Buying a $2,500 Car and Driving It Home 2,000 Miles (Part 1)

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Published April 8, 2024

Also, it has nearly 200,000 miles on the odometer.

Here’s the story of how I recently bought one-way plane tickets to VA to drive a car back home to MN.

Day 0: How It Started

First, you’ll need some backstory: I’ve been looking for a new daily driver following mine being declared a total loss by insurance. I didn’t get enough money from the insurance payout to buy anything comparable, plus I’ve been unemployed since the end of 2023, so I opted to go a different route: a first generation Honda Insight with a manual transmission.

The 1st gen Insight is an early hybrid in the US market leveraging a hybrid battery that assists a small 1L 3 cylinder engine. This coupled with the light aluminum body (curb weight under 2,000 pounds) and ability to go into a lean burn mode” of 25:1 air-to-fuel ratio, let the Insight get an EPA rating of 60–70 miles per gallon. Plus, the drag coefficient is 0.25.

These are niche vehicles so my normal” search strategy of using a site like to aggregate the results wasn’t yielding the results I wanted. Initially, I tried using (Facebook) Marketplace but wasn’t having success finding sellers willing to work with an out of state buyer e.g. myself. With further research, I found that the forum was still active and a hub for Insights to be bought and sold, particularly to those who wanted to keep them in the community” of sorts. That’s how I found mine.

In an 11th hour decision, my sister agreed to come with on the roadtrip. The plan: fly into VA to pick up the car, detour south & west to drive Tail of the Dragon, visit Nashville, drop her off in MI, and then I finish the drive to MN by myself.

Day 1: Fly into VA & Drive to NC

It was Friday, March 29, 2024.

We both had early Friday morning flights that left at 5:20am to catch a connecting flight in Atlanta. This was exciting; somehow I’d never actually been to ATL despite it being famously busy and a hub. Tangent: the train that connects the airport concourses was surprisingly quick: you really need to hang on when accelerating.

We made the connecting flight fine and landed in Charlottesville where the seller 1 picked us up and drove us 45 minutes west to where the car was. Did a quick test drive where we put 8.5 gallons of 87 octane into the 10 gallon tank, filled out the paperwork, ate a homemade sandwich, and got on the road.

My first time seeing the Insight in person.My first time seeing the Insight in person.

The drive to our hotel in Robbinsville, NC was a grind. We stopped twice: once at a Target for various supplies (mostly snacks, tools, and cables to connect to the 3.5mm cassette player adapter we found in the glove box) and at a Waffle House somewhere vaguely near Asheville to stop for a breakfast for dinner” meal. We arrived in Robbinsville slightly past 11pm.

Stopped at a Waffle House in TN.Stopped at a Waffle House in TN.

Author’s note: I can write this with hindsight, but the first day was also the most challenging because we were both learning how to drive the Insight which has a bit of a learning curve but then couple that with the mountainous terrain where it was paramount to upshift & downshift accordingly while trying to minmax the hybrid battery charge level. Phew.

Day 2: Tail of the Dragon & Nashville

Continental hotel breakfast is always a treat. Mmm.

Afterwards, we walked to a local cafe to grab a drink to go. Then, we packed up things, checked out of the hotel, topped up the tire pressures, and went to gas up for the day.

At the gas station a quarter mile down the road I spent a couple minutes chatting with the man who was using the pump on the opposite side. He remarked that the Insight strongly resembled a Citroen. Incidentally, he was filling up a Ford Excursion which is a remarkably large and heavy vehicle with a big tank. He talked about Fate before we parted ways. I didn’t catch his name.

The drive to The Dragon was about 30 minutes northbound on US129. Absolutely gorgeous.

First drive through The Tail of the Dragon. Photo credit 129 Photos.First drive through The Tail of the Dragon. Photo credit 129 Photos.

Now, the Tail of the Dragon itself truly lives up to the hype. I wasn’t expecting how much elevation change there was. In retrospect, it makes sense, 318 curves by themselves don’t make for a destination. I was able to drive a full loop and that left me very content. Could easily spend the entire day there—especially with friends. Stopping at Deal’s Gap or the Tail of the Dragon storefront for some souvenirs and food2 is worth it.

From there, we had a pretty easy drive to Nashville that put us there before 5pm, after accounting for the time change back into Central. During this segment the odometer rolled over 194,000 miles.

Once we got settled into the hotel room, we set three goals for the night:

  1. grab some Nashville hot chicken & fish
  2. check out downtown (pedestrian bridge & Broadway St)
  3. cap off the night at the hotel pool, which closed at 10pm

The AT&T tower in downtown Nashville has a striking resemblance to Batman.The AT&T tower in downtown Nashville has a striking resemblance to Batman.

We opted to walk to Bolton’s for chicken & fish which was lovely. Very no frills atmosphere and we were able to sit outside. Afterwards, we turned back and headed towards the pedestrian bridge to cross into downtown. Broadway was incredibly lively, as expected for 8pm on a Saturday. We got drinks, saw some live music, and made it back to the hotel for a 10 minute swim.

Day 3: TN to MI

The third day was another grind: my sister needed to be back in MI. So, we started with another delicious continental breakfast at the hotel, and began heading north. On our way out of town, we stopped at a Frothy Monkey location for a caffeinated beverage to go. Thanks for the recommendation, Murphy.

Stopped in Lexington, KY to check out a local coffee shop.Stopped in Lexington, KY to check out a local coffee shop.

We made a beeline to Lexington where we stopped at local coffee shop, got gas, and stopped by an auto parts store for supplies to clean the windshield and apply a hydrophobic coating e.g. Rain-X. A bit north of Lexington is a small town called Sadieville—aptly named after my sister—where we stopped for some quick photos. After, we stopped some disappointingly mediocre food at a Wendy’s. The exception being the Orange Creamsicle Frosty—that thing was delicious.

Passing a semi in northern Ohio.Passing a semi in northern Ohio.

Another 4 hour segment in the Insight had us in southeast Michigan a bit after 9pm. Dinner was a delicious frozen pizza and bagged (caesar) salad. My sister’s cat chose to sleep with me which is always a treat.

Halftime Conclusion

That’s where I’ll leave the story for now. About 1,200 miles into a 2,000 mile trip home. Stay tuned for the final calculation on the fuel economy for the journey. My prediction: 56.7 mpg. As a side note, the lifetime fuel economy reported by the ECU when I bought the Insight at 193,457 was 56.1 mpg.

Overall, the Insight has been reliable. Aside from all the tires needing 15–25 psi of air and doing a temporary fix to a worn engine ground strap it’s been an incredibly turnkey vehicle purchase.

Thumbnail photo credit 129 Photos.

  1. Technically, his dad↩︎

  2. Thanks Taylor for recommending Cheerwine while I was below the Mason-Dixon line↩︎

Last modified April 7, 2024  #autos 

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