Car Shopping in the USA, Part I Photo:
Mike Stevens | Jul, 31 2008 | 3 Comments

My dear old Mum, for the first time in her life at age 63, has finally decided to treat herself to a new car. There's only one problem. My mother knows as much about cars as I do about the mating habits of the central African warthog. For the past decade, my mother's been going to the market on Sundays in a slowly disintegrating Volvo station wagon. Not that she is aware of this, however. She's the nicest lady you could ever meet but she'd have to dig up the rego to tell you what kind of car she owns. She is also under the strict belief that only two types of cars exist in the entire universe - saloon and hatchback. What kind of car, you may wonder, appeals to such a person?

A few years after the Chrysler PT Cruiser debuted, she mentioned that she liked "the car that looked like an old one." After the Scion xB was plastered on commercials ad infinitum and had been prowling the streets for a year, she exclaimed one day that she had seen "a car that looked like a box!"

So being the great son that I am, I offered to help her shop for cars. Her only criteria is that it cost less than USD$25,000. The truth is though, I have an ulterior motive. Since she drives her car about twice a week, does not know the meaning of brisk acceleration, has never been in an accident and keeps her cars forever, it's the perfect opportunity to select a future classic that's guaranteed to be babied. I'll know the complete ownership history and when she's ready to trade it in for a pneumatic tube capsule or whatever it is we'll be zooming around in in the future, I'll swoop in and buy the mintest, cherriest little-old lady car in existence. Mwahahaha! This plan is foolproof!


Except for one thing. She likes the PT Cruiser! Sure, we all dream of uncovering that perfect barn find, but let's say it's 2028 and that barn find happens to be a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Will I care? Will I want it? Will I even visit my own mother to take a look at it? The answer, I'm afraid, is no.

I knew how bad this car was, but it was mum's first choice so we trundled down to the Chrysler dealer and took one for a test drive. Well, the first thing one notices about the PT Cruiser is it's retro skin. Like I said, it's one of the few cars my mother can pick out of a police lineup, so it gets points for styling that some might call distinctive. Others might call it uglier than a wayward ear that's caught the attention of Mike Tyson. The flared fenders and chrome grille are meant to evoke a '32 Ford Vicky. If one were made of half-melted ice cream.

Okay, but how about driving? Imagine a Chrysler Neon that's taken on 300kg because that's exactly what it is. I'm sorry, but a 1500kg package powered by a 111kW 2.4L four does not make for an engaging driving experience. The Aussie version is rated even lower, at 105kW. That would be fine for mum, since she never breaks the speed limit anyways, but the fuel economy was rather poor. Chrysler claims it gets 11km/l on the highway, but we only managed about 8.9, its city rating.


In the end, it was the interior that took the PT Cruiser off the list. It was impossible to find a good seating position and higher quality plastics have been seen on toys from a Chinese vending machine. The fact that these cheap panels fit together only minutely better than a birdhouse I built in fourth grade did little to inspire confidence in the car as a whole.

My mother may not be able distinguish an Audi from an Accent, but fortunately she knows utter crap when she sees it. It's not hard to see that Chrysler is a company in dire straits. The PT Cruiser has remained completely unchanged since its 2000 debut and it's single gimmick, the styling, wore out fast. But for some inexplicable reason, Chrysler continues to churn out cars like the Sebring in its image. Ultimately, this is a car you'd really have to love - and I mean love - the styling of to buy one because it has zero redeeming qualities whatsoever. When we walked away from that dealer, I felt like I had dodged a bullet.

So what kind of car should my mother should consider? There are only two criteria. It must cost less than USD$25,000 and it must make a good future classic.

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