Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We bought a Honda Odyssey

My car purchase history is 1991 Honda Civic Wagon, 1994 Toyota Celica (kept ’91 civic wagon for my wife), 1997 Honda CRV (traded in the ’94 Celica – bad car for toting babies in), 2002 Honda Pilot. My wife’s Honda Pilot got crunched by a large white delivery truck while my wife was at a stoplight. The size/heft and safety features including the “marginal” rear-crash rating of the Pilot saved both my wife’s and my daughter’s life (please see the picture above for the damage from behind). It made us want to buy another Pilot, especially as it had been an absolutely flawless performer with absolutely no problems since the day we bought it. However the big downers on the Pilot were difficulty getting the 3-year-old in/out of it, bad gas mileage, uncomfortable 2nd row seating and impossible 3rd row seating. Things we liked about the Pilot were its rear back-up sensors and the rear DVD entertainment system (to keep the kids from fighting during long trips). I also liked the high vantage point while driving as well as the high ground clearance (though this made the car theoretically less stable and more prone to rollover). Also the Pilot was just simply a “cool” car among the geeky parents-with-small-kids crowd.

However, the Odyssey was the inevitable car for us at this stage of our lives with an 8-year-old and a 3-year-old. We scoured the specs/numbers at NADA and Kelly Blue Book sites, we read the entire sections in Consumer Reports on Minivans and ordered price reports to make sure the NADA and Kelly Blue Book and prices weren’t missing something (they didn’t include dealer holdbacks of $500 to $1500). We looked long and hard and did almost go for the Toyota Sienna XLE Limited, but we were dissuaded by Toyota’s specifications including inferior gas mileage and the recommendations to use Premium gas, and ultimately Toyota’s inferior crash test ratings (it’s rear crash ratings are POOR, versus the Odyssey’s MARGINAL) ruined the Sienna in for us. The Sienna however was clearly the “cooler” car and more popular with the kids, but for us safety and gas mileage trumped all. The dealer told us the Sienna Hybrid was just around the corner (maybe next year - 2007), but from the size of the Sienna, I can’t imagine that it would make a huge difference in mileage, maybe ratchet it up by 5 or so miles per gallon. It would be then marginally better than the Odyssey EX-L and Touring models, but I’m sure at the price of several thousand dollars more. And despite advertising to the contrary, I have a pet theory that those big batteries run by the hybrids will need to be changed out after about 5 or so years at a cost of thousands of dollars, thereby obliterating the price savings from the hybrid mileage. The trim line of Odyssey we bought (the Touring) comes with the VCM (variable cylinder management) system which shuts down half the 6 cylinders when the vehicle is cruising at low speeds or decelerating, and the Ody club forum database seems to confirm mileages in the 20city/28hwy range – not bad for a hulking vehicle. The front dash multi-information display shows you approximated real-time mileage as well as how many more miles you can drive on the current level of fuel available (an awesome feature). Additionally, I have received absolutely stellar service and honesty from 4 different Honda dealers and repair/maintenance while I’ve received only sleazy service and dishonesty from the two Toyota dealers where I serviced my ’94 Celica. The sales tactics at the Toyota dealerships I’ve visited also were a turn-off.

I remember about 10 years ago thinking how stupid-looking and ugly minivans were and I said to myself that I’d never spend my own money on abominations like that. Well if I didn’t have kids, I’d go for a nice Honda Accord/Civic Hybrid, maybe the Prius, but with 2 little ones to tote around for at least another 13 years, the Minivan makes a lot of sense, especially the Odyssey. In any case, I've accepted the fact that I am middle-aged now, over-the-hill, about-to-die, etc. So being "cool" means nothing to me anymore. Either that or my now middle-aged tastes finds that the Odyssey is indeed "cool" for my frumpy set.

Once we decided on the Odyssey, the anti-affluenza-izing part of us wanted to go USED and wanted to go LX, well we looked at various USED cars and looked up records by VIN on CarFax and we ultimately decided that surely we could get a decent vehicle at a decent price, but we’d probably still be paying around 85% of the price of a new car for a vehicle which we’d always be nervous/anxious about due to its lack of good warranty. We had a friend who actually sold used cars including Odysseys, and after checking various used vehicles out (especially the ones just coming of lease from 2004), we decided to go ahead and spend the extra 15% for a new one with full warranty. We’re talking about the difference between paying say $30,000 for a new one versus $25,000 for a used one – definitely a big monetary difference, but considering the psychological and the potential sub-LEMONal factors involved, we decided to pay the extra $5k and sleep better at night.

Once we fell down the slippery slope of getting a new Odyssey, it became relatively easy to convince ourselves that we needed the Touring line of Odyssey. What the Odyssey 2006 Touring has over the next best Odyssey, the EX-L are: run-flat tires with constant tire pressure monitoring systems, the automatic open/shut rear hatch (huge and heavy) with the auto obstruction sensing features on both the side sliding doors and the rear hatch. With small kids running around these safety features are unbeatable. I have had 2 friends who were killed on highways from probably high-speed tire blow-outs. The Honda Odyssey Touring lines’ Michellin PAX system promises to eliminate this deadly possibility. Also, my wife tends to be a do-it-yourselfer and has often changed tires on our vehicles – yet the promise of not needing to do this, especially at night on dangerous highways or dangerous neighborhoods is also definitely worth the price of these tire systems. I’ve read from people on the Ody forum that it would be about $900 for replacement of all four tires on the Michellin PAX system. Compared to the $500 I paid for the cheap Uniroyal Laredo Cross-Country on our last Honda Pilot, the $900 doesn’t seem a high premium to pay for the additional safety features you get. The other great features of the Touring line over the others are the multiple-point parking sensor system surrounding the vehicle. I enjoyed the back-up sensor on the Pilot, but having additional sensing points as well as the rear-view back-up camera to aid in parking/backing-up is a great feature especially for those with limited coordination like me.

The more difficult part to explain is getting the rear-DVD-entertainment system and the satellite-linked navigation system. As I said before we had the rear DVD system on the Pilot and we have found it extremely useful particularly with our very demanding and noisy kids. As much as I despise TV, the ability to keep the car relatively calm and quiet during long, long trips actually provides another safety feature to the driver as well as lowering stress levels. We can be very choosy with our DVD choices too: the Kipper series are a favorite as we have probably the entire collection. Other ones I like are the Pixar movies, and many of the older Disney movies. The navigation system is something I wanted to get because we have gotten outrageously lost several times and I thought being totally lost especially in heavy traffic in foreign territory (on long trips etc.) is also very much a safety concern. If the Touring line came in a set-up where we could have the rear-back-up camera WITHOUT the navigation system however, we might have gone for a vehicle without the navigation features. I’ve read more and more how useful the NAV is, so I’m thinking that it was a good choice. My intial impression with the car is indeed that the Navigation features is the single most awesome feature of the car. The black leather interior is also an awe-inspiring experience. I can't imagine living without the Nagivation features now - I'll never be lost again (in the Ody at least). The voice command and recognition feature is also pretty HAL-like and fun, but I think I could live without it. The remote keyless entry with the auto dual side sliding doors and the auto rear hatch open/closing is also pretty nice - I can't help but play with it. It's basically like playing with your own toy robot sized large and $36,000+ price-tagged.

The hardest phase is to part with the money. With our wrecked Pilot, especially since my wife was totally faultless in the accident, we got about $25,000 settlement for our crushed vehicle + various expenses (free car rental til we settled, free booster seat, my wife got a day’s pay at work etc.). By using AAA car buying service (which we used to purchase our 2002 Pilot), we were able to negotiate an outstanding price of $35,384 for the Odyssey 2006 Touring with DVD/NAV. After taxes and fees, the total price was $36,666. Thus after factoring in the $25,000 settlement, this vehicle would cost us $11,666. This is a lot of cash to spend especially when we’re trying to sock away money for college savings for our kids and retirement for us. Nevertheless we absolutely will not finance this amount since it is senseless to pay additional hundreds of dollars. So we took out this amount from our stash of cash at INGdirect to pay off our 2006 Odyssey. In a further slide down the slippery slope of Affluenza, in endlessly reading about the Odyssey on various websites etc. I somehow found myself purchasing a set of all-season black rubber floor mats and the rear cargo tray as well as mud splash guards and the “bug” air-deflector for the hood. These expenses amounted to an additional $484, bringing our total for the Odyssey to $12,150.

Here then are the first pics taken of our new car:

In the end, I’d probably preferred that the Honda Pilot was never wrecked and that we could have driven it to 200,000 miles. But since we were dealt a bad hand by fate, we decided to make the best of it by upgrading our vehicle instead of downgrading. I figured that if we took the lower road and got a used vehicle with fewer features, we’d ever after be in whining mode complaining about what fate did to us and reminiscing of how great a vehicle the Pilot was and all that. If we upgraded to a superior vehicle on the other hand, I thought that our loss would only be financial which is something we could live better with by working more and saving more to replace our lost cash. Time will tell whether we made the right decision in sliding totally off our track into the abyss of affluenza again, but thus far I have no regrets (in our current high from spending $36k+ on essentially a giant gazingus pin). Our previous few years of hard saving has given us a pile of cash and we can afford this bit of decadence and still keep most our stash. This is how we justify such an outrageous purchase. As TS Eliot wrote:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell,
and the profit and loss.
They picked his bones in whispers,
as he rose and fell,
entering the whirlpool.


aartist said...

Interesting Info.
I am thinking of buying Ex-L

Michele said...


Can you please e-mail me at:

michele (dot) melendez (at)

I’d love to ask you about something in this blog entry (about saving).


-- Michele

Stephen said...

Hey, I just ran across this old blog post. I was curious how well the area where the third row seating held up. Would a person be safe in the third row based on this crash?