A Capital Idea Part 115: My Wife and I Now Own a Hybrid Car

I guess this is incrementalism or "lesser evilism" at its best.

A few weeks ago, my wife noticed an advertisement from the dealership where we bought our 2010 Honda Fit two years ago. It was specifically asking for 2010 Honda Fits for trade-ins, and offering "up to $15,000" for the car. Even though we liked "Lenny" or "good boy," our Honda Fit, we thought about trading it in and purchasing a Honda Insight, a hybrid model which had been our second choice in 2010. After a few days, we went to the dealership to ask about the trade in and look at the Insight selection, but said we planned to come back later. Initially, my wife Eunice had wanted to return after my spring break, but as spring break approached, she decided to go back to try to make a deal, before spring break so we could drive the hybrid car during our spring break trip, which was to be sort of a delayed 10th anniversary celebration.

Thus, on Tuesday, April 3rd, we returned to the Honda dealership to talk seriously about making a deal. Eunice originally wanted to pay no more than $5,000 for the Insight, but I figured it would take way more than that. Eunice's figure was based on an advertised price of $18,000 something for an Insight, minus the $15,000 she expected to get for our Honda Fit. However, the price of Insights had gone up in the meantime, and we were unlikely to get $15,000 for our Fit. Sure enough, after looking at our Fit and noticing the barely visible residual effects of a small dent in the back of the car (which happened when I was hemmed in at the Winco parking lot and didn't notice the larger car just in back of me), the dealers only offered $7,000 for the old car. Meanwhile, Eunice preferred the higher end $25,000 Insight model on display because it's grey color was less susceptible to looking dirty, and it had those little mirrors on the sunshades in front of the seats. Yes, these are the types of things upon which my wife's choice of a specific vehicle depend, so now, we have a clean looking car where my wife can do her makeup. Before that happened, however, Eunice huffed and puffed for a couple of hours, nearly blew the dealership away, got the trade-in price up to $10,000 but still no deal, and was getting into our Fit to leave, when I figured that the dealership was ready to make a last minute trade. I went into the building to ask for my Honda Fit key to be returned to me, told them we had about had it unless they made another deal with us, and at that point, the boss, whose family owns the dealership and with whose father I went to high school, offered us $13,000 for the Fit. (My high school classmate passed away in an off-road vehicle accident a few years ago). Finally, Eunice agreed to the deal, and after both of us signing about 100 papers and Eunice writing a check for $13,800 which included $1,800 for a 7 year of 100,000 mile warranty, we were proud owners of a brand new Honda Insight hybrid car.

On the way home, however, we noticed that "she" -- we decided that this was a girly car -- was "singing," that is, making a high pitched squeaking sound coming from in front of us, that seemed somewhat like morse code, whenever he reached speeds of around 65 miles per hour on the freeway. During our test drive, we had never gone faster than abut 45 mph. Friday morning, April 5, we took the car to the dealer to try to fix the problem. What we found out was that the sound was due to an improper seal between the front windshield and the car frame, and this was the second Insight in recent weeks that had the same problem at the dealership. We were told that there was no danger from the problem, just an irritating sound, but that the window company that could fix the problem was too busy to do the job that day. Thus, we decided to go on our trip to Arizona, squeaky windshield or not. Now we have returned, after a week of sometimes squeaky driving, which we labelled as the car "singing." We do plan to fix the sound soon, though. During our trip, we averaged between 45-50 miles per gallon, as compared to the 34.5 miles per gallon which the Fit averaged. On Thursday, in fact, when we drove from Show Low, Arizona to Blythe, CA, with a side trip to Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flats, I have a carefully calculated average of over 49 miles per gallon for the trip. Thus, we are already saving money and more importantly, gasoline with our new car, which is basically the same to drive as other cars, unlike the Prius. My step-daughter Isabella was one of the earlier buyers of a Prius, about seven years ago, so I have had the opportunity to drive it from time to time.

After deciding to purchase the seven year warranty, Eunice and I quipped that seven years from now, we would probably buy an alternative energy car, such as an electricity or hydrogen-powered car, which by then will probably be readily available in some form. I have seen various critiques of incrementalism and what is called "lesser evilism" by some progressives, but I have never really bought into that ideology. It seems to me that it is driven by a combination of impatience with what these people perceive as a lack of progress, and rigid idealism. However, progress rarely happens all at once. It seems to me that it is usually incremental, and if we continue to make incremental progress -- to choose the "lesser of 2 evils," so to speak, and make it clear what we consider to be good and progressive -- the future we shape will become better and better, if not in the leaps and spurts which sometimes happen, at least slowly and incrementally. In fact, there is a well-known principle in behavioral psychology called "shaping," which is that: If you want sophisticated, complex behaviors (solutions) to be implemented, one must shape it incrementally, by a series of steps and successive approximations. Of course, the same can apply to destructive behaviors -- that they are learned incrementally if too complex to occur spontaneously. The key is to continue moving forward in a productive direction. I think that the current trend toward hybrid and alternative fuel cars is an example of that. It doesn't solve our fundamental problem of government-rule-by-corporation which exists in this country, but it might indirectly lead people to a paradigm shift in thinking which will make people's thought processes incompatible with corporatism. Incidentally, I saw a documentary last night called "Bag It," by Jeb Barrier, which discussed the insidious effects of plastics on our lives. The same points about incrementalism (recycling or avoiding the use of plastics, for instance) and fighting government-by-corporation by the democratic actions of citizens, were made in this film.

While I am discussing some encouraging trends, I will finally mention that since I don't get cable television at home, it was a pleasant surprise to me, to see how progressive MSNBC has gone, with Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow all lined up between 7 - 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Alex Wagner, who looks a lot prettier than the name sounds and of whom my wife was getting a bit jealous, was on at 9 a.m. I think Andrea Mitchell was on at 10 a.m., and she seems pretty centrist, but the rest of the lot are progressive. In between those times, we were never in the motel room, so I don't know what was on MSNBC during those hours. On the down side, there was a sort of wild west atmosphere in Arizona wiht lots of gun-loving talk by residents we met, even after the Jared Loughner incident, and even a gun-radio station in the Phoenix area. There was a sign on the nightclub next to the motel where we were staying in Show Low (which was named after a card game, and we stayed in a motel on Deuce of Clubs Avenue), informing patrons that guns were not allowed inside. Also, the only political radio show I could find in Arizona was the Micheal Savage show, who let no opportunity to praise himself pass, calling himself a "brilliant political analyst." The only talent I found him to have, was the ability to spin everything to the right, counterclockwise. I guess that is how these people keep trying to turn back time.

When we returned from our trip, my wife went through our accumulated mail, and found an advertisement from a Toyota dealership offering "up to $13,975 or more" for 2010 Honda Fits. Apparently our judgment in buying that car was very good and fortuitous, as I expect it will prove to be with our new hybrid car, the Honda Insight. Without the offer for the old car, we never would have purchased the new car.

My future objectives include convincing my wife to have solar panels installed on our house, and aside from that, hopefully for both of us to contribute more to progressive causes.


Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 30 weeks ago

My concern is with those citizens who can barely afford any car at all or cannot afford to purchase even a used car. This has been written about by a California newspaper investigative reporter, Mr. Ken Bensinger of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote about how research has suggested that many poor people could have searched for and very likely found employment if only they could afford a car.

Frankly, I don't understand what this specific blog has to do with Thom's show or Web site. If you want an honest reaction, I could post a blog stating that we are having solar panels installed on my home, but I would not post such a blog because I would consider it to be narcissistic for me to mention it other than, perhaps, in passing, and because it would take large-scale rather than incremental change to seriously reduce coal burning emissions or the potential dangers of present-day nuclear power technology. At best, some states in the U.S. currently get 10% of their electricity I think from wind turbines, a slim percentage.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 30 weeks ago

Robindell, I see it as being about fighting our dependence on oil, even if it's a very small step. The more people who start using hybrid or alternative energy cars, the better. I have wanted to take this step for a long time, and we have. If you are installing solar panels on your home, I would think that is a good step to be taking and a good example too, and I would like to read about it. Perhaps it would inspire me to do the same. Perhaps I could show my wife what you had written, and convince her to finally support the building of solar panels on our house. As I mentioned at the end, I do hope to have solar panels in the future. When we take positive steps and let people know, maybe it will add momentum to the movement. Isn't that the sort of thing that Thom's show advocates? I am not trying to brag, but trying to show that we are attempting to do something positive. When people write to their congresspeople or the President and mention it on this site, that is often taken note of by Thom. I see this as a similar situation. We are not individually in a position to take large scale actions that effect the entire culture, but collectively, we can do so. By the way, I also mentioned that my step-daughter Isabella was one of the earlier people to buy a Prius. I also am seeing more and more hybrid cars on the road. This post is not specifically about me and my wife; it's about social changes for the better, but our example is the only one I have intimate knowledge of.

Of course, we are fortunate that we could buy a new car. It is unfortunate that many people cannot find work because they cannot afford even a used car. This is yet another example of the dysfunctionality of our system. It is sort of a social darwinism that is built into a capitalistic system. Rich people are rewarded with more riches and poor people are punished with greater burdens and less opportunity.

Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 30 weeks ago

Thank you for the clarification. As a teacher, I am sure you would agree with my teachers that in writing, one can never have too much clarity. I'm not directly involved with the installation of the solar panels and don't know a great deal about the all the technical details and specifications. The technology has improved with a new kind of coating, and this has apparently added to the initial price of the newer panels, so you have to do a cost/benefit analysis to see how long it will take for you to save money by not having to pay the electric utility for power. Also, as I am sure you know, unused, excess power is often sold to the power company. The less electricity you use, the more of a payback you might be able to receive from this feature of solar. There is a company which advertises on both Thom's show and on Stephanie Miller's show called Solar World. They are not an American company, but their manufacturing is done in the U.S., and I think their American headquarters is in Oregon. They have a Web site, of course. Also, I saw a report where there are now solar companies which provide you with panels without your having buy the units. I don't remember if you pay them a rental fee or if you simply agree to provide them your extra electricity for free. They showed a homeowner in Massachusetts who agreed to have the panels installed on his roof for something like 20 years, and he said that for him, this was the best solution.

It just so happens that PBS had a program which had a segment about a 16-year-old girl whose mother had a serious problem with asthma from Riverside. The announcer said that your city has a problem with air quality that causes or aggravates respiratory conditions such as asthma. The girl is interested in the environmment and has won some educational and scientific awards for her efforts in this area. She was about to graduate from a private Christian high school in Riverside. She wants to become a doctor. They showed the population sign for the city right out on the Interstate highway, which said "Riverside" and then gave the population, which if I recall was stated at 228,000 or some similar figure.

In addition to the Internet, which can be useful, I am sure that there are alternative energy/solar installation companies in your area who you could contact for information about the cost and savings of solar, if and when you and your wife are interested in looking into it.

One final comment. There was a news story here in Indiana that one of our state universities, Ball State University (where T.V.'s David Letterman graduated from) ranks in the bottom 5% of all colleges when it comes to faculty salaries. The school's president said that the state lawmakers have been "unbelievably unsympathetic" regarding the relatively low pay at Ball State compared to most other schools. The news story further explained that lawmakers said that it was hard to be symphathetic to the professors' wanting an increase in pay because they already have received raises and because there are so many people in this state who are currently unemployed. In other words, the professors at Ball State should consider themselves fortunate to have jobs at all. Over time, the tuition at state unversities has gone up along with faculty salaries. The increase in tuition is something that even President Obama was critical of. Of course, like many states, Indiana is entirely Republican, both the House and Senate. But I think the financial pressures on the state are largely why they don't want to give more money to the university for faculty salary increases. Gov. Quinn in Illinois, which is one of the most financially strapped states, has proposed massive cuts in Medicaid. I saw on the news that something like 220,000 people in Illinois, almost the entire population of Riverside, will completely be thrown off of the program and lose their health coverage if the cuts are approved, and nursing homes are complaining that they will be in trouble if they lose as much revenue as would probably take place with these cuts. Illinois' last governor is now in prison and was a poor leader, but the financial problems of states is something that is serious and reflects the poor economic performance.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 29 weeks ago

Yes, that must have been my hometown, Riverside, in that show. There is a lot of trouble with respiratory diseases in this area. Fortunately, I live on the side of a mountain, where the air is less unhealthy. Of course, this pollution is all from gasoline burning vehicles, so using less gasoline will create healthier air to breathe, too.

I have noticed that there is a tendency for people to think others are being egotistical when describing their educational or other accomplishments. I have had that happen to me at different times, although it is never my intention to brag. I am basically being genuine and presenting information. I also say self-effacing things, but, if we only mention our inadequacies, that would not be genuine and we might be perceived as asking for sympathy as well as truncating the conversation.

I have heard the solar world ads. As you might have read, my wife and I have our developing "solar farm" east of here in the desert near Blythe, CA. It is part of a big stimulus project by the Obama administration to develop solar energy. However, I would also like to have solar energy production on our home. Yes, the technologies are improving for solar energy, and other than the unfortunate lack of money which plagues most of us, I don't see any reason not to make that investment, although my wife is worried that it might break down and become a problem. I doubt that though. If the technology were that unreliable, solar companies wouldn't be thriving as most of them are. There is certainly more than enough sunshine around here to generate a worthwhile amount of electricity.

I agree that the professors at Ball State University are lucky to have jobs. We have had the number of classes cut substantially over the past year or so where I teach, cutting the number of jobs I teach and my pay. At the same time, the size of the classes has increased.

Alberto Ceras 5 years 29 weeks ago

Natural Lefty, I posted this comment on another blog but maybe you missed it. Others who consider buying a hybrid might find it useful. I think that if we are concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, the level of unemployment, the plight of the middle class and the declining standard of living then buying a U.S. hybrid might be a better option.

Did you know this?


2011's Least American Cars Per Percentage of Parts:

1. Honda - CR-Z, Fit and Insight: 0% Made in US

and that there is a 100 per cent U.S. electric car made and marketed in California?


American-built Coda Production Underway

PUBLISHED MARCH 12, 2012BY PHILIPPE CROWECoda Automotive’s first production 2012 Coda Sedan drove off the assembly line today, Monday March 12.According to the company, the electric car, built in Benicia, Calif., will soon finally be available for delivery to Coda dealers in California.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 29 weeks ago

Yes, I commented on that in my "Is Democratic Capitalism Possible"" thread. I had no idea that the Insight was one of the least U.S. made cars being sold here. Obviously, Honda doesn't advertise that fact. Still, I know that the hybrid cars are being marked up price-wise due to recent demand. I imagine that some of that extra profit goes to U.S. car salespeople. The service on the cars of course, also is done locally. At this time, the service on hybrid cars still must be done at the dealership. We paid an extra $1,800 for a 7 year, or 100,000 mile warranty, due to us being uncertain about the reliability of the hybrid technology in the Insight, and the high expense of reparing hybrid cars, which we know first hand from daughter Isabella's Prius which she has had for about 7 years. I suppose that $1,800 goes to people here in the U.S. too.

Our next car may be a Coda, though.

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