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Old 11-13-2011, 08:13 PM   #1
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DCFusor gets the first Chevy Volt in VA

I just traded my hot-rod Camaro for a Volt. Whup de doo, you might say. Well, I have a solar power system I'll detail elsewhere, that makes enough extra power to run one with no gasoline whatever, and it's a neat car. For the moment, I'll just link to my forums on this (neat videos and so on) but maybe something like this belongs in BSTS? After all, oil going up as fast, or faster than gold is a real possibility and might be the trigger for TSHTF - many think that's going to be the case. Not that having your own transport is going to make tractors and tractor-trailers get you the food, but it's better than walking, no?

The maiden voyage:
http://www.coultersmithing.com/forum...php?f=48&t=515

Background:
http://www.coultersmithing.com/forum...php?f=48&t=490

For those too lazy to follow the link, this thing is actually quite sporty, fun to drive, and a luxury car in most senses along with the nice aspect of not necessarily needing fuel to run. It even attracted a hot babe on its first run to the munchie store (sorry, no pix of that, that'd be impolite, and cramp my style). And I get a $7.5k tax writeoff...not a deduction, a write off.

For me, this has nothing to do with being "green" - I'm already carbon negative if you count me changing trees into lumber...but that's not the reason. The reason is readiness, freedom, control over my own life.
The rest is serendipity. Funny how "everyone wins" situations happen...if you look for them.
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Old 11-14-2011, 02:03 AM   #2
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Very nice and congrats. Looks pretty secluded where you live, 10 miles to beer . Looks like it handles pretty well, but i bet that hairpin was funner in the camero. Also cool that you drove that far and the power hardly went down.
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Old 11-14-2011, 06:25 AM   #3
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Well, I like being far from the "stuff" of "civilization" myself, that way *I* get to chose when and how much to interact with it all. I think it's better to interact proactively rather than have it forced on you, but that's me - some people would go stir-crazy or be bored, I suppose. Most adapt by never losing their approval-seeking behavior if they're forced into constant human interaction, IMO. I feel like not having to kiss butt every minute is an advantage, personally. From my pov, gawd, people have enough power over you already and you willingly give them more? Not for me.

All it means to be far from things like that is that you should plan better.
I actually spend fewer miles/beer than most, I'd suspect - you just buy more per trip and make fewer of them. Same with groceries and most other things. Of course, with the advent of the USPS, UPS, Fedex, one need not leave home for almost everything anyway. What's funny is that yes, it's ten miles to "anyplace" and a near neighbor might be a mile (my nearest is about 1/4 mile, but house to house it's twice that).

But after that ten miles you're right in the middle of it. A 30 mile drive puts you in Blacksburg (VA Tech's town) and 20 more puts you in Roanoke/Salem (civic centers, opera, major hospitals -- and high crime). So it's not really in the middle of nowhere, it's just a pocket of nice hidden in the usual dreck.

I only really need to get groceries once a month, but I do go more often. With my food stash (which I plan to write up for here), I really don't need to go in any given year, since I normally rotate through that to keep the stash fresh. In other words, most of the groceries I buy today go into the stash, and I mostly eat out of the stash. Fresh stuff is the only big exception there.

Yeah, I got pretty good "mileage" going out but it's kind of a cheat. I go downhill for more than half the trip to town, being up in the higher altitudes where I live, and they being down on the lower slopes. The regeneration works a lot better than I'd have predicted, it's nearly theoretic efficiency; I am an engineer, so I dig that stuff. But what you gain on the skinnies you lose on the shies - coming home I get to climb that mountain and there's no cheating that law of physics when you need to go up in altitude with X pounds. Foot-pounds are just foot-pounds, and they gotta come from somewhere.

You're right about the Camaro being funner on twisty roads (the only kind we have, almost). But on another level, you get frustrated because you can't really exercise it like it wants to be - no vision around those, and believe me, around here, you can (and I have) find a deer, a couple cows, stupid people parked in the road looking at a tree that's fallen (instead of moving it off the road, duh) and so on right around one of them - so to do that, even though the car made it easy, you are in a state of wondering if you're going to die right now every single time. Horses don't have headlights (and we have horse traffic) so nighttime doesn't solve that either.

The thing was a real pain in bumper to bumper traffic with the low torque at the bottom and that manual tranny, FWIW. You can feel the life of the clutch ebbing away (or think so). Not as bad as the new hot-rod Dodges in that regard, but bad enough.

So, the fact that the Camaro could do 1.3+ gees and this is "only" about 1 isn't really that big a deal. One gee is pretty exciting after all - it would easily roll my truck over, for example. Unless your thing in life is intimidating Mustang owners, it's kind of excessive. I did get a movie of a hot run in the Camaro, but the older camera didn't do that great a job, and the camera holder was freaking out with the gee's and I got a lot of pictures of the ceiling and her feet...and some shrieks.

My Dad and I made some of the first electric conversions back in the 60's and 70's and boy, they were dogs, lemme tell you. It was the dancing bear - you were amazed it could but it didn't pay to look too close at how well it could dance. We gave it up, they all stank. This is the other extreme, this thing is pretty darned quick and all the modern accouterments, it needs no excuses at all about anything.

And at least in theory - I can run it forever off my spare electricity, which, once I set up the system, is free, or real close. I have solar panels in my system bought in '82 that are still "like new".

Which is another topic I need to get written up here, since I had to learn all the tricks the hard way and can share how to avoid the mistakes for others to benefit from. This provides me a "sink" for when I have excess, which is now the norm here, rather than just pulling the switch and watching all that free power fly away.

Solar tech guys call it a "diversion load". This is a pretty cool one, beats heating a resistor to no particular end other than avoiding overcharging the main house batteries, or having to disconnect the panels.
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Old 11-14-2011, 12:05 PM   #4
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DCFusor, congratulations on being No. 1! I have really enjoyed your comments on the Volt and your accomplishment of putting up a self-sustaining compound. You are WAYbetter off that anyone else I know (except for a guy in NC who is close, but not to the level you are re living off the grid).

Please do keep us up to date with how you like the Volt. It surprised me when I first read of your very positive experience with the car, I had read only vaguely negative things about it.

I also presume that you are going to get around to taking a peak (or three!) at the internals of the car, the battery, the drive system, etc. I for one would like to here your musings along the way.

---

Somewhat O/T here, I believe "Mad Max" at ZH said nearby your recent comments on a thread there that (approximating his quotation) "there are exciting new technologies coming re solar power". I have not heard anything about new solar technology that would revolutionize anything.

I will look in the more relevant threads here at pmbug should you (or anyone) comment on this notion.
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Old 11-14-2011, 12:58 PM   #5
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Well, the Volt is charging right now at full speed off the spare power from my "old tech' solar system, which is only going to get better when I get the new panels off the ground and out of the shadows. I'd bought the last pallet of them when BP stupidly closed their MD factory because they weren't making enough money (just before the spill!), and all the dealers sold them at fire-sale prices.

My take on solar tech, which I'll post here (with details of my own system) once I shrink pix of my system down to the limits of this site, is that much of the old stuff is just fine, thanks. My panels cost very approximately $500 each, putting out between 150 and 200w each, depending on model in full sun. If you price a quality window at the hardware store, same size, you'll pay not much less, which tells you something. Most of my panels are around the 14% efficient number. More efficiency would be better, of course, especially for those with limited space to put them in. And cheaper, since it seems the main part of the cost is not the solar part, but the glass, the frame, the magic backing that has the same tempco as the cells, and stuff like that.

Most of the new tech I've seen (I do watch) is amorphous thin film, on which I've been badly burned. In an effort to do this to make it cheap, they've all skimped here and there on things that really matter to reliability, so they fail quickly. In my system are panels now 30+ years old and the main way to tell them from the new ones is how faded the labels on the back are - output is still at spec. There's something to be said for thick crystals that don't crack, real nice glass, and a real strong frame - we get hurricanes here too...and hail, and temperature extremes.

To an extent, I think this "wait for better tech" is the same scam GW Bush was playing when he was saying "wait for the hydrogen car", but till then buy oil from my cronies...in this case, the mainstream power industry doesn't want to lose the ability to charge for all those wires we won't be needing anymore. The main thing more efficiency would buy is needing few square feet of roof, and of glass. No way you ever get to a solar powered apt building anyway, so I'm not sure how important that really is.

Oops, OT.

I too saw a bunch of vaguely negative stuff about the Volt, and for sure there are some GM haters out there (some with good reason, they really have changed for the better, which implies they weren't always this good). But the actual thing I have in the driveway - it's one heck of a work of engineering art and practice.

Fit and finish is like a much more expensive euro car (the suspension and steering are BMW units, BTW).
They are kind of closed mouth about many of the details, and I'm working now to get an NDA with them and the info to "hack" this in certain ways, to more fully integrate it with my solar system. This thing is densely made (there's not much air under the hood, or anyplace but the cabin) and locked up in super-security fasteners, so I gotta go get some toolage to even see what's in there! A lot of the fun stuff you'd have to get under it to see, so I'll take it to the garage and get it up on a lift for pix.

While it's great as a diversion load for my system, I'd like to take it the other direction as well, and use it as a backup instead of these cheapo hardware store generators which really are a hassle to keep going - and you only need them when it's painful to be outside working on things.

No one seems to make a good quality but small thing
(though the Honda inverter-generator is getting there - I'll know how reliable it is when it fails) - same thing our auto manufacturers "didn't get" for so long. You can make a small luxury car, and get the price for it - took them awhile to figure out that good mileage was one of the luxuries people wanted, till then we got pintos and vegas - so the Japanese cleaned our clock! They "got it" a lot earlier than we.
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Old 11-14-2011, 03:45 PM   #6
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Very interesting. So, they jammed all that technology so tight in there that's hard even to SEE some of it? That seems like the Toyota Prius as well.

Since it looks like GM has a winner of a product, I hope that it helps them get back into the game (of manufacturing good cars). The better the USA as a whole makes decent products, the better for all the rest of us.

And electric cars really do look like part of the solution of our energy problems.

Keep us informed!
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Old 11-14-2011, 05:50 PM   #7
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Thanks for the review and videos. I've been coming around to the idea of hybrids/electric as a way to stay moving when fuel becomes scarce and to dissociate ourselves from the troubles we have with some oil producing regions.

As I understand it, the wheels of the Volt are always turned by electric motors, the batteries of which are powered from the grid, regenerative systems, and/or the gas engine (like modern trains, except those use diesel). The Prius, on the other hand, uses both gas engine and electric motors to power the wheel (can run solely on either); and I think the Honda system uses the electric motor basically to boost the gas engine. Correct?

One issues that sticks in my mind is what happens when the Volt, or any of the hybrids, gets to be old. I know the electric drive components generally have an 8 year/100k mile warranty, but I tend run my vehicles to twice that and beyond. Do you think these systems will be repairable at reasonable costs, if it all? With the hybrids I think you could probably just run them on the gas engine if the electronic fail, but the Volt can't do that.

I'll say that I am one of the people who is none too fond of GM. I've never really liked their cars, and the bailouts left a very bad taste in my mouth. That said, their cars have been getting better (especially Cadillac) and the Volt is an impressive machine.

BTW, you have some nice roads and scenery out there in Virginia. If I had roads like that I would be on a motorcycle any time it is not snowing.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:22 PM   #8
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dontdeB, thank you for posting some of the basic mechanics of how the Volt and other electric cars work. I did not know an of that.

DCFusor! Hey, ask the Chevy Dealer when they expect to have the wheel bearings in... Usually when a new model car comes out, many of the spare parts are not available for, say, a year. I am now extremely curious to know what kind of wheel bearings are in there. At some point Hyundai of Korea will invade this (electric car) space, I think they already have an electric or hybrid Sonata. And I will have to ask our Korean bearing suppliers what the piece is and if they make it.
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Old 11-14-2011, 09:45 PM   #9
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Right, the Volt just has electric drive, then various sources of electricity - just like my home power system, where all the sources charge batteries, then an inverter makes AC to run the world. The prius is as you describe, and I'm about to have some fun with an old colleague that bought one (against advice, the tech really wasn't there yet). I'm just going to drop in at his place and compare, to get that jaw-drop look. I'm not familiar with the Honda.

Things are moving so fast in automobile tech that yes, I fear that long term repairability will suffer - heck, we're there already. Garages can't fix half of what goes wrong with cars made in the last decade, though they can do engine/drivetrain swaps. They never could fix electrical problems too well. Anything major these days might as well be a totaled car, economically, even at a garage, much less the dealer. An airbag light can cost $1000 bucks to get fixed.
That said, most of this car was made in a BMW factory in Austria...it's probably going to last. Major mech parts - Bosch. Body and assemble - Detroit.

They claim the major drivetrain component life design center is 800k miles for gentle drivers, 200k for "harsh" and I believe it after looking. But all new cars have been at the point of no user serviceable parts for quite awhile now. The ones you can change out don't go bad. Heater cores now last forever...stuff like that just isn't failing in quality cars.

My guess would be that the electronics in this would be the last to go, actually. (it's not a chrysler product - they are infamous for that) I'd worry more about the mechanical parts, but those are fairly conventional for these days (but - hollow camshafts to save weight? Gheesh). Due to not needing any clutches and so on, this stuff should go a lot longer - no lost motion needed in places anymore. You'd still kill shocks and struts, bushings and brake pads and so on, should be conventional. By the time this stuff wears out, you'd probably want one with newer tech, it's improving so fast - I'll probably feel like an idiot in 5 years for being an early adopter.

I didn't manage to get any of the GM lemons people hate them for, so I'm mystified, since I've owned quite a few of their cars - I only went to new a few years back, but before that, I'd buy them with 100k miles on them, cheap because of that old myth that that was the end (used to be true, but no more), drive them for another 50k on oil changes, then get another when that one bored me and a nicer one popped up cheap. Dead reliable stuff, and nice besides.

I have a motorcycle license, and used to blast around on them a lot. Some road rash and too many times of drunks in pickups running me into barbed wire fences made me realize my mortality, so I don't do it anymore - getting too old to heal quick. But yes, this is a great and popular place for bikes.

DoChen, the wheel fittings look just the same as any other FWD car with 4 wheel disks, I'd guess they are shared with the other popular models, probably plain old timken type rollers. I can ask though. That "everything is different on every car" thing is really going away these days to get economy - remember GM cut a bunch of brands entirely.

Hey, the bailout provided a great joke. For a bit there the unions effectively owned the company - they were both labor and management. Man, did they backpedal fast! Couldn't play that divide and exploit game when they were both sides of the table! Once the gov sells off their stake, I'll probably trade their stock again, but the gov is so stupid they'll try to dump it all at once and depress the price - buy then, not before.

The Camaro that became this car was the result of shorting 57,000 shares of GM after they announced they were in real trouble. I'm guessing that the source of those borrowed shares was the union. Thanks UAW for a nice car - free! Otherwise, they can go rot as far as I'm concerned. I can't imagine working for two bosses, one of which I have to PAY to not let me help my buddy because work rules prohibit it. What team spirit!

I'm pleasantly surprised how many people on the Volt forums are also all-solar power...this is creeping up nicely and bodes well for our readiness as a country. No one seems to be tracking the numbers, but it's getting big now.

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Old 11-15-2011, 11:21 AM   #10
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How many square feet of solar cell would I need to drive a Volt for free? Yes, I could do my own homework and math, but it seems like you have already so I'm asking if I can "copy" real quick for the answer. =)
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Old 11-15-2011, 12:18 PM   #11
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Well, you don't give enough data for me to do the homework, but I'll make some assumptions here just for fun.

Let's call each panel 200w rated (which is realistic, my latest ones are just that). Those are 31 by 62.5" or 13.454... sq foot each. In my climate, I get right about the predicted 4.5 hours equivalent full sun/day, for about .9kwh per panel. A full battery in a volt requires 16kwh, but they never let it run that far down, the IC engine will keep it above 20% or so. So to charge it, you'd need 12.8 kwh. Or 14.2 of those panels, for 191.34 sq feet.

Now, here's what's wrong with those numbers. Some days you don't get that, some days you get much more. If you can't stuff it into the Volt, you want to save it somewhere else (or just use it as it comes in - but not throw it away). This assumes 100% efficiency everywhere, surely not the case, but the newer solar stuff and inverters get close (but house batteries don't). This assumes you fully charge the Volt each day, but only drive it down once. And a few other things, but hey, this should get into the ballpark for you. I have 35 panels...so there's extra, my house on average only uses about 300w during the day...half a horsepower. I do have huge peak loads from the machine shop, and other junk of course...but it draws very little at night - only the freezer which lives in an unheated space and rarely comes on in winter.
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Old 11-15-2011, 02:32 PM   #12
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Thanks DCFusor for the comments on the Volt, especially the wheel bearings.

So a lot of the Volt is built by BMW... And the battery, where would it come from?

Might GM be making a mistake with their kind-of silly ads for the Volt (at the drive-through)?

Ha ha ha your comments on the UAW having to work both sides of the table!

---

I forget where (I Googled it), but this morning I read some positive reviews of the Hyundai Sonata hybrid. A few people (say 5 out of maybe 30 reviews, something like that) had problems that were hard to fix (transmission and electrical and electrical-related), but most people liked the car a lot, which is about where you stand re the Volt.

The Sonata hybrid is a bit less than a year old, I gather. Their 2012 may be more reliable when it comes out. And the Dealers will have more experience servicing them.

I have read that KOREA is doing a lot of research into batteries. Korea MAY be ahead of the USA in battery technology. I wonder how much of the Sonata hybrid is Korean (as opposed to Japanese).

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Old 11-16-2011, 03:42 PM   #13
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DC, how long does it take to charge from empty? The reason that I ask is if you are driving across the country and you needed to charge it then you would have to wait for the car to charge up to continue your journey. Seems like it could be a little burdonsome if you not just driving around town.
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Old 11-16-2011, 06:16 PM   #14
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There are various options. With the "free" charger they give you, it takes up to 10 hours from dead to full. An extra cost 230v one will do it in 4 hours. A DC charger can do it in 30 min - assuming you have something that can deliver 32kw(!) of DC at 370v or so. Those aren't available yet, as most places don't have enough power from the power co to do that. (86 amps at 400 v, more or less). That would be the charge from the batteries that run my house - they're the same size.

You just fill it up and run on gasoline for long trips. I'm doing tests now, and today's was a trip to about half the electric range. Nasty weather, headlights, wipers, climate control on "comfort" - all worst case. Easily made it there on half a charge, then I switched it to "mountain mode" for the trip back, forcing the IC engine to run.

I literally just got back (to see how my trades went today) and haven't taken a screenshot yet, but net mileage was about 85 mpg over the ~56 mile trip. I could have made it all in battery without full heater, defogger, and wipers for "infinite mileage" of course, but I like to keep half a charge on the thing so far, as I can put that back in one sunny day with the excess from my solar power system - now that's talking. You could build a solar system that would do this once a day for 1/4 the price of the car and have it free "one 45 mi drive a day" forever. I don't drive every day...

The solar would outlast the car (about 30 years on mine so far, still like new).

Running pure gasoline, looks like about 39 mpg around town, probably better on the highway. Around town it doesn't run the engine stoplight to stoplight, just when you have a decent go distance - when the IC engine cuts on, it makes ti back up for the light-light driving too, and keeps things at ~~ 50% charge. Still testing that kind of thing. As an engineer myself, I can't point to anything they did stupid yet. IBM software throughout. If you like MS, you could go for a Ford, but that blue screen of death might be all too literal.

The chargers for these things are a ripoff, by the way, at $400-$800 each. All they are is a glorified extension cord with safety relays in series the shut off power if something is wrong, and that fancy connector on the end. IF I find a source of those connectors (they are fancy) I'll make them and sell them. You need roughly $1 worth of electronics to "talk to the car", and a $5 relay to make one. In fact, there's only one slight wiring difference between the one they sell for 400 and the 800 one - what was neutral in the 120v one becomes the other phase for 220, and the "rate" signal it sends the car (one opamp to generate it for any engineers out there) is different in level. That's it. All the power semis and brains are in the car already.

This isn't GM-specific -- they all meet the same SAE standard, and they are all ripoffs.
Price fixing to the max, probably very hard to get that car connector from anybody, but I'll definitely look into that - $400 for $20 worth of parts, tops? Yeah, I can compete with that!

I sold my last conventional auto today. I wound up with money left over, and a 7.5k tax writeoff to boot (but one less car). I still have a truck that gets nasty mileage, but that's for winter snowdrifts and getting water and wood only. 2007 with under 9k miles on it, for reference. Finally got all that really sorted.

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Old 11-16-2011, 09:54 PM   #15
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The slightest bit O/T but perhaps humorous...

We recently took my wife's 2009 Toyota Corolla in for service. When the guy asked me what the mileage was I said I did not know. So we went and looked. Just under 1900 miles (1,900). This car is almost three years old...
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Old 11-16-2011, 10:42 PM   #16
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Well, you must love the car to be keeping it - insurance, PP taxes and all that stuff kinda make the cost/mile a little high eh? I know why I keep the truck - when you need it "out here" you really-really need it, and you get tired of bumming a truck off a neighbor at some point.

If you want it to live forever you should drive it long enough to get the oil over 100c every week or two (and the exhaust system over water evaporation temps)...else it will rot in place, or rust up as the oil drains off things. The Volt computer forces that - but this is the case with any IC engine, nothing special there. It's also hard on any belts as they kind of take a set (and tires flat-spot) if they sit too long without a little exercise now and then. Almost like humans!
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Old 11-16-2011, 11:02 PM   #17
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It is our "second car". My wife only learned to drive when she was older than most (from Peru, not everyone learns to drive at 16 there). And they drive TERRIBLE here in our city (We're No. 1! In road rage...) And she just does not like to drive much or far away, her sense of direction is not as good as mine, for example. Our other vehicle is a Lexus RX350 (the smaller SUV) same age as my wife's car, but I have 24,000 miles on it, the one I had before this one was the RX300, which I kept for six years and drove 96,000 hard miles... I really like my Lexus...

Nonetheless you raise some great points DCF! We'll make more of an effort to drive it more often. Her last car was a Honda Accord that we had for 16 years... The one before that was also a Honda Accord, we even shipped that one to her sister in Peru (in a 20' container), but that's another story, for another time.

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