a peek inside the fishbowl

24 Jun, 2010

The family car

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!

Yesterday was one of the weirdest days on record. To say that I was shaken up would be an understatement.

  • BB died.
  • There was a window-rattling earthquake (Sarah was in class, Emma was on a fieldtrip, I was on the phone.)
  • We bought a car, and …
  • I almost ran into a deer on the way home (in the new car!)


The car wasn’t an impulse buy. We’d been talking about it for months, but the process took on a whole new meaning when the engine light came on in our 1999 Mazda Protegé. It was time.

We have a long history with the Protegé. We bought it after Emma was born. We figured that getting in and out of a two-door Honda Civic wasn’t going to cut it with a baby, and we were right.

Since then it has seen over 190,000 kilometres worth of pavement. It has been to the Maritimes and back, and all over Ottawa and much of southern Ontario.

We are a one-car family, and we used it for everything.

We’ve been looking at the Toyota Prius for awhile. It was the prime candiate for Operation Replace the Car. We liked its extreme fuel economy and low emissions. It looked like the perfect car for city-driving people like us who are looking for ways to reduce their footprint.

We went to test drive one about a month ago and were so annoyed by the salesperson we were paired with that it almost (almost!) turned us off this car completely. His lack of product knowledge was stunning. For example, we asked him what the letter B on the gearshift meant. He didn’t know. We learned later that it stands for BRAKE, and is intended to be used to slow down the car in a steep descent. (!)

We went to another place a few weeks later and test drove the car with a knowledgeable salesperson. It made all the difference in the world. He actually knew what he was talking about.

Colour-wise we were looking at a dark gray. I originally thought the colour was called gun-metal gray (ooh, flying around town like a bullet!) but recently found out it was actually WINTER GRAY. Fer crissakes. Don’t people know that winter is only this colour in March when the snow has melted and the drifts of road salt, sand and dirt are revealed?

I am insulted by the naming of this colour! :)

I was also annoyed at the pricing of the extra accessories. Some of them were ridiculous. Can you imagine paying $400+ for an iPod interface (which really is just a wire) ? Also among the “extras” were all-season floor mats and similarly overpriced first aid/emergency roadside kits.

So allow me to give you the good news/bad news scenario.

The good news: After much discussion (and the realization there were some great rebates to be had) we bought the Prius. It is ours. It is an amazing little car. When other cars are idling at a stop light the Prius is silent. It glides around barely using any gas or spewing emissions. (This Globe & Mail review pretty much sold me on this car.) As the author points out, this kind of car represents a new driving paradigm. The future of cars, of our society and the things we buy, create and consume, must be about small, it must be about conservation, otherwise our time here on the planet will be cut short. It may not happen in our generation, but it will happen. The days of big and bloated have to end.

The bad news: we had our Protegé checked out and we don’t have a hope in hell of selling it. It needs a new transmission (an estimated $3200+) and the book value of our car is something like $1500.

SO. If there is anyone out there with a spare transmission and feels like taking this car off our hands, please let me know.

As for today, I’m getting ready to go poke around a lovely home for an upcoming issue of Ottawa Magazine. I hope I won’t be running over any moose/squirrels/cats on the way there. And when I get home I’m going to bury myself under the covers.

13 Responses to "The family car"

1 | Finola

June 24th, 2010 at 8:23 am


I love my 2000 Mazda Protege. I like it better than our newer car and I hope it never dies ever.

2 | bushidoka

June 24th, 2010 at 8:54 am


Prius is a good step in the right direction. Though my VW fanboy friend once told me that the non-hybrid VW GTI (I think that is the right name) gets better mileage than the hybrid Prius. But that runs on Diesel. Dunno how accurate that is but he seemed to know what he was talking about. But still we really need to be improving our electric motors and this sort of brake/charge technology, so the Prius is still a good step in that direction.

Someone may want the Protege as a parts car. It would also be suitable for someone with another Mazda of the same vintage (323 I think was basically the same?), and the Ford Escort was basically the same car except for the body. Same engine, drive train, etc, if I am not mistaken. I know our 1999 Escort had a Mazda engine.

3 | andrea

June 24th, 2010 at 8:56 am


Finola: the Protege was a great little car until now. We even went camping with it!

bushidoka: I am thinking the same thing about selling it for parts. Makes me sad though. Other than the transmission it is still a decent little car.

4 | bushidoka

June 24th, 2010 at 9:19 am


There are also places where you can donate old cars. A few of them now but I don’t recall exactly which places. One I think was local firefighters – but they will only destroy it practicing rescue. I think there are places you can donate it that will fix it up and use it.

5 | andrea

June 24th, 2010 at 9:23 am


bushidoka: we are considering that too.

–> http://www.charitycar.ca/index.html

6 | Mark

June 24th, 2010 at 10:06 am


It is true that the Volkswagen diesel CAN get better mileage than the Prius but this is strictly with highway driving. For city driving the Prius is much more fuel efficient. So overall, as an average it gets better mileage over the life of the car.

7 | milkfacemama

June 24th, 2010 at 10:52 am


What a sweet looking car! We’ll be on the lookout for a new one in a few years but with a 5 person family, I’m not sure what sort of options we have.

8 | Mandy

June 24th, 2010 at 11:22 am


Just curious where in the Maritimes you traveled to I live in Nova Scotia, and I heard about that earthquake that is crazy I couldn’t believe it!

9 | Sheila D.

June 25th, 2010 at 7:04 pm


We bought a Prius two years ago. Still loving it.

10 | Annie

June 26th, 2010 at 10:00 am


We are in the same predicament… Our 2000 Subaru Impreza wagon needs a new clutch… In addition to many other reasons, this is meaning we are in the market for a new car.

We test drove a Prius a few weeks ago. Our large dog just fits in the trunk (not so comfy for him if he is sitting – must lie down!) and there is enough space in the rest of the car (plus a roof rack box for long trips) for our 3 year old and hopefully another one on they way…

We are looking to replace our car sometime this summer – though not sure if we should go with the 2010 or a 2008 or 2009 – any thoughts?? (cost savings would be the reason to go with a used model, but the 2010 has been redesigned and much improved…).

I feel a wee bit that the Prius is a Yuppie status symbol (hope that I don’t offend anyone – it is not meant as that!!) as it is fairly pricey and it seems to be the same types of folks who I see driving it… My husband and I feel that the Prius (or other efficient hybrids – ie: not SUV hybrids) are the only way to go when replacing a car these days (but I still can’t help but feel it is a major status symbol…). I have never been one much into status symbols…

Nonetheless, I will be reading more reviews over the next months and watching Toyota dealers around my area for Priuses…

Thanks for the post on this – it was extremely timely!

11 | Paula

June 28th, 2010 at 11:44 am


Hey Andrea – you can donate your car to the automotive technology program at Sir Guy Carleton school up on Centrepointe Drive. If you get it appraised first you will get a tax receipt for the appraised value. Some appraisers do not care if the car needs major work – they just go by the book value. Contact at the school is Luc Lavasseur
Sir Guy Carleton phone # 723-5136
Luc’s cell phone: 297-1355
He has a business card for an appraiser that will come to your house (sorry I don’t have her name/number).

12 | Tiana

June 28th, 2010 at 1:09 pm


When we bought our Camry hybrid they told us the B was for battery and that when the arrow on our dash pointed from the wheel icon to the battery icon (basically whenever you are slowing down) you can put it in B and the friction from this style of braking send energy to the battery.

13 | An update on the Prius >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 1st, 2010 at 2:44 pm


[…] I never drove the Prius before we bought it. […]

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  • andrea tomkins: I'm glad you find it restful Bonnie! I didn't on that day. :)
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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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