A ticket to ride

Prius EngineI just had a very positive bureaucratic experience getting insurance for my new car-to-be. They emailed me proof of insurance immediately after accepting my payment.

Perhaps I had better backtrack. It all starts with me wanting to buy a car. A Toyota Prius Hybrid car, no less (see pictures). I made this promise to myself more than a year ago: my first car (ever) would be a hybrid and I would never look back. So, I got to saving, I saved $1,000 a fortnight for over a year. It was hard and sometimes unforeseen circumstances made it downright impossible, but I was used to paying that much on my student loan so I just kept up with it. In the end, I had a little over $NZ 24,000 (roughly $US 14,000) saved up for my car. I had told everyone (and myself) that I would be buying a hybrid car in Texas and that it would have some very liberal bumper stickers. I aimed to keep my promised to myself and others.

Prius - my new carThe first difficulty I had was in just finding a hybrid car in Texas. Months before I was scheduled to leave, I would scour eBay every night, looking at the prices. I looked for cars in and around the Dallas region. It looked as though I could get a 2002 / 2003 model on eBay at the prices I could afford. I wanted a generation II hybrid (2002 and up) because they were more efficient than the older generation I models. I knew I couldn’t afford generation III (2004 and up) so I didn’t even bother looking at those. In general, there were only ever 2 or so on the market at one time and they often didn’t meet reserve (because they were badly priced later models rather than cheaper ones).

So, when I arrived in Texas, I started looking again. On Friday, I saw two cars in my price range: a 2003 model (sold to the Dallas car Auction the day before, bad luck) and a 2002 model. On Friday I went to see this 2002 model at the seller’s house. He lives over 50 miles away on the other side of Dallas. It was the longest trip I had ever done in Texas, probably one of the longest trips I have ever done, but I was determined.

Above is an image that I used to aid in my navigation. I used my GPS device to instruct me in where to go. The trip took me over an hour and most of that was driving in excess of 60 mph.

Now, I have mentioned it before, but I will mention it again. Texas roads (at least the highways) are pretty darn good. I really enjoyed driving on them. At about mid-way during my 1.5 hour journey, I passed through Dallas itself and I was treated to the sight of some of its newest freeway junctions. Mom, you don’t want to ask how I managed to take these photos at 60mph, ok?

I had the GPS to guide me on the way there and this little device saved my bacon a number of times. It’s actually quite amazing how useful it is just to have the thought that there is a path you should be taking and to know exactly how much you have deviated from that path at any point.

At one point I came to a toll booth (Americans have a many of these, but they are almost unheard of in New Zealand).

I was so bewildered. 40c. I was supposed to throw 40c into the machine as I drove by, but I had these quarter things, and quarters are 25c. There’s no way you can make a round 40c out of quarters!

I finally gave up and thrust some money at an attendant, who made change, threw money into the machine and handed the change back to me with a rather dubious look on his face.

Is that enough pictures for you, Doug? Or shall we do a few more? More? Ok.

For the record, the little car I currently do all my driving in is a rented car called a Dodge Neon, it’s what the Americans call a “compact”:

Dodge Neon (Compact)

Why, do they call it a “compact”? Well, that’s because this is the sort of thing they call a real car:


Americans just love their cars, and they just love to drive. A “high occupancy vehicle” is a vehicle with more than one person in it. By far the most prevalent vehicle on the road is the enormous SUV monstrosity. They also love their pickup trucks (above). Be careful not to overtake one of these guys on the highway in your little compact, though, it may hurt their feelings.

Standard cars in Texas

Americans just love their cars so much, in fact, they prefer not to get out of them at all. They have drive through ATMs:

Drive Through ATM

And drive-by rubbish bins. Yes, you heard me right, folks. This bin is NOT broken, it’s actually designed so you can throw your rubbish out of your car into the bin as you drive by!

Drive-by bin

Anyway, that should be enough images for Doug, let’s continue the story.

So, I take the Toyota for a spin and I love it. It’s clean, it’s well looked after, it has new tires. I don’t even haggle. I just shake the man’s hand and we’re done. Now before you ask, the Prius can hold its own on the motorway, with a combined engine power of over 100 hp it is more than capable of the 70mph expected on American freeways.

So, now it comes to the insurance. Before I can drive my new car, I need it insured. It’s the law in Texas because there is no public insurance like ACC in New Zealand. Before I can insure it, however, I need a driver’s license (now you can see where we’re going with this).

So, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I took half a day off this morning (Monday) and did my local driver’s license test. I had to answer 70% correct on a theory test (much easier than I thought, I only got 2 wrong) and perform a practical driving test. I spent most of the previous night obsessively going over the driver’s manual. How many feet does it take to come to a complete stop when going 70mph? Roughly 380 feet.

The driving test was nerve-wracking because (as some of you know) I only recently got my drivers license in the first place. Now I was expected to drive like a pro on the other side of the road? Seemed impossible, but I did it, much to my pleasure!

Turns out the most arduous part of the whole experience was waiting in line. Once again, there were massive queues. Thank goodness I got in early. Also, the attendant was suspicious of my $100 not and tested it with ultra-violet light. Cool huh?

And finally we end up where my story started: insurance. I had been trying to get insurance so I can pick up my car tomorrow (Tuesday) but I couldn’t do it online. I called the 1-800 number for customer service and received some of the most fantastic customer service I have ever had. Easy, efficient, pleasant. He took me through the process and sent me all the details I needed via email. He had a very nice accent too (he was from San Diego).

So, the upshot of this is: this time tomorrow I will have a fully insured car and a license all of my very own. 🙂