Hey Mark and Petrina - this will be the 100th column you’ve written together to answer readers’ questions about what car they should buy. Which of those last 99 have been your favourites? And what are some of the trends you’ve noticed? – Jordan Chittley, Globe Drive editor
Mark Richardson: Wow – 100 columns already.
Petrina Gentile: That’s a milestone. I can’t believe I’ve lasted this long working with you. Joking aside, I love this column and offering advice to help Canadians with their car-buying decisions.
Richardson: Me too. There are so many options for vehicles that it can be bewildering for many people. My favourite questions are the ones where readers have a specific or unusual need, like the guy just recently who wanted to carry his Great Dane without having to get a minivan – though a minivan was definitely his best choice.
Gentile: Here we go again with the minivan argument. I don’t blame that reader – I wouldn’t want a minivan, either, even if I did have a 170-pound Great Dane.
Richardson: You and I are never going to agree on the practicality of minivans. I love ‘em, you hate ‘em, and it’s all about their perceived image.
Gentile: And their image still leaves a lot to be desired. So let’s agree to disagree and move on. Personally, I love the reader who asked “why do you hate Teslas?” In fact, many readers think we don’t like Teslas, but that’s not the case.
Richardson: We even have Tesla fans who decry us in the comments whenever we don’t recommend Teslas, which is frequently. But when people say they don’t want an electric car, or cannot plug in at home, or are looking for long-term reliability, or don’t have at least $55,000 to spend up front, then a Tesla isn’t for them.
Gentile: That’s so true. Tesla does have a cult following and some of those comments can be downright nasty.
Richardson: We’re also accused of making up letters to avoid recommending Teslas or electric cars in general and of cherry-picking the letters we receive to make sure a Tesla would not be appropriate. It’s such nonsense.
Gentile: Our editor forwards the letters to us, so we can’t make them up even if we wanted to.
Richardson: And we welcome letters asking about electric vehicles. I wish we’d get more, but a lot of readers are still hesitant to make the plunge – and often for good reasons. There are more EVs coming onto the market every month, though their upfront costs are high, and we only recommend vehicles we’ve actually driven. It’s worth knowing what’s coming, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be an improvement.
Gentile: I’m with most of our readers – reluctant to make the jump to an electric vehicle. The infrastructure in Canada isn’t up to par and the prices are way too high. And I also, like many readers, share their concern about range anxiety. It’s real.
Richardson: Most people don’t take road trips every week, and if you can charge at home, an EV can be ideal, but we really haven’t seen a trend in questions about them. Those who do ask often say their budget is $30,000, which is probably what they spent on a gas-powered car five years ago, and EVs are just too costly for that.
Gentile: Exactly. Most people don’t realize how expensive it is to jump on that electric bandwagon.
Richardson: EVs generally cost less to maintain and, at the moment anyway, much less to charge, but the initial price is high and interest rates to lease or finance them are also high. It helps when the provincial government offers subsidies, but we often don’t know where a reader lives, to know what he or she might qualify for.
Gentile: It would help if readers told us this in their questions, as well as their budget.
Richardson: Sometimes readers are specific. Remember the guy who wanted a recommendation for something to drive in the Northwest Territories?
Gentile: I forgot about Chris’ epic 800-kilometre adventure from Dawson City, Yukon, to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories in a front-wheel-drive sedan. I wonder if he made that trek in his 2018 Accord?
Richardson: We do hear back sometimes from readers, but never heard from Chris. Maybe he’s still stranded up there with four flat tires on the Dempster Highway.
Gentile: Maybe. I also love to hear from readers who are true car enthusiasts and love driving, and are even searching for manual transmissions.
Richardson: I’m still kicking myself for that column because we completely forgot about the Mazda3 as a small, zippy recommendation with a manual transmission. Fortunately, the commenters were quick to point out its omission.
Gentile: We can always count on feedback from our commenters, which we both read often.
Richardson: We don’t have the space to discuss more than four or five vehicles in any one answer, so the comments are always a good place to look for real-world advice from actual owners of a broad range of choices. They can get very opinionated.
Gentile: Yes, and sometimes critical of our views or suggestions, though we do have more than four decades of professional automotive experience between us. We drive probably 70 new vehicles every year, between weekly test drives and new vehicle product launches.
Richardson: And we don’t recommend something we haven’t driven, though sometimes, we’ll mention if an upcoming car might be worth waiting for. The industry’s changed in the last three years, though. Now, we have the challenge of whether to recommend a vehicle we know is worthy, but may not be available for a long time. The unobtainable Toyota RAV4 Prime is the best example of that. There are plenty of choices from among current models, of course, but sometimes we have to go back quite a few years to fit a frugal budget. Remember the guy whose son was just starting out and could only afford $7,000? We’ve all been there. Many of us still are.
Gentile: Especially nowadays. Rising inflation and interest rates, and longer lease terms, mean a cheaper used car makes sense. But $7,000 was a tall order to fill. Hopefully he took our advice and went with a used tried-and-true Civic, Corolla or Mazda3 to replace his 2009 Chevy Cobalt with 250,000 clicks.
Richardson: If he could find one. Even those very popular cars can be tough to buy these days. But before we move on to the next hundred columns, Petrina – is there any one column from the 99 we’ve bickered over together that stands out the most for you?
Gentile: There are a few, but I won’t forget the one from the reader wanting to buy his last car after his wife died - it was very sad.
Richardson: Yes, it was sad, though most readers assumed he didn’t want to keep his old car because of the memories it gave him of his wife. That was probably true, but he never actually said that. Maybe he just always hated the car. The letters we receive can sometimes be quite ambiguous.
Gentile: I agree. We would appreciate more information, including budget and home province, which is important if you’re looking for an EV and want to consider applicable rebates. And what about you, what is your favourite column?
Richardson: I’ll always remember this one, from a guy moving to Quebec and looking for an EV. I like it because I appreciate his commitment to try to do the right thing, but mostly because he wrote to me after and said his partner – who didn’t know he’d written in – had flagged it for him to read, saying how perfectly applicable it was to the two of them.
Gentile: That was the best. It’s always great hearing back from our readers, especially when they follow up and tell us what they decided to buy. Keep those letters coming – we love hearing from you.
Richardson: I’m with you on that, Petrina. Keep keeping us on our toes, too. And maybe, just maybe, when we write our 200th column, we’ll be able to seriously recommend a hydrogen-powered car to somebody. I’ll look forward to that.
Gentile: Wishful thinking, Mark.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org and use ‘What car’ as as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.