Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy High Holy Days!

L'shanah tovah tikatev(i) v'taihatem(i)!

This traditional Hebrew greeting for the High Holy Days means "For a good year may you be inscribed as sealed." The alternate (i) endings are the grammatical form used when addressing women.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Honda Cargo Space

Sadly, our Saturn SL2 is on its last legs.  The repairs done last December were shoddy, and now the connecting rod is being slowly worn down by a bad connecting rod bearing.  The car might last another year or two, but only if we avoid long freeway trips.

(The faulty repairs are not the subject of this post, but are a source of headache.  Despite the wording of the repair work's written warranty, the company at this point refuses to pay for new repairs unless we get the car to their location.  This past week we had our local mechanic go into the engine to confirm the source of the increasing noisiness.  He took some digital photographs, and wrote a detailed invoice.  Perhaps those will be sufficient.)

However, we need long freeway trips to drive to Southern California each year to visit family.  So it's time shop for a new car.

We want good gas mileage since we do take at least one long trip each year.  We also want cargo space, since we like camping.  What cars do both well?

First, a baseline.  Our current car has 12.1 cubic feet of trunk space.  When we go camping we fill this and also half of the back seat.  Yes, that's a lot of camping stuff.  But we bring firewood.  Since we hope, God willing, to have a second child then we need at least 20 cubic feet of cargo space when all four seats are used.  This car also means we are used to 31 city miles per gallon at 124 horsepower.  Finally, we consistently drive about 10,000 miles each year.

An obvious first vehicular candidate is the Honda Fit, which is beloved by all sorts of automotive rating magazines.  It does have 20 cubic feet of cargo space.  It also has 28 city miles per gallon at 117 horsepower, comparable to our current car.  Paying $110 per year more for gas is acceptable.

Similar to the Fit is the Hyundai Elantra Touring, with 24 cubic feet of cargo space.  It provides 138 horsepower, but at 23 city miles per gallon.  That would mean paying $250 per year for gas more than if we used the Fit--perhaps worthwhile if the larger engine was of practical benefit, which we doubt considering our driving needs.

Would moving to the larger Honda Element help us?  Surprisingly, no.  Cargo space only increases to 25 cubic feet, whereas city mileage decreases to 20.  We don't need 166 horsepower or an interior that can be hosed off to clean (or all-wheel-drive at the cost of only 18 city mpg).  An extra $450 per year for gas beyond what the Fit would cost is a deal-breaker ($630 for all-wheel-drive).  Similarly, the Toyota RAV4 would be fun for camping but lacks the gas mileage we want because of our long trips.

How about the Honda CR-V?  No.  Cargo space shoots up to 35 cubic feet, but mileage goes down to 21 city miles per gallon.  Again, it is not worth $380 per year for gas beyond what the Fit would cost.

Surprisingly, those five vehicles are all on our list.  Everything else we have investigated lacks the safety, reliability, or above-mentioned mileage or cargo space.  We might be overlooking good options, however.  Please help us!

We'll probably have a 2" trailer hitch installed for one of these cargo racks.  (With our steep driveway we would need a rack whose bar goes up towards the back.)  That is comparatively inexpensive, and will provide a lot of camping cargo space.

We were already talking about using a trailer hitch cargo rack next summer.  I had plans to build a "kitchen cabinet" that would attach to the cargo rack.  It would give us both cupboard space underneath and a gluten-free cooking surface.  During the Winter we could store most of our camping equipment inside, so that it would not take up much more garage space than we have already devoted to camping.

Perhaps we are overlooking other good options.  For example, with both a roof rack and trailer hitch cargo rack the Honda Insight might satisfy all of our criteria, although it does score lower for reliability and is less praised by automotive magazines than the Fit.  (Other hybrid cars sacrifice too much trunk space for the battery.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fidelity's Free Investment Searches

Wondering what to invest?

(We probably should be.  The market is down now, but November's election news will probably restore some business confidence.  This month will likely be a good time for the "buy low" half of that saying.)

Fidelity offers nice searches to find proven funds and industry favorite stocks.

The links above use my personal, favorite criteria.  I like funds that are well-rated by Morningstar, have demonstrated sound ten-year growth, and a low expense ratio.  For stocks, I simply picked what I consider the most meaningful measurement of return (both 3- and 5-year annualized), profit (profit margin), earnings (yield), growth (5-year book value growth), value (price per cash flow ratio), and flexibility (cash on hand).  I also make the chart list industry and company size but not in a manner that affects the search.

Enjoy fiddling with a big database!