In 2014 I bought a 1988 Dolphin RV, which I barely used for two main reasons:
- It felt more like a death trap to drive it than I thought it would.
- I moved from my house in Portland (which had a driveway) to an apartment in San Francisco (which had none).
Because of that, I sold it at the beginning of 2018. Other than that I haven’t had a vehicle of my own since 2009. Because the cities I lived in that time were Portland (where it’s not needed), and San Francisco (where it would actively be a burden), owning a car never really seemed worth the cost.
At the same time, not having the ability to get out of the city I lived in easily, go camping, or get across town without spending an hour or more on public transit or spending $30 on ridesharing to do normal things that adults do was a bummer.
So mainly my thoughts a few weeks ago landed on: I’m thirty-three, I’ve have made decent money for a decade, and I’d like to know what it’s like to have a car that isn’t wholly terrible. So, I started thinking of what I’d want in a vehicle and what the most sensible way to make that happen was.
What I Was Looking For
Thinking about what I wanted to get out of a car, I came up with a few criteria that were important to me:
Modern Safety Features
Besides being safe if you got into an accident, my preference was to have features which might help avoid once in the first place. Realistically, I’m an average driver, because most people are average, and would benefit from a little help. So if possible, things like a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, blindspot detection, and automatic emergency braking would be nice to have. That RV felt dangerous every time I drove it on the freeway, and that was not something I wanted to relive.
I’m a nerd, and if I was going to get a car in 2018, I wanted it to have CarPlay built in, or at least be able to add in a third-party receiver easily which had it. It turns out there are lots of options for this, so if I bought used adding it in after wouldn’t be such a big deal. Still, I assumed that built-in is best.
Ability to Go Camping
Hopefully, this pans out the way I want it to, and I go a lot (I already bought all the gear), but my idea was that I’d like to be able to take whatever I get camping. Car camping, it turns out, requires a surprising amount of stuff. I didn’t want something huge, but big enough to carry the number of things you’d need to for a few days time was important. Also, if I decide to go somewhere more adventurous that involves driving down a long dirt road or up a mountain in the future, it should be able to handle that.
Buy Used or Lease?
I am not a fan of owing money, and I’d like to have the lowest number of large recurring payments I can. Because of this, my first thought was to buy a decent used car in the five to eight thousand dollar range outright. If I kept it for a couple of years and sold it, I could put in about the same amount of money again and upgrade. It probably wouldn’t have all the features I wanted, but maybe it could be close enough. When I started looking, however, this plan had problems.
The first was that what I could get in that price range was somewhat limited. Also, buying a used car from a private seller sucks. I didn’t want to end up with something that was going to be a maintenance nightmare, and the decent looking vehicles get sold fast. Lastly, I’d pretty much be giving up on getting any modern safety features beyond maybe-not-dying if I got in an actual accident, and those were pretty important to me.
I also ruled out buying something new. I feel like the technology of cars is moving fast enough right now, that I didn’t want to be stuck paying it off for five years, only to have to sell it at some point. It was also pretty cost prohibitive.
Although I was initially hesitant to lease, the benefits ended up making sense. I could get something on a lease special which was brand new with all the features I wanted for a lower price, and in three years turn it in and not have to deal with it. Of course, any money I put into it is just, gone, but the way new cars lose value, I wasn’t sure that would end up being much different anyway.
With all of that in mind, I started looking at what had the features I wanted, and what lease specials were available. What I landed on was a 2018 Subaru Outback. I might’ve gone with one of their other models, but the Outback had been updated recently and had the best specials going.
For safety features, it’s pretty incredible. It includes the Subaru EyeSight system, which uses cameras and radar to do every safety thing I could imagine. The adaptive cruise control is especially great. It will accelerate up to stay behind the car ahead up to the max speed you set, and take you down to a complete stop if it needs to, does both at least as smoothly as I could, and never gets distracted.
Lane keep assist is another standout feature for me. If you begin to drift slightly in your lane, it gently nudges you back towards the center. It’s not so much you couldn’t override it you needed to, but it’s a little bit of help.
The car is in no way driving for you, so you never get to stop steering, but the level of assistance it gives is probably ideal for where the technology is. Versus something like Tesla Autopilot (which I haven’t tried), I’m concerned with a system that presents as self-driving so that you could stop paying attention for long periods of time, but where you need to be ready to take control at any moment.
Part of me wonders if the technology between what Tesla and Subaru are using is that much different or if Subaru is just a lot more conservative when it comes to letting the car take over.
The only complaint I would have with EyeSight is that I feel like this car maybe beeps at you slightly more than is helpful. It’s not incredibly annoying, but sometimes I feel like it’s beeping at me just to let me know everything is still okay. The beeping isn’t terrible, but I think it’s right on the line of keeping you alert versus beeping so much you stop paying attention to it. I’ll have to have it longer to know how I feel.
I love CarPlay. Being able to talk to Siri to look up directions while driving, play podcasts or Apple music, and respond to text messages without looking at the screen is a huge safety and functionality win. Once or twice the car has failed to detect my iPhone or lagged, but generally, it’s rock solid. The only flaw I’ve seen multiple times is that occasionally the GPS will place me off the road I’m on and get confused. Siri itself has been (surprisingly) great.
Since I live in an apartment, I’m not getting one anytime soon, but I can now see why people have those cargo container things on their roofs. It takes so much stuff to go camping. Thankfully, there was plenty of room. It makes me happy I didn’t go with something a lot smaller though, because it might’ve not worked out so well.
If I could figure out a better way to organize the stuff I want to take though and I could probably do it without taking down the backseat.
As far as driving up a mountain road in inclement conditions, I assume the all-wheel drive will be essential, but since I haven’t done it yet, I really can’t say.
Feelings So Far
The only other car I’ve ever had from the decade I owned it was an early 2000s Ford Focus with a salvage title that completely broke down within seven or eight months — so I may not be the most qualified to comment on how nice a car is. Still, it feels nice. I wouldn’t mind if it were slightly smaller, but if I had a driveway or garage instead of maneuvering the garage under my apartment building, I don’t think I would care.
Having a car for sure isn’t the cheapest thing in the world. Spending a lot less on ridesharing does offset it a bit though. Also, it does feel pretty amazing to be able to be able to go somewhere thirty minutes like it’s no big deal.