Thursday, March 30, 2006


Time to get topical for a change

To all those who have recently entered this country, I welcome you to the United States of America. You are in a land that has been graced by a huge variety of scenic beauty. You have entered a land of a variety of cultures. You should find this country more free and full of opportunity than any other place on Earth. Virtually all of us here are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants so please feel right at home here. If you are willing to work hard and obey our laws, you should do well here.

I do want to point out a few ground rules though.

  1. America is a land of opportunity, not entitlement. You should expect to be judged by your actions and words and likewise, you should judge others by their actions and words, not their race, culture, religion, or family name. We don't take kindly to those who claim that their ancestors used to have this land and it was taken away. All of mainland America has been the property of the United States for 100 years or more. I ask you to understand and accept this. I understand that even though I was born in the United States, that does not entitle me to say who can and cannot live in this country as well. It works both ways.
  2. While you may certainly have loyalties for your old country, you need to remember you are now in the United States. You are expected to respect the constitution and all the local laws. You are allowed to question the laws and take peaceable action to try to change them if you desire but you must obey them. It is not okay to break a law simply because you feel it is unfair.
  3. Please learn the English language. If I emigrated to another country, I would feel it is my responsibility to learn the common language of that nation. Sticking to your native language only creates barriers that lead to alienation and prejudice. It hurts both you and the rest of us if you refuse to learn to speak, read, and write the English language.
  4. Don't expect a free ride or special treatment. It is not okay to expect money from our government or free education or free housing. It may be very difficult at first, but success can be achieved if you are ambitious and are willing to put in the time and work. Keep in mind, as I stated earlier, most of our forefathers and mothers had to pay the price to make it in America. It was very tough for them as well.
  5. There are those who don't feel as I do. Some may feel you don't belong here. You and I may feel that's the wrong way of thinking but that doesn't mean it's okay to assume that everyone feels that way. Blaming others for you misfortune does not serve any useful purpose and it can only lead to mistrust and hatred. (To paraphrase Yoda) Once you lead down this path, it will dominate your destiny and you, and possibly your children, will live unfortunate lives of despair - always blaming others for your problems.
  6. Since you're here already, I don't care what means you used to get here. I do want you to understand something, though. There are people in the world who want to take our opportunities and freedoms away. Unfortunately, these people are able to gain access to our country by sneaking across our borders. To secure our nation, it is becoming much more necessary to take measures to prevent people from crossing the border without security checks. Please don't take these measures as an attack on you. These measures are needed to protect all of us.
  7. Finally, as you work up the ladder and become more successful in this country. Try to encourage others as I have tried to encourage you to do things right. Try to make America a better place in your time here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Link

I have placed a new link on my site. In perusing other blogs, I came across one that I feel is a real gem. It's Re-Imagineering. It is a blog created by some disillusioned Disney fans who have taken it upon themselves, to try to reinvigorate some of the spirit and passion that Walt Disney Corporation was once all about.

I've always been a huge Disney fan. I love most of the classic feature movie cartoons such as Pinnochio, Peter Pan, and the Jungle Book. I also love many of the old action movies such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog (original version), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (which features live action with some animation mixed in.) Of course, I also love Disneyland and I even went to Disney World once in 1972 when it was less than a year old.

Like the authors of the blog, I, too have noticed a steady decline in Disney since the 1970's. Once upon a time, Disney seemed very focused on providing clean, imaginative, and high quality entertainment. Focusing on these values made Disney a household name and a symbol of an ideal way to conduct business. The company lasted for decades on these principles. This indicates to me that when you focus on quality, profits take care of themselves (Automakers take note).

Disney fell prey to the idea that if you cut a little bit of quality here and there, no one will notice and profits will increase. Unfortunately, many businesses fall into this trap and unfortunately, it seems to work for the short term. The initial success of cutting quality only leads to the notion that if it worked once, it will work again, and again, and again. At some point, the company's only focus seems to be on how much less it can spend in order to make a profit. Then, it becomes almost impossible to go back.

Disney is a special company to many people, myself included. I'd like to believe they are the exception to the rule and can go back to something like what they once were. Blogs like Re-Imagineering give me hope that maybe the executives at Disney will recognize that what made Disney great and how to recapture the magic.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

AutoQuest VII - And the Winner is...

For me, car shopping is fun. I like doing the research. I like making comparisons. I even like going to the dealerships if they are reasonably honest with me. Unfortunately, I can't say that about 2 of the 3 dealerships I visited last weekend. As I left the Toyota dealer, the thought of the '05 Jeep Liberty at as "substantially" discounted price kept going through my mind. It was supposed to be a weekend to compare and reserve a decision for a later time. In fact, I had really planned on purchasing during model year closeouts in September. I also realized that maybe, there was a good opportunity here and I shouldn't pass it up.

I drove back to Southwest Chrysler/Jeep in Norco, the one dealership I had visited that treated me well. I vowed to myself that I wouldn't buy unless the price was really down and the vehicle was really good. When I got there, I found out they had sold 2 of the remaining 5 2005 Libertys left. To cut to the chase, I found a Limited (top of the line) model that I liked. What was amazing to me was that it was loaded and quite a bit nicer than the base Sport version I had driven the previous day. The Sport was a 2006 and was going to cost around $22,000. This 2005 Limited was listed at $26,500 but the dealer was willing to let it go for $19,000 because it was theoretically, a 1 year old car. The other cool thing was the 2005 had the 7 year warranty that Chrysler had reduced to 3 years for 2006. I was sold.

Here it is:

Anybody out there interested in a working and very drivable 1995 Dodge Stratus ES?

Friday, March 10, 2006

AutoQuest VI - Checking out the Rav4

Okay, so it's Sunday. I've got an early morning appointment at Cerritos Toyota. Time to check out the all new Rav4. The 2006 Rav4 replaces its predecessor and is supposed to be much roomier and, of course, now offers a V6 option. The Toyota V6 boasts 269 horsepower, which is a huge amount - probably more than anyone needs, especially for a vehicle like this. I already posted some of my concerns about modern cars having too much horsepower. You can read it here.

We drive up and park. I get the usual flock of salespeople making a beeline towards me. (It was early in the morning so there was only one, okay?) I tell him we have an appointment with Andrew New. He directs me in and I find out Andrew wasn't there but another salesperson can help me. He first tried to get me all excited. "The Rav4 is going to blow you away" he said. So he brings us out to the lot and shows us a model. The salesman points out the nifty features it has such as electric fold down seats, cupholders galore, and seats that move in 100 different directions. It was all very nice but when I looked at the sticker, I couldn't help but notice this was a 4 cylinder model. I bring this up and this is where they drop a bombshell. THEY HAVE NO 6 CYLINDER MODELS! Now, what really gets me is they called me and set up this appointment, specifically to test drive a V6 Rav4. This dealer is scum too!

I actually drove the 4 cylinder Rav4. The salesman, all the time, trying to convince me this was what I really wanted. I actually liked the car. I could find no fault with it. It was much more car-like than either the Liberty or the Tribute. It was very comfortable with good visibility. This certainly was a strong candidate. The dealership was definitely out.

They sat me down in the office and had the gall to put a credit application in front of me. They were ready to sell me a vehicle that I clearly didn't want. I finally just asked them when they would get V6 models in and what kind of price would I expect. I was told there was short supply on them and the ones they did get had every option and got top dollar, $27,000 and up. That's when I left.

Power Toyota of Cerritos will get no endorsements from me.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AutoQuest V - Those Evil Dealerships

If you are the Ned Flanders type, that is, if you keep a sunny disposition and perpetually have warm feelings towards your fellow man, you must have never dealt with car salespeople. They will make cynics out of anyone in a hurry.

I've shopped for cars before. I've done it for myself, my wife, and a few friends. I am familiar with the routines. Here are a few in fact:

  • The stall: They know you picked this particular day to car shop. They will do everything they can to stall and keep you from visiting other dealers. They will offer you coffee, make lots of small talk, but most of all, they make you wait alone.
  • Breaking you down: All the small talk and waiting is meant to accomplish something else. They want to lower your defenses. You become ansy, you even become slightly annoyed - not enough to leave, but enough where you start wanting to move things forward. This, of course, is where they have you. You're going to become more agreeable because you want to start driving your new vehicle, not wasting more time with these bozos.
  • Good Guy/Bad Guy: The first person you talk to will be determined to be your best buddy. He/she spends time with you discussing and test driving the vehicle. He/she gets to know you and you develop a bit of rapport. He/she will discuss the price and financing you should be able to get. Then its time to sit down and start talking numbers. This is where a second person, whom you have not previously seen appears. This person will discuss numbers, not your needs or wants. The second person will tell you why you can't get the 0% financing, or qualify for the lease. Of course, person number 1 will fight for you. He/she is on your side and will go and talk with that ogre. So the two of them talk it out in another office leaving you waiting again (see above). When they return, person 1 will apologize that you can't get the deal you talked about earlier, but they will make a "special exception" for you and offer you something better than what person number 2 said, but not as good as the original numbers person 1 said.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about a real-life experience I had on Sunday.

Monday, March 06, 2006

AutoQuest IV - Next Test Drive

So, it's still Saturday. I'm driving home from Norco and I'm revising my thinking. My one car in my mind has been scratched. So, it's looking more like a small SUV is where I'm going. The other car I briefly considered was a Ford Mustang. I decided against it when I sat in one and thought the interior was made of cheap plastic that would be only suitable for young men under 25.

My next appointment is at Puente Hills Mazda. I'm going to try out a Tribute. Puente Hills is right near me so it was a quick scoot over there. Again, I had an appointment. This time it would be with Anthony. Michelle had to work so I'm alone this time. Anthony tells me he had no appointments today. I'm thinking to myself that that's a real odd tactic to pretend he didn't know I was coming or if he really didn't know, it didn't seem like a good idea to tell me. So it wasn't a good start. Anthony had me sit at his cubicle. It soon became apparent to me that his plan was to just sit and wheel and deal. When I told him I wanted to actually look at a vehicle, he sighed as if it was a meaningless formality. When I told him there was absolutely no chance I was purchasing a vehicle today, he really lost interest. Suddenly, he had "important" matters to tend to that he had "completely forgotten" about. So he assigned a lackey to assist me. At this point, I've already decided against doing any business with this dealership but I might as well see if I even like the Mazda.

They let me drive a fully loaded Tribute. This one had leather, airbags galore, a rearview mirror with about 88 different functions, and everything was black. Before I drove it, I sat in back and I was really surprised at the lack of headroom. This was an SUV with no sloping roof like a car. So why was the headroom so limited? Now, the front was pretty nice. I knew I wouldn't get the all black interior, it just wasn't for me. I did the two mile drive. It was okay but I noticed two things. I always do an abrupt turn in a test drive. While the Jeep, earlier had handled the turn nicely, I felt a slight sway in the Tribute. Neither handled like my car but it was obvious that the Tribute's limits were shorter than the Liberty's. The other thing was that when accelerating uphill on a freeway onramp, I realized I was flooring it and I wasn't getting much oomph. I don't think the 3.0 liter V6 lacked power, it just didn't downshift so I was trying to accelerate in 4th gear. Overall, it was competent, but not too exciting.

So the Tribute didn't thrill me. That doesn't look good for the Ford Escape or Mercury Mariner either. What I really hated though, is the snotty way I was treated. I just refuse to put up with salespeople who don't know anything about their product. I want someone passionate about the vehicles they sell. Anthony didn't know a Mazda from a Ferrari, it was all interest rates and financing options to him. Christina at Southwest Chrysler/Jeep claimed she owned a Grand Cherokee and was a major Jeep fan. So far, the Jeep Liberty and Southwest Chrysler/Jeep were in the lead.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

AutoQuest III - First Test Drive

On Saturday, March 4, 2006, Michelle and I left the house early in the morning and headed for Norco. The Chrysler/Jeep dealership had contacted me and I had an early morning appointment with the Internet Fleet Manager. It seems that dealerships now have an appointed representative to handle people who contacted them through the Internet. Why that is, I don't know, but it seems to be the same for all the dealerships. As soon as I parked my car, We were immediately swarmed upon by eager sales people. I was armed and prepared for this, though and said "I have an appointment with the Internet Fleet Manager Christina." They reluctantly parted like the Red Sea and I was allowed to walk into the showroom to meet Christina.

Christina was friendly and helpful and willingly let me drive a few miles around in a 2006 Jeep Liberty. I liked it. It had controls and gauges that were similar to my Dodge's so it was very easy to adapt to it. I wasn't used to the tall, commanding view of the road. I realized why so many people like trucks and SUV's. I wasn't looking up at everybody on the road for a change. I was either looking down or straight across at my fellow drivers. My Stratus is a pretty low-slung car, even when compared to other sedans so this was very different. The Jeep felt strong and secure. It inspired a lot of confidence in the way it felt and handled. It wasn't as smooth a ride as a car, though. It's a body-on-frame design, where virtually all cars are unibody designs. Body-on-frame is better for strength, but vehicles with that type of design tend to jitter or shake more. It's a tradeoff and I found myself not minding it much.

After getting back to the dealership, Christina told me she had a few 2005 models left and she can discount them substantially. "How substantial?" I asked. "6 to 7 thousand less than sticker." was the reply. This interested me greatly. A 2005 model would already be, technically, a year old and have a year's worth of depreciation on it. This could be important if I only planned to keep the car a few years. If I decided to sell it after two years, I would be selling a three year old car with only two years of driving. It would be a bad deal for me. But I keep my vehicles until they're almost ready to drop. This wouldn't matter to me. I told her I would definitely consider this.

I had made it plain and clear that I was doing my comparison shopping. Christina was fine with this, which is unusual from my past experiences with car dealerships. I asked her for one small favor. I wanted to look at a Chrysler Crossfire. I can't afford a new Crossfire, so if that ended up being my choice, I would buy a used one. I felt it would be unfair to ask for a test drive, so I told her I just wanted to check one out.

There it was! On the showroom floor was a blue-steel beauty, a Crossfire, looking gorgeous as ever. It seemed funny that here was a car that was even lower than my Stratus. I would really be looking up at everyone in this thing. It was the anti-sport ute. It offered very little in the way of utility but had everything a driver could want. Speed, handling, exclusivity (how often do you ever see one of these on the road?), and not to mention, sex-appeal. I knew I wanted one and momentarily forgot all about the Liberty. I opened the door and saw a very cool interior. This vehicle looked just a good inside with nicely contoured seats and a chrome center console. I sat in it and realized my head was hitting the ceiling. "This shouldn't be a problem." I thought as I used the electric power seat switch and began lowering the seat. It hit bottom and I moved around a bit and found my head still hitting the ceiling whenever I moved. The seat lowered, but not enough. I began tilting the seat to find a comfortable position where my head wouldn't be so close to the top. No dice! I couldn't believe it. I just could not get comfortable in my dream car.

I guess I'll reluctantly have to scratch the Crossfire off my list. I'm truly disappointed.

AutoQuest II - Meet the Candidates

I had gone to and set up some appointments for the weekend. I wanted to look at and test drive the following vehicles:

Chrysler Crossfire: My guilty pleasure choice. I love the way they look. This is a two-seater that's pretty fast and is known for its razor-sharp handling and unlike some small two-seaters, it has a real trunk that actually holds stuff. It's essentially, a Mercedes-Benz SLK underneath with a Chrysler body. They are the coolest vehicles that hardly anybody has ever heard of. It costs $20,000 less than the comparable Mercedes model. I've seen some used ones reasonably priced around $20,000.

Jeep Liberty: My favorite of the smaller SUV's in terms of looks. I drove its big brother, a Jeep Grand Cherokee this past December for a week and I really liked it. The Grand Cherokee is too big for my needs but the Liberty may suit me.

Mazda Tribute: This is a highly rated semi-luxury vehicle that may suit me. I rode in one that a co-worker of mine drove and was pretty impressed with it.

Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner: These vehicles are essentially the same as the Tribute. The Ford lacks much of the luxury touches that are in the Mazda but it costs quite a bit less because of rebates that Ford is offering. I am strongly considering either of these models. It may depend on my impressions of the dealers as to whether I go Ford or Mercury.

Toyota Rav4: Toyota's reputation for durability may push me into going Japanese (Note: the Tribute is more a Ford than a Mazda). What allures me about this model is the V6 version has 269 horsepower and is rated at 24 mpg. That's pretty impressive. The Rav4 is more of a tall car than a true SUV. This appeals to me as well as I prefer the driving dynamics of cars and I'm not out to tow anything or go off-roading so this may be my winner.

Of the SUV's, I am going to look at and test the V6 models with 2-wheel drive. Again, I'm not an off-roader nor do I live in snow country. 4-wheel drive robs the vehicle of power and fuel economy. I believe in V6's however, therefore I have already ruled out several candidates such as the Honda CRV, which does not offer a V6.

Friday, March 03, 2006

AutoQuest I

I've owned three cars in my life. My first car was a 1981 Ford Escort that my parents helped me buy that I needed for my then job at Six Flags Magic Mountain. In 1986, someone decided to turn it from a 4 passenger vehicle into a 2 passenger vehicle by ramming its rear-end at high speed on Interstate 15. So, again with some help from my parents, I got a 1986 Ford Escort. That car lasted me until 1995. It was still running fairly well but I decided I wanted to get a new car all on my own. I was already becoming known amongst my friends as the "Escort guy". So I did my research and decided to take a bold chance and I bought a 1995 Dodge Stratus ES. It was loaded with a V6 engine, sport suspension, leather interior and I have been very proud to have such a vehicle since.

Now, after almost 11 years, I have decided it's time to get my fourth vehicle. My Stratus still runs well and I've had few problems with it these past 120,000 miles. Even though I feel it probably has some years and miles left in it, I'm not going to wait.

People who know me know that I'm pretty into cars. I'm not a mechanic but I have a pretty good general knowledge of what's out there in terms of cars and their differences and similarities. I decided to do something different this time and not get a sedan. I am considering something either in the sporty or small SUV genres. Tomorrow, I do my first serious looking and I'll report how that goes.