Sounds Like Credenza

The TL;DR here is that my long vehicle search is over. The last few weeks have been a ceaselessly expanding and contracting series of criteria based on whatever seemed available at local dealerships and Facebook Marketplace. I probably should have just ordered something at a dealer to get exactly what I want, but the supply chain is still extremely precarious, and I’m not convinced the 3-4 month order pipeline will remain viable.

Not wiling to give up, earlier this week I wandered over to the local shady used dealership to peruse their rusty, ancient, and overpriced relics in search of a Diamond in the Rough. I saw a couple that had promise, but not for the price they were asking. Not to be dissuaded, I proceeded to the local Toyota dealer and asked about any used cars under $15k they might have on the lot.

Given the market, there was a dearth of selection in that range, except someone recently traded in a 2014 Nissan Sentra that was actually in pretty good condition. Unfortunately these cars are encumbered with notoriously terrible Jatco continuously variable transmissions (CVT) that have a tendency to fail. Even at a quite reasonable $11k, I wasn’t about to adopt a 103k mile Jatco, especially after test driving it and being highly alarmed at how badly it shifted.

So then I wandered over to the Jeep dealership and asked the same question. They had nothing on the lot that looked interesting, but someone had traded in a 2016 Toyota Corolla literally hours prior to my arrival. It was in my artificially lowered price range for a used car, and only had 86k miles on it. So I asked him to wait for their shop to finish up on it, and let me know once it was cleaned up and on the lot so it didn’t still have the crumbs and other detritus from the previous owner firmly embedded in the upholstery.

That just meant I had to wait, which was fine with me. Car search over! To prepare for this purchase, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on Corollas of that vintage, so I knew what to look for when making the final decision. As it turns out, I’m extremely glad I did this. A fairly well respected Toyota master technician that goes by “The Car Care Nut” on YouTube posted a 2014-2019 Corolla Buying Guide where he laid out the most important details. I carefully took notes, and underlined “avoid the Eco models” because he mentioned it several times in the video. Apparently the Valvematic variable lift actuator causes a bunch of problems and tends to fail about when the car reaches 100k miles. Still, he strongly recommended the 2016 model in particular, so I was practically elated at my luck.

Then Friday arrived and I scampered to the dealership to close the deal and put the car search behind me. But wait! What’s this? Is that an “Eco” badge next to the “LE” trim level? No freaking way. I apologized profusely to the poor salesman that I would have to pass on the car given its dubious pedigree, and went home in a kind of annoyed and antsy mood. I was so close! It was probably this taunting by the universe that made me particularly impatient, so I altered my criteria: I’m buying a car one way or the other. I wanted a cheap older car to get through the supply chain kinks, but I’ll take whatever I can get now, new or otherwise, so long as I’m not being outright ripped off.

Later that night I cast a very wide net across the internet, including checking the local Toyota dealership’s new inventory. It turns out they actually had a brand new 2022 Corolla Hybrid available somehow, for MSRP. A practical miracle in today’s market. Those things get like 50-60 MPG man! So I quickly sent an inquiry which would resolve Saturday morning, and went to bed. That morning, whoever manages their online replies notified me that it was still available, and asked when I’d like to make an appointment. There was just one kink: Jen had left for the weekend since this is graduation week for two of her friends, thus I had no way of getting to the dealership.

I called them directly and explained the situation: I wanted to see and probably buy that car, but had no way of getting to the dealership. They routed me to the sales department, figuring a particularly motivated salesperson would fetch me if it meant making a sale. It was then that the salesman sadly informed me that the Corolla had literally been sold the previous afternoon, they just hadn’t finished the paperwork that night because a tornado warning prompted them to leave early. Had I simply looked for a new car rather than a cheaper older one, I would have seen that listing on Monday and acted on it.

On the outside I was fairly calm, but internally I was apoplectic. One day. I missed buying basically the perfect vehicle for current market conditions (reliable and great fuel economy) by a single day. I’m not an especially impulsive person, but frustration makes me do weird things. So in order to salvage the day, I thought back to what else I had seen in their new inventory and started rattling off things that sounded even slightly interesting. I heard they had a Venza XLE, and maybe a RAV4 Limited, or perhaps a Camry SE.

They actually had all three because the delivery truck had arrived earlier that week, so I was in luck! I was particularly interested in the Venza because it was a Hybrid, but the RAV4 Limited is a higher trim level and carried the Weather package besides. So he picked me up and drove me to the dealership, and I started abusing the merchandise. I loved how the Venza felt on the road. It’s much more refined than the RAV4, which is consistent with the reviews I’d been consuming up until that point. There are a couple odd quirks, and the XLE model doesn’t have the infamous Star Gaze panoramic sunroof, but it also cost about $7k less than the Venza Limited models that provide that particular feature.

It was not an easy decision. Did I want more options from the RAV4 Limited or a classier cabin and better hybrid driving profile and handling? One particular element that burned my biscuits is that the Heads Up display is only available as an option on the Venza Limited model. So not only would I have to make a special order to get it, but it would cost a minimum of $4k more just to get that feature. The Limited also has a Digital rearview camera that actually converts the rearview mirror into a screen displaying much more than you can see through the rear window, and Bird’s Eye view around the vehicle to greatly ease parking or navigating around tight quarters. But I was basically spent. The XLE on hand was close enough, and I’ve gotten by without those particular capabilities for this long. Besides, we have the CX-5 when we need those things.

So that’s what I bought. A 2022 Toyota Venza XLE in Titanium Glow. I’m taking it in on Monday to have them apply a ceramic coating and underbody rust protection at my insistence. After detailing the Porsche, I know exactly how much work is required to prep a car for a ceramic coat, and I’d rather have someone else do it this time around. I talked the finance department into a discount, and took no other warranties or packages, so I managed to prevent them from exploiting me too much.

Once I got home, I programmed our garage door opener to recognize the HomeLink, and now I just need to see how high of an MPG score I can squeeze out of it. I swear, being a gamer infiltrates every aspect of my life. One other important element is that Toyota covers the first two oil changes, but that’s not sufficient. For modern cars, this means an oil change every 10k miles, and I refuse to damage my vehicle that way. By the time oil reaches 10k miles or 1 year in age, it’s unrecognizable black sludge no matter how low viscosity it started as. This is especially true of brand new engines that haven’t yet been broken in. Hybrid or not, I’m going to do an oil change after the 1k mile break-in period, and then every 5k, or 6 months.

Hybrid engines don’t work as hard, so if I drop the oil at 5k and see that it’s not particularly dirty, I may back it off to 7500 miles. I’ll certainly take the free ones from Toyota, but I’ll pay extra to make sure this thing lasts as long as possible. I didn’t spend $40k after taxes and fees just to perform bare minimum maintenance.

Seriously though, check out The Car Care Nut’s YouTube channel. He has a lot of valuable advice that doesn’t just apply to Toyotas. I’ll note that the Toyota dealership also has a 2004 Camry on the lot with 300k miles, and I was actually tempted to buy it. Why? The CARFAX report for it reflects a single owner that religiously followed a 3-5k oil change schedule, which does a lot to explain its longevity.

This and other impulsive decisions brought to you by Frustration (tm).

Until Tomorrow.