The time has come to put my beloved '01 Jeep Cherokee out to pasture.
Since downsizing to a 1-car family, our wheels are more for utility than image. For several reasons... We don't drive to work. We sold the "fun" MINI and kept the very "practical" Jeep. We despise traffic congestion, therefore city driving is my least preferred option. We love a great road trip - but we'd prefer it free of gridlock and freeway parking lots. The last thing we want to become is smug, but we just don't drive much anymore...
When the Jeep was stolen about a month ago, we had to consider a replacement car. It had been a spot-on reliable utility, and we had no intentions of replacing. We just wanted that Jeep back. Acknowledging it might never be found, we took the advice of our insurance agent and got a few 1-day rental cars to look at used cars on the weekends. We hoped to find something approximately the value of the Jeep, to avoid dipping substantially into savings. We were primarily interested in wagons or small SUVs, since we need a practical, economical, and utility vehicle that could measure up to our Jeep.
I previously owned a Subaru Outback wagon, and despite high repair costs, it was a pretty good car. The Jeep wasn't great on gas, but considering how little we drove it, that really didn't matter. So, we foraged for something similar to these. Had a hard time finding a decent wagon in our price range ($7-9K) because they are popular in the Pacific Northwest and tend to hold value pretty well. After a rather hilarious experience that reinforced everything behind the sleazy used car salesman stereotype, we quickly exited the market for dealer used Volvo XC70 wagons. There were plenty of other small SUVs, but almost all were simply above our price range or had too many miles.
After a couple of weeks, we had a lot of leads. But nothing really stood out. Frustrating.
Our last mid-size "default" rental car was a 2009 Chevy HHR 2LT, a car we had neither driven nor knew much about. I don't intentionally snub brands, but I never owned a GM car either. Maybe it finally felt like a nice handling rental car. Maybe it was the handy aux/in for iPod. Maybe it was the very comfortable leather seats, zippy 4-banger, ABS, traction control, and did I mention unexpectedly good handling? Maybe it was because it was a bright sunny day, and since selling the MINI we had been sunroof-deprived. Maybe it was all these things to really enjoy driving this car while looking at used cars. It might have had more interior hauling room than our Jeep, definitely had more spacious back seats, had as much roof storage, and had lots of extras mentioned above. The only downside seemed to be no 4-wheel-drive. But, since ice is a bigger problem than snow in Seattle (no ABS in the Jeep made that very exciting), maybe I'd actually get to use my tire chains next year. So, the next day we included used HHRs it in our online scouring. After looking at and driving several, we quickly concluded we were somewhat spoiled by our loaded rental car. The LS base model cloth interior is a bad choice (stains easily) and the smaller 4-cyl is, well, too small. The LT models are higher price (there is a top SS-model, but let's be honest - it is ridiculous). We were soon in the same boat as the small SUV and wagon searches, struggling with high prices and high miles.
About a day later Allison stumbled upon a Vancouver WA craigslist ad for a fully loaded '06 HHR LT with fairly low miles and a good price. We made plans in the next week to meet the seller, review & drive. Finally, a promising lead!
Two days later and after I was convinced it was gone for good, our Jeep was recovered by the Seattle police! Unfortunately it had extensive (mostly cosmetic) body damage. No observed mechanical damage, but the body repairs exceeded its value. Bummer. It was processed a total loss by my insurance company, and I was back shopping for a replacement.
We kept the plans and met the lady selling the HHR the next weekend, and it was perfect. I had already done the VIN checks and Carfax reports, and everything checked out clear. So, after a little negotiation we became the happy owner of a shiny "newsed" car!
We fully admit this is not a car for many would brag. We have already taken a lot of ribbing from friends, ranging from its high amount of "chrome per square inch," or simply "you bought what? on purpose?" I welcome this harassment! I simply was unaware there were higher end HHRs with such nice features. In the end, the numbers and search criteria met. We proudly brand it our "nerd mobile" and aim to enjoy for years and years.