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Old 14th April 2016, 13:51   #1
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Default A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California

Hi Friends,

It was in Dec-2014, I saw my earlier Colleague's mail who moved to US in my Yahoomail asking for my CV. That time I was working in one of the IT product firm in Bangalore and I was comfortable with the team and area which I was into. So the idea of trying in US was not in my mind and I was not in a situation to try out and I didn’t took it seriously. After 1-2 days, while thinking about this plan, one of the thought came to my Mind was my existing Home Loan, and then followed by Car Loan etc. and I decided to have a try. There were two hurdles for me to cross to get into US - First is Interview which is within my reach to some extent, but second, the H1B Lottery process is pure Luck where the chance was 1:4. Because of God’s grace and Luck, things went fine and I got my H1B stamped and H4 for my Family.

The Location I will be moving to is Bay Area in California, and I used to be a frequent Business Visitor to that Place for last few years and I am familiar with the area. Later I came to know that, two of my colleagues also got H1B in same way and they also will be joining in same Company for which I will be going to US. So got a company for me since our plan was to bring our family 6 months later so as of now we can stay together to save some money on Rent which was huge in Bay area. Like any new guy planning to move to US and also being a Car enthusiast, the one thing came to mind was a Car. Initial thought was to have a second hand, but good model so that I can change later once I got settled after 1-2 Years if needed. Unlike UK, US is not very good for public Transport and I know with family and Kids, It’s tough to manage without a Car once they are here and is more of a necessity than a Luxury.

We reached US and got the accommodation from company for two weeks. Now the next task is to find a 1BHK. Some time we are lucky to get help from our friends, also we used to walk around 10 miles during some of those days. Soon we got a 1BHK which is around 570 Sqft, pretty tiny in area, but rent was it on the higher side. Now we need to get a License .Getting a License, which was not very easy in US (Not very tough though), among three of us, myself and another friend got in First chance. Despite of being a good driver among us, the third guy got in his third try

The idea of getting a second hand card was not well supported by my friends circle in US because of two reasons. One is Maintenance, the Labor charge will kill us more over the part cost and if you are unlucky to get a horrible second hand car, you can almost spend entire month’s savings for 1-2 months easily in that. One of my friends had a bad experience, maybe he was unlucky what I felt. The Second was, in US, the interest rates are way too low compared to India. In US most of financial organizations which provides Car Loans, Credit cards, Deposit for renting an apartment everything depends on your Credit Score and Credit History. It’s something like SEBI score in India which is not yet emerged to full extend. If you have less credit History/Score, you loan interest rates will tend to be very High or application itself might get rejected for credit cards or Loan. Since we are new to US, obviously, our credit history and score will be null. Again here, the Bay Area is an exception. The reason is presence of lots of IT companies and the International work permit holders reaching this area every year. In Bay area, some of the above credit Score hurdles (but not all) can be bypass using our Salary Slip and Offer Letter and still manage to get a decent low rate of interest for loans and a credit card with good Credit Balance.

So, based on the above points, I have almost made up 80% of my mind to have a new car and 20% I still kept for a second hand SUV. Now it’s the elimination process started – What type, brand, Cost, Comfort/Options, Maintenance, Save money/Buy what I like etc., A bit long list. It’s one of the processes that I used to follow even before going for a test drive which did in India too. (I am sure most of us also). Now what type? Mustang and Mini Cooper was two of my dream cars from the first day I landed in US way back in 2006. One of the reasons was the "Eleanor" in the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds" Nicholas Cage's version during the year 2000. Being a family man now those are not the options for me, more over my taste also changed with these years more towards 4x4 from fast sports cars. I used to have lots solo/Family drives to Ernakulam and Kottayam from Bangalore with zero stop or one stop and I was using Duster or Swift for most of my trips. I usually drive at night and on reaching the destination, the difference is evident when using these two cars. When using Duster, I won’t be much tired which was not the case with Swift where I will be good for nothing for next 2-3 Hours. I felt same issue as Swift when Driving Fiesta and friend's i10. From my view, it’s the seating position which makes the difference and not Cars performance or Capability anything else. A straight upright position leaves you with less fatigue after long drives which I felt. Also for my Wife, there is Ligament injury and it will be tough for her to get in and out of a low seating position.

So by this, Sedans and hatches are out from my List and what left out is MUV/SUVs. In US 80% of cars use Petrol Engines and rest majority are hybrids/Electrics. Diesel fuel as well as diesel car is a costly affair. By around 2014, clean Diesel cars sales started picking up sales from Volkswagen, Merc, Audi and BMW, mostly Germans. The dropped its sales drastically after VW Scam got lime light. Hence Petrol car was my option. I decided to go for a 4X4 since that was slightly above my reach in India which I missed badly in my Duster (More over duster was not available in 4x4 that time) and this is a chance for me own one. In bay area, rarely anybody can see a use case for 4x4 unless you specifically want to go for it. Despite of this one can see a lots of 4x4/AWD, may be for weekend drives to camping or recreational sites. You might come across that once you travel to Tahoe in winter which is a skiing spot where road will be having snow. During heavy snow fall, we have to use show chains and if you got a 4x4, they will get exception. In my case it’s more of a craze than necessity. Back in India, I used to have lots of photography trips to hill stations and mud roads which people travel less both in Bike and car. Again there are lots of brands to choose from - British, German, American, Korean and Japanese etc. I was a slightly lean towards Japanese brands.

I was very particular to have a Non-CVT based automatic transmission - A DCT/DSG is preferred and conventional Automatic is also welcome. How I arrived at that point was, I used to like Manual transmission very much especially in diesel cars in India. During my earlier Visits to US, my Rent-A-Cars used to be Camry, Corolla, Civics etc. which has CVT and after driving I found that those are not of my taste. This time when we rented, we got a VW Jetta and I like how its DSG gear box performed that changed my perception of automatics even though it’s slightly complicated and expensive to maintain compared to CVT counterparts. Other must-to-have options were ABS and airbag which I don’t need to worry because it’s a must for passenger cars in US by law. Whereas the good-to-have list is a bit long, A Navigation (I can manage with Phone or an external navigation device also), Reverse Camera, Adaptive Cruise Control, and third row seat for occasional usage

By nature like for most of us, the first choice will what the Heart says rather than the brain and same was with my case. A Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero which one of my friend was having in US (Old model prior to dual tone exterior) and I was a fan of this car from my childhood days. Sadly, this car is no more available for Sale in US from showrooms. I tried second hand market for these two cars which was way too old and driven 70k+ miles which makes me to drop the plan. Also considered the Mitsubishi Outlander and one thing make me stay away was its CVT.The top end model of the Outlander comes with 6 speed automatic and its price was going to next bigger sized SUVs territory and I have to drop that too. Second one was Toyota 4Runner, which is Ladder frame SUV having amazing looks and good off-roading capability. Don't know why, Ladder frame SUVs has a special place in my Heart. It has a 4L V6 configuration with rear wheel drive at normal conditions with 4x4 based on traction control with a diff lock. It is slightly lower in height than a Fortuner, and looks like bit more stable with high speed and an aggressive look. But cost is well above my reach and finally brain outsmarted heart and I have to drop it.

Toyota 4Runner:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-4runner.jpg

Toyota Rav4 was another car that drawn my attention during my earlier visits and used come with 3.5L V6, 4x4 and has a small size and Masculine Shape. While going through Toyota Site I came to know that the model got changed and the shape I saw earlier is not available as new buy. The new shape totally looks different from what I saw earlier and is not to my taste. 3.5L V6 also got discontinued in current Rav4 models. Good thing is it has a 6 Speed automatic transmission. Somehow I was unable to convince myself about this new model.

Toyota Rav4 2011:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-rav4old.jpg

Toyota Rav4 2012 and after:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-rav4new1.jpg

The main competitor for Rav4 is Honda CRV and Nissan Rogue, both comes with CVTs. For some point of time I thought to go with CRV even being a CVT, but its rear end design which felt like hate or like type put me down. Honda Pilot is a 8/7 MUV which has all the options which I was looking. Most of the test drives/review rates it above Toyota Highlander which is the best seller in the segment. Top end pilot comes with 9 Speed automatic which costs a Bomb. It’s a relief for me since most of the options I was looking for are already present in the base model LX AWD - 3.5L Vtec V6, 4x4, 6Speed automatic, 8 Seater Good road Presence and a nice third row seats. Earlier Pilots were a body on Frame SUV builds by Isuzu for Honda whereas the current model is a Monocoque. I decided to take a test drive. The Engine is barely audible, super smooth almost like an Electric Car which is not of my like. Due to very linear power delivery acceleration is barely noticeable and this again put me down and may be these are some reasons why this car is not the best seller even having best reviews. Honda brand is rated slightly above Toyota in US after few incidents happened for Toyota, I guess in 2010. Another point is that most of Manufacturer/showrooms in US give lot of offers, rebates and factory discounts which Honda bit stringent to do so when compared to other manufacturers. That testdrive changed my total perception of the vehicle. Maybe I was having high expectation. I moved Honda Pilot to the bottom of my List, still kept as an option. Moreover , Pilot is a High demand model from Honda and the sales guys I talked over phone at different showrooms as well as met directly, shows an attitude "Either you can buy or don’t waste my time, we can't give much deals" which was one of the reason was to drop Honda Pilot.

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hpil.jpg

My Roommate was fan of Hyundai SantaFe and Ford Explorer and he was suggesting those to me. SantaFe, I thought of staying away since I saw quiet good number cars with less mileage in second hand market and was quoting comparatively low cost for its age. Good point about this car is that it got a DCT gear box and third row seats. Ford explorer somehow I didn’t considered, really can't tell why, maybe I was looking for Japanese Brand.

With this, my first list was over without finalizing any car, now I need to start considering other models which were left out in first pass. I was not considering Toyota Highlander seriously, until I test drive Honda Pilot. Now thought to take a look and there is a good news for me. The new base model now started coming with AWD in Highlander (LE AWD) and it fits my budget. It’s also a monocoque build, and the spec shows it’s a 3.5 V6, 6 Speed transmissions, 4x4 with diff Lock and an eight Seater. It also has a 2.4L 4 Cyl Inline version too as option, but the efficiency difference between 2.4L and 3.5L V6 is almost negligible , Whereas when comes to engine response, there is a huge difference. Interior Space/Seating is similar to Toyota Innova in India and only difference is that second row seat can’t be tilted like Innova for accessing third row instead it can be moved forward. Honda Pilot has slightly better third row seats. My usage of third row will be only on rare occasions. I booked the test drive in a showroom near me. I and one of my roommates went for a test drive. The initial response itself was way too different from Pilot. It has torquey engine feel and response/acceleration felt was much better which might be the reason it’s the best seller in the segment even Pilot has better spec and review which my friend also felt. Now my choice of the Vehicle and Model is done. It’s a Highlander LE AWD. Regarding the color, I was more sure about the color that I don’t want rather than the color I want. It’s SHORELINE BLUE PEARL which is the exact and only color available in the showroom for the model that I was looking. Now I have to look for a different showroom.

Toyota Highlander:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hl1.jpg

Now my Friend's Cars

My both roommates/Friends were not of car enthusiast’s type. Their initial view was to have a normal entry level sedan and that is soon going to change. I used to talk/discuss with them about my choices when I started looking and that soon created some interest in them as well. Few of their initial choices of entry level sedans which are not present in their list now. They started considering based on options they want almost similar way I did, even though their interests were different from mine. One guy is a bachelor and other is a Just Married. The first guy was initially considering Honda accord and Nissan Altima. Nissan Altima was giving lots of offers. I guess their current model was due for upgrade. He was considering Nissan Altima because of Cost factor and offers available that point. When I went to take Honda Pilot test drive, we also opted to Honda accord for my friend to have test drive. I and my friend took the test drive and as I said like in Pilot, it’s a car to buy it and forget it. Super-smooth engine, CVT is not too much fun to drive and there is a sport mode, which shows comparable difference, still my friend got into dilemma to opt or drop. Another reason for that was he already test drove BMW 328i and CLA250 before taking Honda which he was comparing with where driving dynamics are totally different. Without taking any decision for his choice, we came back that day.

Merc CLA 250:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-merccla250.jpg

BMW 328i:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-beemer.jpg

His other Options were Merc CLA250, Lexus IS 250 and as I said, BMW 328i. Merc got an elegant interior with Cream/Brown interior combination and a comfortable ride and color of his choice, white color was readily available in the showroom. Whereas the drive he likes better in 328i but was available only in Black at the showroom we went. Lexus is above his reach, hence didnt tried for test drive. For 328i he got a staggering 10.5K discount deal which is reduction of about 20-22% from the advertised price if he selects a car from the existing stock. This price which he was offered a 328i is only for a small additional cost compared to Honda Accord model which was his next option. It’s the stock clearance sale time as well as thanks giving day in US and for most of brands used to give considerable offers and is usual to get these types of discounts in Luxury bands except Lexus. More over 328i was due for a minor upgrade and we found that difference in external appearance between current models and upcoming is almost negligible. To my surprise, it's my second roommate who booked the car that day, that also without even having a test drive!!!. For him 328i or 320i doesn’t matter as far if it’s a BMW 3 Series, and what he was looking for is the Brand name. Since the deals was for 328i, he opted for it. The options he selected was a black color with Premium package, which has, leather Seats, Moon roof, Reverse/Park assistance etc.

BMW 328i:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-mbw1.jpg

Financial and other Process

In US, there are financial organizations called Credit Unions those are of NGO type. These organizations gives much lower interest rates compared to banks for new employees like us for auto loans etc. Getting our auto loan approved was not a hard task with one of the credit union for all the three of us. Now we have to select a showroom which gives the best deal. The showroom which we took test drive was within the city and was not expecting much good deals from there and available colors was not of my Like. Some suggestions we got was if we select a showroom a little outskirts of city, they will be having better deals and choices of colors. So we selected a showroom which is outside the City limits and went there. In US showrooms there will be two sales departments - Internet Sales and another for walk-in customers. From internet, one of the suggested method for buying a new car was, first to Select a vehicle/Model, then request a quote from the showroom after selecting options online, talked to them over phone once you get a reply, try to negotiate/agree up on price, options, color etc. before you walk in to the showroom and we did that. Once you walk to the showroom without doing this homework, you might hit the direct sales department guys and they usually gives less scope for a bargain. There are few sites like truecar.com which will show the possible offers for different car models which we already explored and we were aware of what to expect. Even though at the showroom, it was not very easy as we expected, but we were successful in getting a good discount above what mentioned in truecar.com with some freebies. I again had a test drive in the exact same vehicle which I was about to purchase. In that particular car, they added roof rails which enhance its look to me, but the customized skinny tires and alloy wheels which I didn’t like. I told them I didn’t like these wheel alterations and roof rails, I don’t need them. In actual, I like the roof rail, but not the low profile tires. Finally after discussion, they agree to replace existing wheels with stock rim and tires which felt better for me and give the Roof rail for free if I book now which internally I was happy to do which I didn’t showed in front of them. With this agreement, I paid the advance and blocked my car.

My first friend who took lots of test-drives of various models is still in a dilemma. But he narrowed down his choices to 328i or Honda Accord Sport. For 328i once the current stock got over, if he needs to get one, he has to wait for one more year to get good deals whereas Honda, we were getting only normal discounts which will be available throughout the year. He somehow was able to get out of these confusions and one week later he also booked a 328i Black with Navigation package, moon roof etc.

The delivery process went smooth except some documentation glitches between Credit union and showroom which was sorted out. While taking deliver, most of showrooms gives full tank fuel and I still remember when I brought Renault Duster, they asked me to fill fuel from very next fuel station.

Highlander on the delivery day:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-highlandershowroom15thnov20151.jpg

More Pics:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hl2.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hl3.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hilfront-2.jpg

Beemers :-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-bmw2.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-bmwinterior.jpg

With our cars ready, it was a big relief for us from tensions of buying car as well got rid of a caged feeling in US. After that we explored few places and had a trip to Los Angeles, Tahoe, Monterey bay, Bigsur, 17 Miles drive and few SanFransciso trips etc.
Adding few Pics above trips.

Highlander at Tahoe:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-tahoe30thjan2016-42.cr2.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-tahoe30thjan2016-44.cr2.jpg

More Pics :-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-tahoe30thjan2016-79.cr2.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-tahoeroad.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-tahoetree.jpg

After Tahoe Trip:-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-need-wash.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-calaveras.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-calaveras2.jpg

Some Birding :-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-ranchosanantoniotrail07thfeb2016-30.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-ranchosanantoniotrail14thfeb2016-19.jpg

Thank You..

Last edited by arunrajk81 : 14th April 2016 at 14:01. Reason: corrected a sentence
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Old 14th April 2016, 14:22   #2
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Default re: A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California

My sister who's in the US was also in a dilemma about which SUV to buy. She chose SantaFe Sport and she's very happy with the purchase. In fact her colleague who bought a Toyota (forgetting the model) isn't very happy because the interiors are league apart from SantaFe's, they were in a similar price range though.
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Old 15th April 2016, 15:47   #3
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Default Re: A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California

Thanks for sharing! Thread moved to the International Scene.
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Old 16th April 2016, 01:07   #4
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Default Re: A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California

The surroundings of the apartment that we took initially gives us a resort type of feeling, but most of the apartments are like that here. Regarding the driving test, Some of the usual route that examiner used to follow during behind the wheel test for Santaclara Motor vehicle department where we were planning to take the drive test was already in the internet. We rented a car over a weekend and practiced driving via those possible routes, curb side parking, parallel parking etc which helps a lot during the test.

Some more pics:-

Our 1BHK :-
A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-1bhk.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-img_0225.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-img_0226.jpg

One option which I didn't like in Highlander is it has a parking brake operated by foot rather that a hand brake. But this design provides an option for the car to have a deep storage between front passenger and driver seat in which you can keep a laptop or a small ladies Bag and is very useful. The Innova Crysta has some resemblance with front end of the Highlander.

Highlander Interiors:-

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hldash.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-hlint.jpg

A Highlander, Two Beemers and a 1 BHK Apartment in Sunnyvale, California-new.jpg

Last edited by arunrajk81 : 16th April 2016 at 01:15.
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