Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My trusty steed stumbles

I've only owned one car in my lifetime. My trusty 1993 Geo Prizm, which usually gets 30 miles per gallon, was a gift from my parents back in 1996. I calculated the other day that by only having one car, instead of buying one every 5 years as is the American average (I believe), I have saved a ton of money:

Estimated total spent in last 16 years on my car: $3,000 for repairs and new tires

What I could have spent:

- Age 16 - an old beater (used, $6,000)
- Age 22 - a car to celebrate college graduation (new, $20,000)
- Age 27 - a car because other one is too old and I'm a pretentious yuppie (new, $25,000)
- Age 32 - a car for the expanding family (used, $18,000)

Total: $59,000

Hey - I saved $56,000? That was a great present! Thanks, Mom & Dad! However, now my steady companion has fallen low. I took her in for some "preventative maintenance" a few months ago, and she hasn't been the same ever since. I recently calculated her mileage at 24 mpg - a 20% decrease from usual. She has started having trouble getting up to 60 miles per hour. I have to stare in the rear-view mirror as the cars on the highway bear down on my little car - malevolently, it seems.

To be honest, my Prizm also has a few, ahem, aesthetic issues. I had a fender bender about 5 years ago, and the damage repair would have cost more than the car was worth. Of course I had dropped comp & collision since my car was already 12 years old. So I asked the mechanic just to pry the body away from the tire with a crowbar. Voila! Working (if cosmetically challenged) car! So I've been driving my little car ever since, enduring the occasional ribbing from family, friends, or co-workers with a combination of pride and sheepishness.

Now, my car has developed some REAL, not just aesthetic problems. She's approaching 145,000 miles, not looking so hot, and so I am contemplating getting a new used car. A 2007 Prius, to be exact. Because OKC has no other real options for getting around. It is one of the largest cities in the country, by area. I think of it as a city of suburbs. It was built mostly after WWII and so there's no real urban core (although city planners are developing one now that the urban core is back in style). With all of that huge area and low density, the public transportation system is sorely lacking.

We have located ourselves in a good spot in OKC, near many amenities and necessities - with two exceptions. My husbands' work, and family. His family all live on the South side of town - the part of town that is slowly filling in the wide open spaces between Oklahoma City and Norman. We witnessed the same thing happen when we lived in Denver and the highway corridor between Denver and Boulder slowly clogged. My family live in Tulsa, about 100 miles away.

My dilemma is this: how long will we, as a society, be relying on driving a car as our primary mode of transport? If it's 5 or 6 years, getting another car should be worth it. Even if gas gets very expensive, we could carpool with 2 or 3 other people and REALLY get our money's worth. I even have fantasies about running a Prius cab service.

Secondly, the issue on everyone's mind these days: job loss. While my husband's job seems secure, you never know when a company is going to file bankruptcy or start a round of layoffs. Then we would be stuck with a car when we might rather have the cash. Bummer.

With all this in mind, how can anyone be sure about buying a car? I suppose this is why auto sales have taken a nosedive. I am tempted to hold out until prices drop lower. On the other hand, I think we may see higher gas prices later this year, which would make the Prius a lot more in demand. I guess we just have to take our best guess.


Theresa said...

You are one frugal car owner! I have fond memories of the 1978 Chevette that saw me through undergrad and grad school and well into my first job 18 years later. It went through several iterations of carbodies and engines, thanks to my mechanically-inclined father and the auction mart. Whatever you decide, you will have good reasons for it!

Christy said...

We tried to hold out as long as we could with our 97 cirrus. It was costing us more in repairs than what it was worth. After the brakes went out while I was driving myself and the boys we decided it was time for an upgrade.
So far we are loving the Honda civic. Our first tank got 38 miles to the gallon! Most of my driving is highway since we live near Yukon so I think we'll be saving alot on gas vs our old vehicle that got in the mid 20's.

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi Christy - thanks for visiting! That's great about your new Civic. 38 mpg!

Hi Theresa - I am pretty frugal... just strange that we might get one now when nobody else is spending money. The thought of spending that kind of money makes me feel a little queasy. :)

Christy said...

Also meant to add, when we were buying the civic, we asked if the fuel-efficient cars were selling quickly right now. They said no, now that gas prices have "dropped", they're selling more of the suv's and vans! We were shocked, but this is Oklahoma so it doesn't really surprise me.
Nothing disgusts me more than these moms who drive an Escalade with one or two kids! We can fit 3 carseats in the civic if we have to!

Alison Kerr said...

Wow, $3,000 in 16 years! Your parents obviously knew what they were doing when they got you that car. I used to drive a small car and I'm sure I spent considerably more on it in the 5 or so years I had it than you did in 16 years. Most cars after they are 10 years old start getting failures due to deterioration of rubber, plastic and even metal components. Not to mention things like the battery and alternator. I think I even bought 1.5 sets of tires in 5 years and I never have done high mileage or driven my vehicles hard.

Anyway, I now have a minivan and the mileage isn't much different from what I got with my small car and, being a Toyota, so far it's a whole lot more reliable than my previous Nissan. I just try to keep my mileage down as much as possible these days.

From what I've heard the Prius is hard to find used and holds it's value really well. I say "go for it" if you can find one and can manage the cost.

Anonymous said...

What about a car share co-op?

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Alison - Yes, I think that's close, although that doesn't include oil changes (every 3K miles!). I have had 2 or 3 sets of tires, at least two batteries, and my ignition replaced. But it's been pretty reliable. Most of it's problems have been inflicted by yours truly.

Tara said...

Hi Frau! Just thought I'd share our used-car-buying experiences, in case it helps. We were shopping for a "new-used" car about three years ago and test drove a used, first generation Prius. At that time it was selling for $17K. The later model used ones were selling for a good deal more. We also test drove a late model Corolla, priced more modestly at $10k. In the end, we went with the Corolla - it gets roughly 35 mph, as compared to the 45 or so promised by the Prius, and cost $7000 less. We just felt like the much higher price of the Prius wasn't justified given the comparatively small increase in mileage, AND the Prius, we determined, would get better mileage in a city driving scenario where you can rely quite a bit on the battery, but most of our driving in Dallas is highway with few stops and starts so we just wouldn't see much benefit. You may have the same problem in OKC.

Because we unfortunately MUST have two vehicles, we bought a truck for cash about a year ago. It's also a Toyota - a 1989, small, not-so-attractive model. This was the best, soundest car purchase we've ever made. We paid about $2000 cash for it, it's extremely reliable, gets gas mileage about as good as the Corolla and has many years' worth of trouble-free life left in it as long as it's properly maintained. I really can't say enough good things about it. I'm not recommending that you get a truck, necessarily (it was right for us but may not be for you) - my point is that if you shop very carefully, there are some great deals to be had out there, so you really can get good mileage and reliability for a low price!

Sorry for the rambling comment - just thought it might be useful info. :)

Chile said...

We have a similar dilemma. We have a vehicle that does not get great mileage and seems to be developing problems more often. However, it's paid for and still runs. We simply don't have the cash to get a new one and I think taking out a loan in this economy is risky.

So, can we nurse ours along forever? Will we have to pick up a beater at some point and hope we can keep it running? Our goal is to move away from the vehicle use, relying more on feet, bicycles, and public transportation but that is not always completely within one's control.

Anonymous said...

what happens to a prius or some other hybrid when that bank of batteries fail? a good gas mileage vehicle that can be repaired by a local mechanic and not by a specialty dealer may be a better bet.