black suv beside grey auv crossing the pedestrian line during daytime

Automobile Report 2024

I’ve had many cars over my lifetime, and learned a bit from each one. Most were purchased used. Some were purchased new or leased. Some were 10 to 20 years old. I’ve had cars from Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevy, and other brands. I’ve also lived without a car for many years, choosing to use public transit, pay for a taxi, ride a bike, walk, or rent a car whenever needed.

I want to share from my experience so that others can benefit and be better guided to the car that best fits their needs.

Long Search for the Perfect Vehicle

My first “perfect” vehicle was a 1991 Geo Metro with a 3-cylinder engine and over 40 MPG fuel efficiency. It was $10,000 purchased new. I drove that car for over 10 years and 220,000 miles. It was a 4-door hatch back. So, it had seating for four, but also plenty of storage with the rear seats folded down. The front-wheel drive and good ground clearance allowed it to perform well in Iowa winters. The ultra-compact size made it very easy to park. I’ve occasionally considered purchasing a present-day ultra-compact car.

Vehicles similar to the Geo Metro are available today for about $16,000 such as the and Nissan Versa and Mitsubishi Mirage. These are very appealing cars because you get 90% of the features and functions of a car costing much more, and the additional benefits mentioned above including 40-43 MPG fuel efficiency.

With my work requiring hauling of equipment, and needing to accommodate four passengers with luggage for road trips, I began searching for the perfect vehicle for my current needs. The on-call support services I offer require that I be able to travel at any time. I often need to travel in inclement weather. So, I needed a vehicle that could provide that reliability.

As you’ll read below, my search spanned over about 20 years and many vehicles. The vehicle I was searching for didn’t exist until 2018 when Subaru began selling the Ascent, a slightly larger version of the Forester. I waited a year, and purchased the 2019 Ascent. After about a year, I dedicated an entire podcast episode to the Ascent. [Podcast Episode #45Listen on Spotify]

If you want to purchase one vehicle for long-term ownership that will accommodate your changing vehicle needs over decades, the Ascent would be a good choice. It has 5,000 pounds towing capacity, seating for 6 or 7 people, but also the fuel efficiency of a 4-cylinder engine. The extra horsepower, when not used for pulling 5,000 pounds, makes merging into highway traffic a breeze. If you are leasing or buying and selling every few years, it could be a costly vehicle to own. The greatest value is in long-term ownership.

The rest of this document describes some context and other insights from my vehicle ownership experiences.

Status Symbol

If you’re buying a car as a status symbol, the car you choose really depends on where you live and who you are trying to impress.

Ideal status symbol vehicles depend on context. In a rural area, having a Ford F150 does not necessarily convey prestige or luxury, but it does allow a person to “fit in” with other vehicle owners which is a kind of status.

There are some social circles where an Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes, in a lower-trim would be the “blend in” car. We think of a status symbol as an attempt to convey superiority or greater than average success. Yet, even the ground floor of status that conveys “I’m like you” is a certain status.

I live in a college town where it’s expected that people will make informed, intelligent, frugal purchases. For the six-figure income people I know, who clearly aren’t restrained by a budget, they also purchase the most practical and economical vehicle that fits their needs. They don’t buy new. They buy used vehicles of about 3 year old with 36,000 miles. The Toyota Camera or Toyota Corolla have always been popular choices for used vehicles. Buying new guarantees a dramatic drop in a person’s net worth, similar to what a market crash does to a retirement fund. So, smart shoppers buy used.

This is consistent with Warrant Buffet’s car buying advice and practice: “Warren Buffett’s choice of cars is just one example of how his philosophy of prioritizing value over social status can help individuals achieve financial success and maintain a fulfilling lifestyle.” [Source]

I like to complement people’s cars with a sincere comment. If I notice someone has a newer vehicle, I might say, “Did you get a new car? That’s nice.” Most people appreciate that, and the immediate response is usually, “It’s new to me. I got it used.” People want to avoid being perceived as wasteful or buying a new car to impress others.

In my town, those who buy new cars are considered chumps and suckers who are wasteful and have a desire to impress others. However, in Beverly Hills, a new car might be viewed positively. So, there’s no universal single car that’s going to impress others.

With cars, clothing, or other material things, it’s best not to worry about what people will think about your purchase and instead, as Warren Buffet advises, prioritize value over social status.

My Current Vehicle

The car I’m currently driving is a Subaru Ascent. It looks new, but it is actually 4 years old, going on 5 this summer. Its like-new appearance is due to parking indoors and keeping it washed when needed. I only drive it about 7,000 miles per year, despite using it for a few long road trips and my business.

I’m a bit self-conscious about looking like I’m driving a new car, for the reasons mentioned above. I’m not the kind of person who drives a newish looking car to impress others. Someone recently asked me, “What would a car like this cost?” I explained that it’s sort of embarrassing to be driving a somewhat fancy car instead of a used Toyota Corolla which would seem to be the more practical and frugal choice.

In the United States, the current average car price is about $48,000. The entire line of six SUV-style vehicles from Subaru cost between $25,000 and $44,000 for the base models. The Ascent has a base price of about $34,000.

Subaru tends to be an economical choice, known for reliability, long lifespans, and holding their value. For that reason, a used Subaru can be almost as expensive as new models. You can pay a little more and get something new, with better safety features, quieter ride, improved fuel efficiency, and a warranty.

The Subaru Ascent has a similar appearance to the Subaru Forester, but is slightly larger.

For longer road trips, with four people, plenty of luggage, and other travel items, the Ascent has enough room so roof-mount storage isn’t needed. As a business vehicle, the Ascent has a third row of seating that folds down to accommodate larger items.

As a company, Subaru is known for partnering with numerous non-profit organizations with an emphasis on parks, sustainability, and causes that appeal to traditionally progressive-minded people. So, Subaru vehicles are more socially accepted in some circles.

Subaru Forester

As mentioned above, my previous vehicle was a Subaru Forester — a 2016 model.

There is much about the Forester that I prefer over the Ascent. If a person doesn’t need the extra row of seating and cargo area of the Ascent, the Forester is really a much better choice of vehicle due to:

  • The lower cost at $27K (Forester) vs $34K (Ascent)
  • Improved fuel efficiency of 33 mpg highway compared to 26 mpg highway for the Ascent
  • Lighter weight of 3,600 pounds compared to 4,590 pounds for the Ascent
  • Smaller size for easier parking

From a distance, visually the vehicles look the same. I drove a Subaru Forester for many years and really liked it.

For my work and needs, having the extra space of the Ascent became a requirement. Also, the Ascent has X-Mode which provides better traction and control on ice and snow. For winter driving, the Forester was an improvement over the Honda CRV. However, the Ascent with X-Mode proved to be worth the upgrade.

Honda CRV

Prior to the Subaru Forester, I had a 2013 Honda CRV. It was one of the first all-wheel-drive vehicles I owned, and I appreciated the improved traction compared to the front-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla that I’d owned previously.

The Honda CRV more storage capacity than the Corolla. The hatch back and folding back row seats created flexibility for hauling large equipment.

Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla replaced the Geo Metro. It had safety and reliability, with a relatively low price. Today a Corolla has a price of about $22,000.

As a sedan, I found that it was low to the ground and as a result had slightly limited visibility. The small deep-well trunk wasn’t as convenient for hauling equipment. For the price, it allowed me to have a reliable car for my work.

Used Vehicles

Most of my previous vehicles were used. There’s a perception of savings and value with a used car. What I found is that the maintenance, repairs, and occasional breakdowns became costly. Sometimes there would be a repair bill of over $1,000 in a month. That would be $1,000 that wasn’t invested in a CD and earning interest. It wasn’t $1,000 that increased the value of the car. It was $1,000 spent, and I would still just have an old unreliable car that I couldn’t really rely on and feel confident with.

On one occasion, I was driving an older car and went over a small bump in the road. The axel and suspension completely collapsed, perhaps from rust, and the vehicle fell to the street. I’ve had breaks go out, clutches stop working, engines fail, electrical systems stop working, and many other expensive breakdowns.

To offset the unreliable nature of the used cars I had, I would sometimes rent a car for longer road trips. That provided greater reliability and less worry.

Prior to purchasing the Geo Metro in 1991 for about $10,000 new, I was driving a 1970s Pontiac with a V8 engine. That car would get about 12 miles per gallon. Some point along the way, I had a very old Cadillac that had about the same fuel efficiency.

I was driving about 100 miles (two hours) per day for a total of 3,000 miles per month. So, divided by 12 MPG, that’s 250 gallons per month. At about $2 per gallon, the cost of fuel was $500 per month.

I calculated what life might be like with the Geo Metro at 40 MPG. Doing the math again, that’s 3,000 miles divided by 40 MPG. That’s 75 gallons of gas per month instead of 250 gallons. At $2 per gallon, that’s $150 per month for gas instead of $300 to $500. I realized that purchasing the Geo Metro, with close to 0% interest, the car would be basically free. I’d actually save $425 per month.

I ended up paying about $10,000 for the Geo Metro and drove it for over 220,000 miles. That’s a cost of about 5 cents per mile for the vehicle itself, plus the cost of fuel and oil changes. It was a super economical car.

The reliability of the Geo Metro and the latest fuel efficiency technology sold me on the idea of buying a new car rather than always driving old used cars.

Electric Vehicles

Partially electric hybrid vehicles have been around for a while. The Toyota Prius was brought to market in the late 1990s. [Source]

The all-electric plug-in vehicles are newer, with the Nissan LEAF being the first readily available production electric car with the greatest retail prominence. [Source] It was first introduced in 2010.

Other experimental cars have been available, but for those looking for an electric car from an actual dealership, the Nissan LEAF has been a favorite choice.

Despite having about 14 years of development, revisions, and improvements, with other major auto manufactures joining the EV revolution, only in recent years have larger vehicles become available.

The importance of having trucks, vans, SUVs, and other larger vehicle styles is that they meet the needs of those wanting to be sitting higher up for greater visibility — being more visible to other vehicles and having a greater visibility site distance from a higher vantage point. People needing to have more seating and storage would not be purchasing a Nissan LEAF, Tesla, or similar sedan-types of vehicles.

Given the present mileage range limitations and charging constraints, electric cars continue to be only marginally practical as a second vehicle or as a primary vehicle for regular commuters. A helpful workaround would be to use an electric car like the Nissan LEAF for the daily commute and errands, then rent a car for longer road trips.

Cost continues to be an issue for those considering an electric car purchase. The Nissan LEAF is $28K to $37K depending on the range and features you want. [Source] By comparison, a Ford F150 EV could be $54K to $80K. A RIVIAN could be $73K to $98K. So, by that measure, the Nissan LEAF seems like a good value.

The only drawback to the Nissan LEAF is the smaller size and low ground clearance. Getting out of the car is like getting up from a bean bag chair. Larger vehicles seem easier to get in and out of.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Some auto manufacturers have partnered with municipalities and regions to make hydrogen cars and refueling stations readily available. This allowed for some small-scale test markets. For example, Honda had cars available for use in Southern California.

Hyundai is the current manufacturer providing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the 2023 NEXO Fuel Cell small SUV. There is a disclaimer on the Hyundai website stating: “Currently, 2023 NEXO Fuel Cell is available only at select California dealers.”

Hydrogen fuel cell cars offer a somewhat clean renewable fuel to replace gasoline. The hydrogen fuel is only as clean as the manner in which it is produced. If hydrogen is procured using coal, it won’t be as clean if it’s produced using wind, solar, or hydro power.

The video below provides more information about the Hyundai NEXO as it was in 2020.

Living Car-Free

The final miles driven in the Geo Metro were a trip to an auto salvage (junk yard) in Iowa City on Earth Day about 10 years ago. I was able to drive over 220,000 miles in that car. That’s almost the distance to the moon. I got $200 for the car. For about 7 years, I relied on bicycle, taxi, public transit, and rental cars for all my travel. The cost of taxis and rental cars was much less than owning a vehicle.

By living within biking or walking distance from work and close to a local grocery store, a vehicle simply wasn’t needed on a regular basis. I didn’t need to hassle with parking and maintaining a vehicle, or the other costs associated with car ownership such as insurance, registration, and fuel costs. That saved me a lot of money, and resulted in getting more exercise and time outdoors.

Further Reading

For more on the topic of cars, you can read Chapter 7 of Test Pattern for Living by Nicholas Johnson. Here is an excerpt:

“It’s like finally giving up cigarettes. You just wake up one morning and realize you don’t want to start the day with another automobile. Cigarette smoking is not a pleasure, it’s a business. In the same way, you finally come to realize that you don’t need General Motors, they need you. They need you to drive their cars for them. You are driving for Detroit and paying them to do it. Automobiles are just a part of your life that’s over, that’s all. No hard feelings. You’ve just moved on to something else. From now on you just use their buses, taxis, and rental cars when they suit your convenience. You don’t keep one for them that you have to house, feed and water, insure, and care for.”

“You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body; even the rain feels good. The blood starts moving around your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and, glory be, your head feels good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells, you never knew were there. You start whistling nice little original tunes to suit the moment. Words start getting caught in the web of poetry in your mind. And there’s a nice feeling, too, in knowing you’re doing a fundamental life thing for yourself: transportation. You got a little bit of your life back! And the thing you use is simple, functional, and relatively cheap. You want one that fits you and rides smoothly, but with proper care and a few parts it should last almost forever.” [More…]

Writing Style

The reference articles I write usually end up on the Resources For Life website or the Iowa City Tech website. Those are written in third person with an objective writing style. For writing that relies heavily on my personal experiences, those I share here on my personal About Greg Johnson website.

Thanks for taking time to read about my vehicle experiences. Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions. [Contact]

white united airlines plane

Seven Flights in Three Days


This is a writing about a disappointing experience with airline travel. I was helping the travelers who went through the experience described here. Over three days they had seven flights, with one of the seven having reached the airport, but unable to land due to a regional power outage impacting the airport.

Initial Ticket Purchase

Initially a non-stop flight from Chicago to Delhi was purchased, with a slight seat upgrade to avoid sitting in cramped economy seats for the 14 hour flight. The non-stop flight cost was a bit more than a flight with multiple stops.

Flight Cancelled

Many weeks prior to the departure date, the airline cancelled the non-stop flight and substituted it with a 1-stop flight which would be Chicago to Newark, then Newark to Delhi. There was to be a 5-hour layover. There was no reimbursement for the downgrade from a non-stop flight to a 1-stop flight. Having an intermediary stop always increases the chances of delays or problems with connecting flights.


Cedar Rapids to Chicago

A free itinerary change was offered as compensation for the change in flight plans, and surprisingly, the airline was willing to add a Cedar Rapids to Chicago flight to the itinerary at no extra cost. That would save a drive to Chicago, but also added in the uncertainly of a timely departure and arrival in Chicago. At least it was some consolation for the downgrade from a nonstop international flight to a 1-stop flight. Thankfully, the Cedar Rapids to Chicago flight was on-time.

Chicago to Newark 5-Hour Delay

The Chicago flight was so late in departing that the flight arrived in Newark with a 5-hour delay. As the plane from Chicago was arriving in Newark, the plane to Delhi was taking off.

Another Chicago to Newark flight that was scheduled for later in the day had actually been on-time and could have reached the connecting flight on time. It’s always frustrating to know that another option was available that could have worked.

Overnight Stay in Newark

Because of the flight delay and missed connection, the airline provided a hotel voucher to stay near the airport in Newark. The voucher covered only a portion of the hotel cost.

Day 2

Newark to Montreal

The only remaining flights from Newark to Delhi were multi-stop flights that would go through Europe to change planes for a flight headed to Delhi. Some of the travel options had two-stops including one domestic airport and then a European airport before continuing to Delhi. These stops would include changing airplanes with short layovers in foreign countries which were likely to result in more missed connections.

A direct flight from Montreal to Delhi was available and seemed like the best option. The airline was willing to arrange whatever itinerary was preferred and offered a Newark to Montreal flight to catch the non-stop flight from Montreal to Delhi. So, this option was selected.

Montreal to Burlington

The flight to Montreal came close to the Montreal airport, but never touched down. It circled above the airport about 6 times and then was re-routed to Burlington, Vermont.

It had been impossible to land in Montreal due to power outages caused by excessive air conditioner use which shut down a region of Canada that included the power to the airport and more than 200,000 people.

The excessive air conditioner use by people in the area was a result of historically high unbearable high temperatures in Canada. The airplane landed in Burlington, and then sat on the runway awaiting further instructions from air traffic control.

Burlington to Montreal

Once emergency power was provided to the Montreal airport, it was possible for the plane to return to Montreal. However, the significant delay due to rerouting resulted in a very short connecting time in Montreal. At this point the remaining connections in India would not be feasible. It made most sense to just travel back to Iowa and plan a trip for later with a direct flight, as was originally requested.

Overnight Stay in Montreal

It was necessary to stay overnight in Montreal since no other departing flights were available. Even though it was just after 5PM, all the airline staff had left the desks, presumably the airport had mostly cleared out due to the power outage. The lack of staff at the airport made it difficult to get assistance or arrange for a hotel. Eventually hotel accommodations were established without any help from the airline. Navigating at night in a mostly French-speaking city was a challenge, but ultimately there was an overnight stay at a hotel.

Day 3

Montreal to Chicago

The flight from Montreal to Chicago was anticipated to arrive within an hour of the departing Chicago to Cedar Rapids flight. Given the experience so far, there was some hesitancy in trusting that there would be sufficient time to make the connecting flight.

The flight arrived in Chicago later than expected. Only with the assistance of airline staff providing rapid transit through the airport was it possible to make the connecting flight to Cedar Rapids.

With very little time to spare, boarding of the Chicago to Cedar Rapids flight was achieved.

Chicago to Cedar Rapids

The flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids was on-time and arrived without any issues.

Lost Luggage

Both checked bags were tagged and were properly updated to reflect Cedar Rapids as the ultimate destination. However, only one bag arrived in Cedar Rapids. The other was recorded as still being in Newark. A request was made to have the bag delivered. The airline promised to make arrangements for the bag to be brought to the home.

Three Hour Wait Times

Throughout the three-day ordeal, there were numerous times when it was necessary to contact the airlines. The quickest way to get support from the airline was with online chat. Due to “an unexpectedly high number of requests” the wait time was sometimes estimated as three hours before communicating with a customer service representative. This made it hard to get service in a timely manner, resulting in more delays and problems.

Day 4

Cryptic Text Message

The following day, a text message was received from an unknown number, without any identification as to who the sender was.

The message stated:

  • “Your delivery is on the way. You can visit to view your delivery tracking information.”

The link was actually slightly different than what is shown above. The letters and numbers were different.

Since the sender didn’t identify who they were, and the message didn’t indicate what the delivery was, and the link to be clicked was not a valid shipper or business, it seemed like a scam. So, after taking a screenshot, it seemed best to choose the option to “Report Junk” and delete.

Using a secured off-site computer, it was possible to check the link. It did not work.

Bag Delivery Issues

The third-party baggage delivery company stated that they arrived at the home with the bag, but nobody was home so they couldn’t leave the bag.

There actually were many people at home the entire day, looking out the door and awaiting a promised phone call prior to delivery.

Another notation stated that the bag was actually delivered and had been left at the residence earlier.

Subsequent communications stated the bag would arrive by 10 PM.

The bag didn’t arrive.

It was finally delivered the following day.

Over 20 major airlines contract with HomeServ — an independent company that operates a website called “Where’s My Suitcase.” This is the company that was supposed to deliver the bag.

This is an excerpt from the About page for the delivery company:

  • “HomeServ provides total delivery solutions by developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships with our partners. … our management team understands how to meet individualized delivery needs with integrated and customized technology solutions.” [Source]

The company has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and an average of 1.45 stars out of 5 based on customer reviews and complaints. [Source] Here are a few examples of the 1-star reviews:

  • “The tracking number they gave us to follow up on wheres my suitcase, did NOT work. The website did not accept the tracking number. … Wheres My Suitcase appears to be a scam.” (2 Jul 2023)
  • “Complete absence of service. No way of contacting them. Their website offers no information. By using them Airlines show their complete disregard for their customers” (19 Feb 2023)
  • “My experience is exactly like several others here. American Airlines turned my luggage over to this company 48 hours ago. They promised delivery that same night (Monday). It is now Wednesday. They do not respond to email and have no posted phone number.” (27 Jul 2022)
  • “Two bags were left on our doorstep on July 13th by wheresmysuitcase, but they reported to Air France that they delivered three. There was a phone number on the yellow tag; called several times, and the employee says all three bags were delivered because that’s what shows on their tracker. They got no signature because our only contact was a text, not a ring of the doorbell.” (19 Jul 2022)
  • “Same issues as other reviews. No way to contact, questionable service people. I filled out the “waive signature” in the email that was sent to me, and asked them to drop my bag at the door because I was going to be on calls. All of that info was confirmed by them to me. Then around time of bag showing up I get 2 calls and an email from the driver from his random number asking me for a tip when he arrives and telling me that he won’t leave my bag unless I am there. Totally shady and disruptive.” (19 Jul 2022)
  • “This company needs to be investigated for fraud. There isn’t any way to contact the company. Worldtracer indicated that 3 of my bags were assigned for delivery and picked up by this company for delivery. They only delivered 2 bags and the driver said he didn’t have the other bag. The emails and website tracker indicated they had 3 in route, however only 2 showed up. There is no accountability and the airline could not reach the company. It is a dead end without any resolution. There is clearly a point where the bag went missing and it’s when the third party ( took possession. They do not respond to their customer service emails or have any way of communicating with their contractor or the owner of the baggage. It appears that the airlines are not vetting these third parties and fraudulent activity is happening at” (15 Jul 2022)
  • “Terrible company. My bag was pick up from the airport on 6/24 and it is 6/28 and I have not received my bag, there is no longer and tracking info available, and no phone number to call with any questions.” (28 Jun 2022)
  • “The company has no public phone number and does not respond to emails. It is very likely that they may have stolen my luggage, but how could I know? American Airlines reps have told me they cannot contact this company. Unbelievable and unethical, if not downright illegal.” (22 Jun 2022)
  • “My bag was delayed into LGA on a Monday night. The web site announces that the bag would be picked up by noon on Tuesday and delivered by 5:00 that day. As of Wednesday morning the bag had still not been picked up, but the web site continued to advise that it “will be delivered” by 5:00 on Tuesday. Ditto for this morning (Thursday).I have an Apple AirTag in the bag. It shows that the bag has left the airport but has been delivered to an address in Queens. I am in Westchester. I will now call be calling the police to report the theft. No airline should ever consider using this company.” (6 Jan 2022)


There are so many details to the above saga. It exemplifies the poor state of customer service and logistics today. The aspects of the delays caused by extreme weather conditions offer insight into what to expect in the future as climate extremes impact various aspects of society.

The airline industrial complex is too big to fail, but also too big to succeed. There’s seemingly nothing that individual consumers or legislators or government agencies can do to improve the situation.

There are many other key industries globally that are strained and failing, with stories similar to the ones above in healthcare, education, and other professions. Automated systems with humans no longer in the loop have resulted in runaway technology that nobody seems to be able to improve or replace.

Positive Business Models

Efforts have been made to incorporate human-centric principles and practices into business operations. The Triple Bottom Line refers to business placing the planet and people above profits. The rise of B Corporations places attention on the ways businesses can have a more positive impact in the world.

There’s a fork in the road that businesses encounter at some point:

  • OPTION #1 — Will a business take the path of maximizing profits? Some companies are still in a hyper-greed mode causing harm to the planet, employees, and consumers. They create stress, harm, loss, and waste. Someone at the top of the pyramid benefits. Everyone else suffers.
  • OPTION #2 — Another path is to pursue maximizing product quality, service quality, consumer safety, environmental stewardship, customer service excellence, and other things that make the world better? This can be referred to as “business forward” — a model where business improves society.

Until the airline industry is able to fully shift to the more humane, ethical, and beneficial business approach, conditions will likely remain the same or get worse.