Sometimes those little nuggets of learning catch me by surprise. On average I travel 3-4 times a year. Not a lot to some, but enough that I’ve got a fairly good routine worked out – reserved airport parking, two hours early at check-in, and a modest rental car waiting on the other end. This trip was no different.
Normal travel woes after being up since 4:30 AM, arriving midday, and still have yet half a day of work ahead of me. The flight was on time and smooth and the next step was to get the rental car. No problems. Everything setup ready to go…until I rounded the corner to the parking slot where ‘car’ awaits.
At first sight I chuckled as I noticed the Toyota emblem and thought to myself, “Self, don’t let a stuck gas pedal fuddle up this trip.” The next thing that struck me as odd is that it was the Toyota Prius hybrid. Odd for two reasons: 1) My wife and I are in the preliminary discussions about getting a new car and a hybrid is among those talks, and 2) I wasn’t even asked if I wanted it. In the past, the rental car agent would inform me of the make and model of the car selected for me and asked if it was okay. Not this time.
My inquisitive nature, curiosity, and the chance to test drive a vehicle I potentially may purchase seemed to all fit into place – until I sat in the driver’s seat.
The fob. No key. No key? Did they forget to give me a key? Oh, the fob ‘is’ the key. I get it. So where does it go? Oh, in the dash. Now what? Ah, the big round button on the dash that says, “Power.” Key fob plugged in, power button on, dash and energy consumption panel comes to life. Is it on? Is it only electric for now and then gas engine later once I get rolling? How ‘do’ I get rolling? The little gear shift knob won’t stay in the “R” for reverse and worse, I don’t even know if I’m in that gear.
Let me also note here that at this point it was raining. If you haven’t sat inside a car while it’s raining and the car not running lately, it will fog up rather quickly. I knew I had the power on so at least I could get some air circulating. It was cold air but enough to un-fog the window.
I was at a loss and it had seriously crossed my mind to pack it up, go inside, and request a regular internal combustion gas-operated engine vehicle. Then I got slightly irritated with myself for being on the edge of accepting defeat. I shall not fail! It’s a friggin’ car! How hard can this be? Think!
Like any good learner who is left to his own devices, I needed guidance. I needed instructions. Ah-ha! Owner’s manual. I reached into the split dash glove compartment (do they still call them glove compartments?) and snatched the car’s bible. As I began thumbing through the first few pages looking for a glimpse of hope, I see the title, “Operating instructions…page 182.” Page 182? What the…? Who wrote this book? Who in their right mind would put how to start the dang car passed midway in the manual? I flipped to the page and began scanning for any lifeline that would trigger the “you’re an obvious dolt” meter. I did. Depress the brake pedal and push the Power button. The brake pedal! Of course! Most modern cars will not allow you to shift into gear out of Park without depressing the brake pedal. Why would a hybrid be any different? Dolt.
Brake pedal depressed. Power button pushed. A new panel of digital lights came to life displaying speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge, and a few other idiot lights. Seconds later I hear this weak purr and a very slight murmur of vibration which I deduced was my savior coming to life – the gasoline engine!
New problem. The gear selector digital readout had the familiar letters, but there was one I didn’t readily recognize. P = Park, N = Neutral, R = Reverse, D = Drive, and B. B? What’s the B for? Backward? Surely they didn’t put an R and B to mean the same thing?
Dolt moment #2. B = Battery. Dolt. A quick slap of the dash-mounted joystick and an irritating backup metronome began which clearly meant I was in the “R” mode, or in my mind the Backup or Backward mode. I’ll worry about that B setting at a later time.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised at its handling and ability to manage normal city and highway traffic. I didn’t spend a lot of time in it as it was short jot down I-5 from Sacramento to Elk Grove, CA and back with a few side trips in and out of urban traffic. All in all I averaged 52.8 mpg and only put $6.00 in the tank to fill it back up!
Is a hybrid worth the extra $5,000-$7,000 over MSRP than its gasoline equivalent? For me, probably not yet but I must admit it certainly opened my mind to the possibility.
Thank goodness for page 182!