My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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shopping, shopping

I’m back in LA. No more traveling, no more conferences. It is now time to sit down and write that dissertation. Of course, that requires getting the ducks lined up. I did 6 months worth of bills yesterday. Today, i started doing some comparison shopping. What I’m realizing is that I’m a bad shopper. I hate choice and I hate making decisions. It’s bad enough with clothes (which I don’t buy) and it’s much worse with gadgets.

My Sidekick is dying. Do I get the new Sidekick or do I switch to a Helio Ocean? Or ?? All I want is a damn good keyboard with a fantabulous interface for AIM and a relatively cheap plan that is data friendly. (Pah to the iPhone.)

I need a new car. Do I go for cute and get a Mini, go for the environment and get a Prius, go for practical and get a Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, or Scion? Or is there something else that I should get if I want: small, fuel efficient, relatively cheap, and sunroof?

How on earth do people make these decisions? I started websurfing and it was like entering an infinite loop of information with opinions in every which direction. I went to the car lots and stores and it was just overwhelming because I don’t like when people try to sell stuff to me (tis why I walk out of most clothing stores). How do people make decisions about what to buy? Oh right… friends. Shit. So, yo opinionated/knowledgeable friends: What car should I get? What phone should I get? Help me consume so that I can hibernate in LA and write. Tehehe.

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42 comments to shopping, shopping

  • From personal purchase experience over the summer, I’d say iPhone+Prius- but hey, I’m just some guy that reads your blog. Wait, that does mean I have good taste, right?

  • abigail

    go for the sidekick. they’re awesome

  • I’m in the middle of my own “What car do I want” decision. Right now, it’s a coin toss between the Honda Civic and the Acura TSX. The Civic is the environmental/functional/economical option. The TSX is the “Dammit, I’m 30-something and what a cush ride” option. I’m not sure which way I’ll go. I did test drive a Prius for a couple of weeks earlier this year. It’s a cool car, but one that is best suited to city life. It’s not as good a choice for my primary use case as a road trip car I think.

    But, then, there’s both too many damn choices and yet I really want a better choice than exists. Like something in the size of a TSX with fun to drive but can be fueled with hydrogen or gas or water. Dammit. Or something like that. 🙂

  • Dan

    Agreed on the iPhone: No keyboard means it’s no good for heavy messaging. The folks who have the Helio Ocean really like it, but dealing with new UIs is a waste of time. If you’re happy with SK, get another.

    I just had a rental Prius last week: it seems like a perfect danah car. MPG==game to keep you entertained. The mini is not so much an LA car.

  • Sometimes, too much choice isn’t a good thing.

    Six months’ worth of bookkeeping eh? I just went through that last month. Every year, I say that I’ll get better, but it seems like I’m getting worse. :-/

    I can’t give you any advice on the Sidekick but I can tell you that my shortlist for cars consisted of the VW Golf, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. Initially, I wanted a Subaru Forester (that sunroof!) but alas, it was way too much for my wallet.

    The Versa had poor visibility. The first two failed my “Can it fit three Iaidoka, their swords and gear + my dog and his crate/gear” test. I wound up not driving the Yaris because my search stopped with the Honda Fit (marketed in Asia and Europe as “the Honda Jazz”.

    Decent mileage, input auxiliary jack, excellent visibility for the petite driver and the piece de resistance – the Magic Seat. In Tall Mode, you can fit a bike inside. In Utility mode, the back seats fold completely down to the floor, turning the Fit into a mini station wagon. In Refresh mode, you get two full beds while in Long Mode, you apparently ca fit a 7’0″ surf board.

    I had to compromise though – no sunroof. But hey, it was $10,000 cheaper than the Subaru I was initially dreaming of.

  • According to the Dust to Dust Automotive Energy Report, the Prius isn’t all that great for the environment, when you take into account the energy used in manufacturing and its projected lifetime mileage (only 100,000 miles). The best for the environment? The Scion xB.

    http://www.cnwmr.com/nss-folder/automotiveenergy/

  • Oh gosh… I so relate to this post.

    I’ve started asking other people that like to shop for their hand-me-downs. I met a woman while I was looking for a house to rent. Somehow we got into a conversation about how I hate to shop. We figured we were around the same size. I didn’t rent the house but I went back a couple of weeks later and left with 2 bags of designer clothes (I don’t know who the designers are, but she shared stories!)

    I just bought a new car (2004 Honda Civic). I love Hondas (pretty fuel efficient, don’t depreciate in resale as fast as other cars, last forever). I was doing the hybrid or not dance. I decided to wait a couple years for the hybrid as it was a bit too expensive for me now. I went to a dealership. The new Civics look like space ships and the whole “trying to sell me something… let’s see what we can do for you” attitude was making my skin crawl. I hadn’t prepared enough!!

    I left disappointed and frustrated and soo wanting the process to be over. I asked more people for help (what questions to ask, what things to know ahead of time), I built up my confidence and tolerance for the sales-scene. Tried the dealers again. Got lucky at the next one. The guy was pretty straight forward and real. I bought the car that morning. Even got the price down $1000. I was pretty proud of myself!

    I also just switched to a blue tooth. Bought my first one. Got a nice one I thought. People said it sounded like I was talking into a tin can or an echoing room. Decided to take it back. Too many choices in the store so I just returned it and didn’t buy a new one. I have no clue how to do this stuff.

    Best wishes to you!

    And such privileged lives we live…

    Another one of your appreciative readers,
    Ashley

  • If money is not an object, I’d go with James Duncan Davidson’s recommendation for the Acura, but the Civic EX is darn reliable and nice. I’ve driven them for years until I upgraded to the Accord last year.

    The new Civics also come with an audio-in jack so all you need is a $10 patch cable for your iPod/MP3 player, instead of a $300 adaptor.

    Unless you can find a deal on a recent, used Civic, buying new is worthwhile, since they hold on to their value longer than other cars.

    Following up on @ Ashley, when shopping for a new car, set a target price, have proof of ability to purchase (a check in hand from your bank or credit union, but do not disclose the amount,) and be willing to walk out the door when the sales staff do not cooperate. It’s a hideous game, but it is how it played.

    @ John O’Neil: the energy cost of a Prius is a canard long since shot down.

    I can’t help you on the phone thing. I like my iPhone and use it all the time for texting. I’ve found its predictive typing capabilities make up for the lack of tactile feedback. I’ve moved from IM to IRC and Twitter as my ambient communications medium of choice, so IM is less important to me. Like I said, I have a different use case than yours.

  • I know exactly what you mean. I hate shopping too. It is so damn hard to reach a final decision. The ideal for me is to know what I want beforehand, get to the shop, spend 2 minutes there paying for the items I want and leave immediately afterwards. But it is hardly ever like that.

    As for the car I would say: Go for a Smart 4 two: http://www.autoblog.com/2006/07/13/smart-fortwo-ev-set-to-electrify-batritish-motor-show/

    They are nice.

    I still haven’t used an iPhone so I can’t really comment on that.

    Good luck with your shopping! 🙂

  • Colin

    I don’t know whether you have the exact same cars over there (I am in Europe) but the new Mini is actually supposed to be pretty good for the environment. BMW have made quite an effort making it as environmentally friendly.

  • If you don’t buy a car, then you will have to stay home. This will mean you finish your dissertation sooner and save on the depreciation on a new car and be environementally friendly ;O

  • wolfi

    Maybe going for gorilla glue for your chair instead of a car would be good for your dissertation? And to trash your ideas that a Prius or any other new car is environmentally friendly, please remember that it would be way more sustainable to not create new demand and instead go for an old gas-guzzling 8 cylinder and spend the rest of your hard-earned (?) stipend on Save the Children or other worthy causes. Just the 2c of a fellow PhD student.

  • You want something that is safe and fuel efficient and reliable. The current version of the Honda Civic is very safe. 5 stars ratings. You DO NOT want a VW if you care about reliability. Different that the Civic is the Honda Fit–it’s a hatchback. Incredibly space efficient, reliable and fuel efficient. Not quite as safe as the Civic because it’s an older design (new version next year). Limit yourself to looking at those two choices and you’ll be fine. OK, look at a Prius too. Super reliable and amazingly space efficient and well designed totally aside from being a hybrid. Really a step up in size from the Fit and Civic. Car shopping could consume you and waste your time for weeks on end. Don’t give in! Nice thing about all 3 of these is that they don’t give you the completely overwhelming number of option choices that are available for the Scion and the Mini! Also: don’t even consider a Mini. Last model was only adequately reliable in the later years. New model (that looks almost exactly the same as the old model) might or might not be reliable. Someone like you doesn’t need to worry about being a BMW guinea pig. You have better things to do.

  • I considered buying a Sidekick LX, but instead I just picked up a BlackBerry 8830 from T-mobile. It has a great qwerty keyboard and instant messenger client. The BlackBerry has a longer lasting battery and is much smaller and lighter.

    The other major benefit is UMA, which allows you to easily browse and place calls using your wi-fi network.

  • John – i actually drive very little… but i do need to drive to see my committee members and when i want to go out. But when i’m in Venice, i bike. So i run like 8k miles a year total, maybe?

    My “pah to iphones” has multiple reasons: 1) no IM, 2) can’t stand predictive texting, 3) can’t stand no feedback or feeling for typing and can’t type on that thing without looking, 4) loathe the ATT bills and the international costs. I will probably get a iPod so that i can do the wireless components but fuck ATT.

    Wolfi – the problem is that i’m car clueless. Getting an old car means way too many trips to a mechanic and i don’t know what i’m doing there and hate getting screwed. Besides, i can’t spend that kind of time at unknown intervals. I need safe and reliable at every turn.

  • I suspect you’re not a blackberry type, but that’s my phone of choice

    If not the Prius, consider the new Smart Car coming out next year: http://www.smartusa.com/

  • I’m on my second Prius. Very happy with the car. Especially the hatchback on the new one. If it’s outside your budget, I would recommend the Yaris. Small, efficient and reliable.

    You won’t find a Prius owner who dislikes their car. Consumer Reports said 94% of Prius owners would buy one again.

    The iPhone will do IM — there are several third-party apps available. And a bunch of unlocking tools, too, so you can take it outside the US without roaming. For calls to other countries from inside the US, I recommend a dial-around service like OneSuite. I pay 2c/minute for calls to Canada.

  • As an owner of both the Helio Ocean and a Yaris hatchback, I feel pretty good recommending both. Yaris is the 6th least expensive car in ’07, according to this article and it’s much better looking than any of the top 5. I’ve been driving at a pace of about 6,000 miles per year in Chicago rush hour traffic and still am getting between 32 and 34 mpg.
    I like the Helio a lot. The keyboard, the camera (which allows me to snap photos and quickly get them up to Facebook or Flickr and then on to my blogs or Yelp), the quick browsing, which is handy for Google Reader on the go – it’s all good. It can be a battery hog, though.

  • iphone. it’s so much better than i thought it would be and i had high expectations. it’s a computer in my pocket, always ready to go, speedy and user friendly. excellent.

    go for the mini. live my dream.

  • You might try the Pontiac Vibe–I’ve been really happy with mine. It’s sort of random as a car choice, but worth a test drive.

    Good luck, and best wishes as the hibernation begins…

  • Amanda L.

    I can’t speak to the Sidekick vs. Helio Ocean, but you might consider checking out Dave Coustan’s write up and discussion of the Ocean on the archive of the Earthling blog.

    I can’t say enough good things about Hondas. I’ve had my Civic LS for 5 years and I haven’t had a single problem with it. A Civic might be too big for what you need, but look into the Fit. My grandmother drives her Prius, and loves it (other than the fact that sometimes its so quiet she’s not sure whether it’s on or not.) And as cute as Volkswagons are, they are sadly not nearly as problem free as Hondas or the Prius.

    If you want to cut through the hype and salesmanship for information about reliability and resale value, consider springing for copy/web subscription of/to Consumer Reports. I found it to be an immensely helpful resources when deciding on a car.

    When I bought my car, I did the initial dealing (after a test drive) over the phone. I knew exactly what I wanted, I called the dealer, asked if they had what I wanted in stock, asked if they could meet a certain price (about $500 over invoice – you’ve got to be fair) and if they said yes, I asked them to fax it to me in writing. If they wouldn’t, I moved on. After calling a few places and getting two bids, I finally found an awesome dealership that did exactly what they said they would and were a pleasure to deal with. No upselling. Just a car. It wasn’t the most fun use of a holiday, but I did it in a day.

  • Christine

    Please do yourself a big favor and check out the Honda Civic GX (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Civic_GX). It is a car fueled by natural gas (methane) and is rated by the EPA as the cleanest internal-combustion car on the planet.

    Unfortunately the car is not ready for really wide use but as an LA driver, it’s ideal. Los Angeles was the original test market for this car’s US release, and as such it has a large infrastructure of fueling stations (a very informative website is the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition; http://cngvc.org). Once you’ve read about it, you’ll be able to see the cars everywhere–they’re the cars with the blue CNG (compressed natural gas) diamond stickers on the back. Lots of buses, shuttle vans and taxicabs have them, as well as some cities’ squad cars.

    Right now the demand for methane is not nearly as high as that for gasoline, so current prices are about 2.45/gal. They just raised that 10 cents from a month or two ago, which is a little annoying but not bad. It costs me around $13 to fill up the ~5 gallon tank of my 2001 GX, and that lasts me almost 200 miles. The 2007 models have been completely retooled, though, so you can get up to 300 miles a tank for that price!

    Another plus: this car qualifies for the white carpool decal, which unlike the yellow decal program for hybrids does not have a limit and are therefore still available. I can’t describe how exciting it was to zoom by everyone on the 110 for the first time!

    Lookswise, the car is modeled after the Civic LX and is virtually the same except for the fueling system. It is currently manufactured in small amounts and is used by some major cities like Long Beach as government cars, so if you keep a sharp eye out you can buy used cars that formerly were driven by city employees (mine belonged to Los Angeles), so most of the used GXes you see (which are v. scarce) are appliance-white.

    There are some downsides, of course–the trunk space is extremely limited due to the car needing such a large tank for the gas. I can easily fit all my groceries, but it you’re planning to pick up a friend from the airport make sure your backseat is clear…and now that I try to I can’t really think of any other downsides.

    I love my car so much, I got a great deal on it (it should cost the equivalent of a used LX) and sells new at $25k. I’ve done tons of research on the car, I know two other people who drive them and it’s great to bond with the few civilians you see fueling at the stations sometimes. For a commuter car it’s ideal and I couldn’t be happier. Do the research and contact me if you want to talk about it more!

    -An impassioned reader and NGV driver

  • I forgot to mention that I also test drove a Mazda 3. Full of zip. They treated me a like a stupid girl who didn’t know anything about cars. Granted, I don’t know tons about cars, but I don’t want to be treated like an idiot.

    Dealership aside, I know some people who really like their Mazda 3’s. As for me and the other Honda owners who have posted, I can’t say enough great things about Honda. A friend of mine once told me that when people ask a Honda owner if they like their car, the response is always, “I LOVE IT!”

    It sounds like you’ve got a good selection to research here. In Canada, we have http://www.carcostcanada.com – check to see if there is a US equivalent.

  • I forgot to mention that I also test drove a Mazda 3. Full of zip. They treated me a like a stupid girl who didn’t know anything about cars. Granted, I don’t know tons about cars, but I don’t want to be treated like an idiot.

    Dealership aside, I know some people who really like their Mazda 3’s. As for me and the other Honda owners who have posted, I can’t say enough great things about Honda. A friend of mine once told me that when people ask a Honda owner if they like their car, the response is always, “I LOVE IT!”

    It sounds like you’ve got a good selection to research here. In Canada, we have http://www.carcostcanada.com – check to see if there is a US equivalent.

  • sounds like a “paradox of choice”

    I guess you just really need a fishbowl..

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/93

  • The sidekick is a unique phone, so if you like that, stick with it as there’s nothing that competes. Yeah, there are blackberrys and Symbian Nokias with full keyboards, but they’re not the same and it’s probably not worth it to learn another interface,

    As far as the car goes, avoid cute. Cute is more likely to break down and more likely to suffer more serious damage in an accident. The Priuses and Civics are fine cars.

  • I usually find that discussion forums are the best way to get a large number of actual consumer opinions on something. You’ll find that the models most people are discussing are the consensus best options, and often quite different from the ones that the company is promoting. The phone forum I like is http://howardforums.com (lots of bad english and ignorance, but some good information, too) and I have looked around at edmunds.com forums and, I think, cartalk.com forums, but I don’t have a favorite car forum yet.

  • John B.

    I do all my clothes shopping at thrift stores where I can lurk for hours unhassled by employees. I like to buy cars from private parties because they’re not going to try to talk me in to buying needless add-ons.

    These also feel like more “genuine” experiences versus the sterile feeling I get going to a mall/botiuqe or car dealership.

    If you decide to go the route of a car dealership, a great book to read is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
    It’s a wonderful view in to the techniques sales people use to get you to buy stuff.

  • Michael

    If my current phone doesn’t die completely and force an immediate decision I’m holding out for a gPhone – paradigm shift and all that. The Scion B is a practical choice if you want good gas mileage, need to haul a St. Bernard or several golden retrievers, and like the funky look.

  • John B.

    Zip Car is another good resource for test driving cars without the hassle of a sales person leaning on you.
    It’s basically a hipster car rental company where you can choose from a wide array of interesting cars to rent and drive around the city for a day.
    I’m not sure if they’re in LA yet, but worth checking out.

  • I recommend with Christine to buy your car over the phone. Last year, my lovely 1993 Honda Civic bit the dust and went to wherever Hondas go when they die (Long Beach, in this case). After much research, I decided to call a few dealers for quotes on Priuses (Prii?).

    In the end, I found the best deal to be a small town dealership in Bishop, CA – Perry Motors – that sells a variety of brands and was willing to deal straight with me on the phone. I got my quote also in a fax, put down a deposit on my credit card, contacted my credit union got a great deal for a loan, and then the day before Thanksgiving 2006, my brother and I took a road trip to Bishop to pick up my car.

    Why drive 5.5 hours and 300 miles northeast of LA to pick up a car, oh… the $3,000 to $5,000 cheaper that this Prius was than any of the dealers in LA I called. 25 minutes later all the paperwork was signed and off the lot I drove.

    In the nearly year since, I have put 24,000 miles on the car, it is getting over 50 miles to the gallon or a bit over 500 miles to the 10 gallon tank. I love it. Other than the filters getting clogged this week with the ash & dust and the mileage dipping to 46 mpg, I am very very pleased. It has been a great car for both LA, suburban, and road trip driving.

    Good luck. If you decide to buy out of town to get a better price, I will give you a ride, as I love road trips… ;o)

  • i’m seconding the ‘buy secondhand’ comment. secondhand doesn’t necessarily mean ‘old’ and ‘will break down’ – my car was only two years old when i bought it, and if you get a make and model that your research (which you have to do even if buying a new car) tells you is reliable, you know that means it’ll still have many good years in it.
    is your sidekick able to be repaired? all kinds of dodgy ooze is coming out of landfill thanks to all the gadgets we dump, and a lot of the minerals needed to make components for new ones come from very environmentally sensitive areas. if you can repair instead of replace, do it.

  • A.T.

    _before_ you even think about iphone, read your own brilliant post on contracts and then think how much you will spend on ATT contracts – typing “iphone total cost” in google costs you nothing, iphone bill experience will be priceless 😉

    you _ought_ to think of coming N810 http://www.nokia.com/n810 or it’s elder sister http://www.nokia.com/n800 (no HW keyboard) but then I don’t really know how to make BIG letters even BIGGER – my daily job is with this, tho I’m definitely not a salesman, rather engineer trying to make life of users least painful.

    it works over wifi Ok, but where wifi is not avail, you would need normal/cheap mobile… ahem… i mean cellular with bluetooth and data plan. I wish I could give you to borrow N800 or N810 for week or two – just to get your grip on it and feel whether you can or cannot live without that: very few people still say it’s not theirs, but prevailing majority looks for shop. But i’m on the other side of Atlantic…

  • Hey danah,

    I’ve been in exactly the same infinite loop recently and given up. Funnily enough it would have been easy to choose a car if it hadn’t been for the serious consideration of externalities that I have naturally begun undertaking before even the smallest purchase. Added that when one person tells you one thing, and another person tells you the opposite, things get very confusing.

    Sometimes I think it might be easier to do educate myself to be a mechanic with knowledge of cutting edge and affordable chemical/electrical solutions. But the social externalities of such an undertaking would render the car useless!

    Best of luck, I’ll be visiting back to see what you get…

    ~biff~

  • stephanie

    I don’t know anything about the car market, but thought i’d share this article that Logan posted to his blog today, ends up recommending the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa: http://salon.com/mwt/good_life/2007/10/29/prius/

  • Greg

    I prefer used cars for the simple reason that new cars lose so much resale value in the first year. The October issue of Consumer Reports magazine has the Civic hybrid, Corolla, Prius, Pontiac Vibe, and Honda Fit at the top of the predicted reliability scale for small cars. For collectibility, it appears that the Pontiac Solstice may be winning due to the fact that it has the lowest (predicted) reliability.

  • If you want small and economical, you might want to check out the Smart Car. These are built by Mercedes, designed by Swatch and hugely popular in Europe. They have been marketed here by conversion companies that charge about $9k to bring them in, but now they are available without that burden.

    On the other hand, if you decide on a Prius, I strongly recommend that you find a good broker. Odds are that you will not be able to negotiate to get within $250 of what the broker can do (that is what they charge) and they will save you a lot of time.

  • Team,

    I often create a list or spreadsheet (link below) to help me make my bigger decisions. I’ve started a spreadsheet that can be weighted by prioritization during your search. For example, there’s a column for a unique quality that a particular model may possess that is very important to you, and this would be weighted heavily. Additionally, if a sunroof is a deal-breaker to you, it too could have a very high rating. I’ve included some of the aforementioned models, and left out those that my research wouldn’t allow me to recommend, or that I concluded would not be “relatively cheap.”

    http://www.hotlinkfiles.com/browse/goaskalice/61233_MekxW

    There are important decisions we make as consumers. As well, we become what we consume. These are times when the impact of our decisions on our planet, is on our minds more than ever. Should we go with an alternative energy source (hybrid is one example), or not?

    Used vs. New? I recommend purchasing a used vehicle, and would consider a used one up to about 70,000 miles. I don’t know if buying a new car adds to the number of used cars that never get sold and end up as waste, but this recommendation is mainly for financial reasons.

    Own vs. lease? I do not recommend leasing for your situation. If you were a traveling salesperson, I’ve read it can make sense for someone in that line of work to lease, but from what I’ve learned, leasing is never-to-rarely a good business decision.

    I have a friend who tells me that she considers every dollar she spends to be a vote. One caveat, she’s a multi-millionaire and can afford to pay cash for her cars, and several more times over for organic food than non-organic. I also have friends who boycott the Walmart’s and Starbucks of the world for some of the same reasons, and some different. And there are others still, who favor the “Made In America” tag.

    Should we purchase from Toyota after one might conclude they encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace (one might argue that by not taking their female employee complaints seriously, they were more than enabling the behavior, in fact encouraging it). They did finally take action, and I personally think that Honda and Toyota do deliver the best vehicle for the money. (Link to article below)

    Highway vs. City. The saying goes that “highway miles” are more desirable than city driving. I believe the thinking behind this is that the highway is often open road, whereas the city often has you starting and stopping, and especially if you have a manual transmission, can place more wear and tear on your vehicle (e.g., clutch, brakes, tires). A manual tranny will tend to yield a higher MPG if you don’t slam it!

    Some of the Consumer Reports site is free, and I agree that it is of great value to subscribe. CSR writes to avoid the New Beetle 4-cylinder model, but I am not sure why or which exact year they mean by “New.”

    I have some knowledge of the mechanics behind cars as I have done my own repairs for years on both cars and motorcycles, learning from my brother how to reseat valves, bore-out pistons, and pimp a carburetor. I’ll never forget walking into a Yamaha dealer holding part of my carburetor and asking if they could order it for me, I didn’t know the name, but knew I needed that part. The look on the clerk’s face was priceless. There was also the time I walked into a Harley dealership and asked if they could raise my foot-pegs because I like to lay the bike over on turns, but the pegs can throw you (and the bike!) if they hit the road hard enough and at the right angle. “Lady,” I was told, “You just need to slow the hell down!” But I digress.

    Finally, it may simply come down to what one can afford, and finances may simply be the baseline that impacts all other choices. I would suggest finding your baseline, and moving from there. My research is far from exhaustive so feel free to alter the spreadsheet to your findings.

    I’m hoping that this spreadsheet (link below) will aid you in getting to that place. I didn’t set any calculations into it, as I don’t have your priorities to weight it, and I’m not an Excel guru. Perhaps someone reading this might be able to tweak it for you.

    I leave you with some helpful links that will guide you through the process-things like checking underneath for rust, and around the flooring and side-boards. Also, looking for puddles of fluid under the car that might suggest leaking. All of these and many more can be found at these links below. Let us know how you fare:

    1) Mouse-over on all the major dealer sites for a quick look at suggested price (this can usually be haggled)

    Toyota scandal:

    http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060508/FREE/60508011&Profile=1041

    2) Used Car Checklists:

    http://www.googobits.com/articles/3011-inspection-checklist-for-buying-a-used-car.html

    http://www.trustmymechanic.com/usedcarlist.html

    http://www.samarins.com/check/engine.html

    http://www.edmunds.com/advice/buying/articles/78387/page011.html

    3) Car Buying Guides:

    http://www.edmunds.com/advice/buying/articles/index.html

    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/guide-to-used-car-buying/0703_new-car-buying.htm

    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/best-in-class/overview/bestinclasshub.htm

    4) Car Pricing Guide:

    http://www.kbb.com

  • Hi, danah,

    Thanks for all of your thoughtful, well-written, informative blog posts.

    I’ve been fairly happy with my Samsung Blackjack smartphone, but the only IM it will do reliably is Skype, so I’m not sure that’ll meet your needs.

    On the car front, here are my thoughts:

    * As a previous commenter suggested, it’s a good idea to use ZipCar (SoCal) or City CarShare (San Francisco Bay Area) to try out various cars firsthand without the pressure of a salesweasel.

    * As “highermath” (Hi, Cary!) suggested, brokers are generally well worth it when buying new cars. A friend/colleague of mine was very happy with Cartelligent in Sausalito – I’m sure there’s no shortage of similar companies in SoCal. Similarly, most credit unions provide access to good used-car buying services, if you decide to go that route.

    * I just bought a new-to-me car a couple of months ago. I was leaning heavily toward the Prius, but my wife convinced me to save $10K by buying a slightly-used Accord instead. A few months and far too many miles later, I’m even more convinced that the Prius would’ve been a much better choice. As other commenters have said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Prius owner who isn’t happy with their car.

    best,

    Graham

  • paul moody

    I love my 2005 scion tC – glass roof with cool sunroof, cruise control, ipod connection, $18K loaded, cheap to operate, good on mileage, fun to drive, good in snow (important in VT, not LA), my snowboard fits in back : ), its a cool looking car, etc. You know me, i’ve had a bunch of cars, and if I had to replace this car, I’d go for another tC – cheers, paul

  • Seb

    I don’t know how things look like the US, but in Canada the Hyundai Elantra has an excellent reliability track record and guarantee and an unbeatable price for what you get.