius has one of the lowest cost per miles provided by Consumer Reports. The really high costs -- over $1/mile -- belonged to cars most of us can only dream about such as the Mercedes-Benz S550 at a whopping $1.70/mile and the Porsche 911 Carrera S at $1.53/mile. The Mercedes-Benz, btw, is the most expensive car to operate. The cheapest looks like the Honda Fit at 42 cents per mile. The most expensive small SUV is the Land Rover LR@ SE at 83 cents/mile and the most expensive mid-sized SUV is the Jeep Commander Limited (V8) at $1/mile. The car that surprised me the most was the Honda Civic, which came in at 58 cents/mile and the Dodge Charger at 71 cents/mile. I always thought of the Civic as a more economical, fuel-efficient car, so it surprises me how much more expensive it is per mile compared to the Corolla. I think a Fit might be a better value and I anticipate (though I don't know for sure) it might be a bigger car.

I would probably have to redo my cost per mile for the Prius as mine was nowhere near the $26,750 price tag listed in Consumer Reports. I suspect my cost would probably drop 2 to 3 cents as a result. I was also pleased to find out that Consumer Reports has my model -- the 2009 -- selling at $20,000 to $24,000 used, which means given what I paid for mine, I could sell it today and actually break even or come out slightly ahead.** I don't think that's a bad deal. Maybe I should take back my earlier statement about cars not being a good vehicle for investment...

*I think most of you know this, but I'm using Consumer Reports as an independent reference; no money is changing hands here -- we pay for our subscription. Second, I'm not being compensated by Toyota in any way; after 10+ years of driving Toyotas and having 5 of them in the family, I'm just a very loyal consumer.
**My Prius is not impacted by the recall as it was manufactured in Japan (vin number starting with J).

I really like the reviews at The Bollywood Ticket; their review of My Name is Khan echoes what I would have written, so go there for an articulate, spot-on review of the Shah Rukh Khan/Kajol film.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Prius clarification

When people find out I drive a Prius now, the reaction generally consists of the following:

"Do you know you'll never get your money on that?"

"You have to replace the battery in two years."

I'll tackle the second question first since people focus on that. The battery in the Prius has an eight-year or 100,000 mile warranty on it so the manufacturer will cover it if it conks out before that. The dealer did tell me that they have never replaced a battery outside of the warranty period though. I know you can't generally trust a dealer, but I figure they had no reason to truly lie here. Also, I do plan to drive this car at least eight years, if not longer; after all, I did drive my Corolla for nearly 11 years, and so if battery replacement comes up after eight years, that's something to deal with then.

As for the "you'll never get your money back" statement, the first thing to emphasize is that a car is NOT an investment. Regardless of the vehicle you choose to drive, you will never get your money back; it's a depreciable asset from the moment you drive off the lot. It's just a question of how quickly your car loses value and prior to the Toyota recall brouhaha, Toyotas held their value pretty well (my 1999 Corolla, not involved in any recall, is still worth about $3500 to $4000 according to Kelly Blue Book).

Now the Prius is a wee bit different in the sense it's the one car that once sold at higher prices USED rather than new; but that was when gas prices were higher -- I don't expect that to happen now (and again, when you drive it for eight plus years, resale value becomes less and less important).

The question is whether the additional cost of a Prius is offset by its fuel savings. A lot of studies, including Consumer Reports, have said no, but most of the comparisons are made to a Civic or Corolla. I find this to be a fallacy because a Prius is NOT the same as a Civic or Corolla in terms of features and size. When I was looking for a new car last summer, one of my requirements outside of fuel efficiency and reliability was that it needed to be bigger than the Corolla I was replacing; I wanted to be able to fit four adults comfortably into the car. Given the timeline of how long I intend to own the car, I wanted something bigger that could fit in nicely with any life changes. The Prius is about the same size as a Camry inside, maybe a little smaller, but there was no way a Corolla/Civic would fit my requirement for a bigger car.

It'd probably make more sense to compare the Prius, with all of its features, to a midsize hatchback or sedan, which cost more than a Corolla/Civic. When I compared my Prius to a Camry, I came out ahead, but I also got super deals on my Prius so I wouldn't necessarily take my calculations as representative of what the truth really is; I won't get the hybrid tax credit on the Prius, but I will get to deduct my sales tax on my federal tax return this year, so that will be an additional savings that you can't count on year after year (and this savings applies to any vehicle purchased in 2009, I believe). I honestly don't believe the difference in price is that big when you compare the Prius to similarly sized cars with similar features.

In my next post on this subject, I will compare three cars -- the Corolla, the Toyota Matrix, and the Prius -- to show the operating costs of these vehicles.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Carly Simon names who's "So Vain." I kinda wished she hadn't; part of the fun of the song was the mystery.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Whoa, didn't see this coming: Scott Brown supports the new job bill. I'm guessing the GOP didn't see it coming either...

Fareed Zakaria on why declaring war on Iran is a Very Bad Idea (tm).

The United States is being asked to launch a military invasion of a state that poses no imminent threat to America, without sanction from any international body and with few governments willing to publicly endorse such an action. Al-Qaeda and its ilk would present it as the third American invasion of a Muslim nation in a decade, proof positive that the United States is engaged in a war of civilizations. Moderate Arab states and Muslim governments everywhere would be on the defensive. And as Washington has surely come to realize, wars unleash forces that cannot be predicted or controlled.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

We watch so you don't have to

Saturday night, we took a break from the chills and spills of the Winter Olympics to revisit a favorite, "Battlestar Galactica." A movie came out a year or so ago called "The Plan", and so it was with anticipation we popped the DVD in. Revisiting old friends with a potential for new insight always makes for high expectations and we figured with BSG's track record, this film would finally reveal what the Cylons' grand plan was because that was never quite clear (other than annihilate humans, but perhaps there was something more than that).

"The Plan" is essentially a clip show of the first two seasons of the BSG with a few new scenes thrown in to illustrate the Cylons' POV on certain events. The pace is quick so if you missed the first two seasons, some of what takes place doesn't make sense. Heck, even if you've seen the first two seasons, some of it does't make sense. For this outing, Brother Cavil takes center stage, acting as the master behind The Plan. He manipulates and pushes the Plan forward, but is thwarted by his fellow Cylons who are curiously uncooperative and unwilling to do what he asks. There are a couple of moments that hold the clips together exceptionally well, but in other cases, the movie tries to hard to explain events that didn't necessarily need to be further exposition.

I should also warn there is copious nudity in the film, which came as a surprise and was not necessary. In fact, it was almost distracting and there were a couple of bad language moments (not "Frak, but the other word). The nudity, the language, and at least one scene of unexplained gratuitious violence, combined with the jarring pace of scenes strung together, created a kind of "huh?" watching experience. The dissonance is one thing and the occasional incoherence is another, bu the film's ultimate failing is that it's boring and adds nothing to the overall BSG experience. You'd probably do better rewatching the first two seasons and finding some quality fanfiction to supplement.

Honestly, anyone thinking of climbing Everest should watch "Everest: Beyond the Limits." I knew it was a miserable experience where people literally go to die -- I think it's something like one out of every four people who climb the mountain die -- but this documentary really brings home just how truly terrible the experience truly is -- possibly the equivalent of having a severe migraine and associated symptoms, along with below zero temps, fierce winds, and oh yeah, that breathing thing is pretty tough too. I never wanted to climb the mountain, but I did have romantic dreams of hiking to base came (not ABC, but lower down), and holy crap. Not so much anymore. My hat's off to the people who have succeeded, especially those who ascend without bottled oxygen, but you've got to really, really want it and by that I mean want enough to lose appendages and risk death.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

TV rec

Thanks to the magic of Netflix's on-demand queue, I was finally able to see the first two episodes of the Discovery channel's "Everest: Beyond the Limits." From a pure documentary point of view, it's pretty good -- it's got characters, drama, plotlines, angst, everything you'd possibly want. I enjoyed it, but man. I knew Everest was a miserable experience, but this documentary/show really brings that to life more than the IMAX or books ever did. So far so good, so I'm giving the series two thumbs up.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I love the Olympics, watch every minute of coverage, and while I LOVE it when Team USA wins, I really love it when ANYONE wins. Which I guess is silly as someone wins every event in the Olympics. What I meant is, I love seeing the reactions on the gold medalist's face when they realize the culmination of a life-long goal. It's awesome. Team USA is my favorite, obviously, but it was so cool to see the Canadian downhill skiier win Canada's first gold on home soil. While I was so pumped to see Evan Lysacek win the men's ice-skating because he clearly had the skate of his life, I was more pumped that trash-talking Yvegeny Plushenko had to take silver.

I definitely prefer winter Olympics to the summer, but the winter Olympics are more painful to watch. The crashes are spectacular, and in some of them, it's amazing these athletes pick themselves up and walk away. In some events, they crash and a few minutes later, they're back on the slopes/ice as if nothing happened to them. I insist on being completely pampered if I have so much as a hangnail, so I'm in awe of this ability to just shrug off these spectacular tumble. I guess that's the difference between Olympians and the rest of us.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A provactive article in the NY Times: How Christian were the Founders?. From my perspective, this rewriting of textbooks in public schools is super scary and while I'm a big supporter of public education, this is the first time I've wondered about private school -- provided there is such a thing as secular private school. Other than that, it means keeping a close eye on what's taught in public school and what's not and addressing appropriately. Still I find it quite alarming that people with no real educational background are dictating curriculum for the vast majority of the country.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


CNN has interviewed Gillian Anderson here on her favorite places in Vancouver, where she lived while filming the first five seasons of "The X-Files." I've actually been to all the places she recommended and can heartily second all of her suggestions. The restaurants, don't know about any of them, but I do remember a cafe called "Death by Chocolate" that was just sinful and wonderful. I really enjoyed my Vancouver vacation and really hope to go back one day.

Slate has an interesting article on how insurers reject you. Definitely makes you think about the need for reform, especially in light of WellPoint's 39% rate increase. I love their explanation for the rate increase:

WellPoint defends the hikes as a prudent business move. In a letter to Sebelius, Brian Sassi, head of WellPoint’s consumer business unit, said that because of the recession, healthy people are dropping insurance or opting for cheaper plans. That lowers premium revenues, reducing the amount of money available to cover claims from those who remain.

I'm not sure there are many people out there who can easily absorb a 39% rate increase and I bet some of those people who are still left are going to drop out or opt for cheaper plans, creating a vicious cycle that we'll probably see repeated with other companies over time if something isn't done to keep costs down.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


It always drives me nuts when it gets cold or snows here in Sweat Sock City, people scoff and say, "So much for global warming" or variations on that theme. So I was happy to see this entry tackling that very subject.

It's not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow in a world experiencing global warming. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the globe warmed 0.74°C (1.3°F) over the past 100 years. There will still be colder than average winters in a world that is experiencing warming, with plenty of opportunities for snow.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Book review

I finally got a chance to read "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell on my recent transatlantic voyages. I was really looking forward to the book because the idea is so intriguing -- one year to cook everything in volume 1 of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" -- and even more impressive when you see what nutty things Julia wants you to cook. Honestly, I could go my entire life without needing to know what aspic is or boiling horse hooves. So I settled into my narrow coach seat with minimal leg room and started reading, totally hoping for culinary adventures that rivaled my own but with more exotic ingredients.

And this, unfortunately, is where the book derails. Maybe my expectations were too high but I was expecting something fun, lively, this idea of self-discovery through bone marrow and butter, and instead ended up with a story that had glimpses of brilliance and humor and insight, but was mostly plodding in its construction and pacing. Instead of insight or thoughts about French cooking, Powell spins stories about her friends without really giving the reader a reason to care. Why do I care about these girlfriends who flit and flirt in and out of the narrative? They don't wash dishes or cook so why oh why are pages and pages of text devoted to them when they add nothing to any plot line or character development?

Powell is whiny and can be obnoxious, such as when she is describing 9/11 families; I get that she worked day in and day out with families of the victims and there's a point at which you become numb, but please. I'm a Democrat (no surprise to readers of this blog), but even I got tired of her incessant Republican-bashing; given that there didn't seem to be a nefarious Republican plot to ban French cooking, the constant trashing talking does nothing to advance the plot or characters. And that's really the problem with the book. There are a lot of ingredients, but nothing gels, no underlying theme that really holds it together.

For a story to be successful, there needs to be some kind of change -- a character starts at point A and ends up at point B. Julie Powell just circles her kitchen (which is disgusting, btw, but mildly funny and relatable in an awkward, uncomfortable way) and never quite convinces us (or me, more precisely) that she is learning anything from her experiment. The motivation for the project is also murky. I get that at the beginning, the author feels trapped by her life and she wants something to spice life up. So why Julia Child? And what does cooking her way through this book bring to her life other than piles of dirty dishes and a penchant for finding rare and expensive ingredients? The questions are never answered. Somehow, it becomes about blogging, about finding validation externally through "bleaders", and Julia Child becomes incidental to the book (And oh yeah, there are made-up bits about Julia Child either, but some of them were cringeworthy).

I was really disappointed in this book because it could have been so much more. It should have been a light and fun read and occasionally it was. I was looking forward to reading about someone who lives a life ordinarily like so many of us, yet rising above it by taking on this crazy project. In the end, it seemed like an excercise in navel gazing instead, definitely better suited for a blog than for a book. reviews seem to imply the movie is much better than the book; I haven't seen the movie, but I definitely don't recommend the book.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I've been having a problem with deodrant staining some of my blouses. I don't mean when you put on a blouse or dress and deodrant gets on the garment; that's easy enough to clean by dabbing a wet washcloth against the stain. I'm talking about the more insidious permanent stains that don't come out even after repeated washings. It's especially a problem with colored clothing because I can't use bleach and I hate when a nice blouse is ruined because I didn't want to be stinky at work. Anyway, I was doing some research into this very serious issue as my favorite button down blouse was so afflicted and I found a potential cure: white vinegar.

So Friday, I mixed water and vinegar in some unknown proportion and then used a washcloth to dab at the stains on the blouse (which is red, btw). Then into the washing machine it went (cold water, regular soap) and then into the dryer. When it came out, I found that some of the stains were still there but for the most part, the vinegar/water mixture had broken the stain to a point that it is now actually wearable on its own -- no need to cover it up with a jacket or sweater any more. I'm going to try the vinegar/water thing again and hopefully the stains will be gone for good. For it's worth, the blouse is cotton; I have no idea how this will work on other materials. I just figured it's a pretty cost-effective and simple solution to a vexing problem and I don't think there's a problem with a vinegar-treated clothing being in the washing machine with other clothes.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Five myths about America's credit card debt. Interesting reading, nothing more or less than that. Myths 3 and 5 were the most interesting to me.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


So my Prius has been recalled in this Great Toyota Brouhaha of 2009/2010. The car, however, hasn't been recalled for the stuck accelerator, but rather the floormat problem. So that's definitely a relief. I think having the stuck accelerator would be more worrisome of a problem, but I trust Toyota and Consumer Reports when they say it's a rare problem. I still think more people have died due to people talking or texting on cell phones than this accelerator problem.

I'm not discounting scariness of the issue, but for whatever reason, my loyalty to Toyota is strong. We're a three-Toyota car family and we've never had a problem outside of normal maintenance with any of the cars, including the '99 Corolla and '04 Matrix.

It also seems that Toyota is taking it on the chin, but it seems the problem is widespread across multiple brands. All you have to do is type "sudden car acceleration" into google and you'll see it spans a multitude of brands. According to Consumer Reports, 40 percent of complaints are related to Toyota and 28 percent to Ford (second place). I don't know how much of that difference is related to comparative number of vehicles on the road. Still, I think other people -- especially Ford owners -- should be aware of the issue since it does seem to be prevalent, but at the moment is completely focused on Toyota.

The good thing is Toyota is addressing the problem and they have a fix forthcoming that should put people's minds at ease. This recall doesn't change my feelings about Toyota and I would certainly consider another one in 10 years or so.

LotD: Sudden Acceleration: It's Bad and It's Not Just Toyota.