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The HHR

“Is it a toy car?” he asked. It was a reasonable question. The guy responsible for selling us an extended warranty for our new car had just asked us how many miles a year we would be driving it. I told him probably less than 9000 miles a year. We just don’t drive much. So the idea of buying a brand new car was probably not practical. On a typical day it just sits in the driveway depreciating. How we got there was a long process.

It started when my wife was going to Denver for training. We owned two old Chevys. They were both 1991 models which had gotten to the point where they weren’t very dependable. I had discovered by accident one day the door keys would open either one of them. My van had over 235,000 miles on it. I wanted something dependable to drive while I went car shopping and decided to rent one. I called Enterprise and explained to Travis I needed something with a lot of legroom. I had met Travis before when my wife rented a car and I knew he was not as tall as I am but still a fairly tall guy. He set me up with a 2008 Chevy HHR.

It turns out my problem with cars is not so much legroom as it is the distance between my knee and the steering wheel when my foot is on the brake. Really, it’s when I move to the brake because if my knee hits the steering wheel on the way it could prevent me from stopping quickly. We were looking for a car I could fit in, we could afford, and something which got reasonable gas mileage.

I must have tried on 50 cars. The Scion, a really boxy looking vehicle, has a lot of leg room on paper but I only had to sit in one for a second to realize I couldn’t drive it. I even sat in a Pontiac with a telescoping steering wheel and adjustable pedals only to realize it was designed to accommodate shorter drivers not taller ones. Sometime in the last 17 years that extra couple inches I needed had been designed out of pretty much every vehicle out there. There was one exception. I fit quite comfortably in a Nissan Maxima that had a telescoping steering wheel which moved well away from my knee. The problem was it had a lot of miles on it and was expensive, about $20,000.

At that point, we began to focus on the Chevy HHR. We looked at a 2006 in a nearby town. The salesman offered us a good price on it. In hindsight, we probably should have just gone for it. It had a few dings and a rather strange orange stain on the carpet. 2006 was the first year the HHRs were manufactured. Starting the following year Chevrolet upped the drive train warranty from 60 thousand to 100 thousand miles. I had replaced the transmission on my van but it was well over 100 thousand miles so it really wasn’t much of a gamble for Chevy to do that.

One thing I was interested in was the enhanced safety package. HHRs come with just about everything standard. Air conditioning, power windows and locks, most of the things that used to be optional come with it. We drove a good distance to look at a 2007 which had the side and curtain air bags just to find out it had been sold the night before. I think the turning point came when we looked at a 2008 with 18,000 miles on it. After taking it for a test drive and waiting through the whole sales process the guy offered us $250 off the price listed on the internet about $18,000. At that point we decided to see how much a brand new one would cost.

It turns out because my wife works for a GM supplier, we get a discount. Currently GM is now offering everyone GM worker prices which would have been a little cheaper. One thing about it is it is like buying at Carmax where there is no negotiating. They just take the price of the car and knock it down a prescribed amount. HHRs are not very expensive to begin with.

Chevy HHR under $20,000

Chevy HHR under $20,000

I thought because we were buying a new one, it would be relatively easy to get one with only the options we wanted. Not so, because it is the end of the model year there aren’t that many out there. You may have heard Chevy is having a hard time selling cars but it turns out this particular one is enormously popular. Chevy calls it an SUV but it gets pretty good mileage. The E.P.A. rates the car at 20 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway. I’ve been driving one for about two months now and my average mileage is 28 mpg but I tend to drive like a little old lady because I’m used to my van.

We went to a local dealership where we met a woman named Lane Kessel. Lane spent days trying to locate a HHR with the options we wanted. The HHR comes in a panel model, a turbo charged model, and an LS or LT trim. We had been looking at LTs. The main difference between an LT and LS is the power seat and the radio. There was some debate as to whether the manual seat might go back an extra inch or so due to the lack of a motor. I wanted the airbags. Actually because of my height, the airbags would probably injure me more than help me from what I have read but I wanted them for my wife.

The interior

The interior

One thing I liked about Lane besides the fact she spent so much time trying to find us the vehicle we wanted was she had a degree in chemical engineering. At my age, being stuck in the mid-west with a lot of technical college degrees, I probably should sell cars too. After about a week Lane found one 250 miles away which was close to the car we wanted.

One thing I found amusing was there is a salesman at that dealership named Max Price. The head of the repair department is named David Banner so even though I laughed, I refrained from making any Incredible Hulk jokes. I’m sure he has heard them all.

Most of you are probably driving cars built this century so a lot of the things I find odd about it you are probably used to. It locks and unlocks my doors for me and turns on the headlights. The radio stays on when you turn off the car and you can use the windows until you open the door. I guess the one thing I would really like it to do for me is drive.

The HHR we ended up buying had a number of options I probably wouldn’t have bothered with but the rebates pretty much covered the cost of them. It has the chrome trim package and running boards. They do enhance the look but I joked my van has the chrome trim, it wasn’t an option, that’s just the way they built them back then. The car has a retro look and I suppose the chrome and running boards go with that.

One of the things I do when people look at the car is start it with the remote. Chevy has really learned from competing with the Japanese to not offer too many variations on the cars to save cost. If you get an automatic transmission the remote start comes with it. Actually I did consider a Honda or a Toyota but aside from the fact I couldn’t fit in them, they are considerably more expensive. The HHR gets good mileage, offers more room, seems really solid, and doesn’t cost much. They also seem to hold their value as used ones were not that cheap.

OnStar built into the mirror

OnStar built into the mirror

The car comes with OnStar so it has its own phone number. It Emails me once a month to tell me how it’s doing. One thing I don’t like about the OnStar is they put it at the bottom of the rear view mirror. I normally have raised the rear view mirror on my cars so it doesn’t block my view to the right. With the wiring for the compass and OnStar I can’t do this on this car. They could have put it on the top of the mirror and I don’t think it would have bothered shorter drivers. Using the phone is a little odd because you feel like you are talking to your radio. The car also has rather wide window pillars. They also block your view to the sides.

The HHR has wide window pillars

The HHR has wide window pillars

The information display in the car tells you the instantaneous mileage, average mileage, tire pressure, oil life, coolant temperature, outside temperature, and has a couple trip meters. I used to have a car with a trip computer and I get a kick when I’m coasting and it says I’m getting 99 mpg. That’s one thing about driving it I’m still getting used to. When you take your foot off the gas it just goes and goes. I have to learn to start coasting a lot farther back when I have to stop.

The storage space in the HHR

The storage space in the HHR

The car is somewhat versatile. You can fold down the back seats. We have taken it camping and after having a van it seems small. We got the roof rails so I need to get a car top carrier for it.

A strange icon

A strange icon

I found this icon in the back. Having designed a lot of icons in my time, I know it’s difficult but if this was on a boat, it would mean something completely different.

It’s a nice car and it’s nice to drive something new. I miss my old van though. I really thought it would make it to a quarter million miles.

Oh, and here is your funny cat picture. It’s my Maggie who passed away in the spring a year ago.

Life in the gutter isnt so bad

Life in the gutter isn't so bad

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