Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I'm in the Market for a New(er) Car

It's no secret, as my van nears 320,000 miles, I'm in the market for something new, at least new to me. So before we get into the particular vehicles I am looking at, let's take some time to talk about how I use my current van.

The vast majority of time, I drive to work and then home, run maybe an errand to the grocery store, a short drive to a trail to run on, or a short drive to a place to bicycle from. Even the longer trips are maybe 40 miles roundtrip. My daily commute is exactly 6 miles one way. The vast majority of my driving could be handled by even the cheapest electric car. However, every month or two I make a drive of about 100 miles, one way to Madison, WI to see my parents, or some other adventure to go rock climbing, ice climbing, drive to an airport, or run a race. Then, maybe three times a year I make the drive of 200-250 miles one way to see my parents or my grandparents. Finally, one to three times a year I make a big drive, like 800 miles to Colorado, or 550 miles to Cleveland for climbing or running purposes, basically vacation.

So for 95% of my days or 347 days a year, an electric car would be enough for me. However, for those two and a half weeks of the year when I drive farther, electric wouldn't necessarily cut it. At least no stock car except a Tesla, and even that would not cover a trip to Colorado via I-80 with the current charging network. Really, I'm trying to justify an electric car in my head. You see, it's six times as cost efficient per mile  as my van. First of all, it's actually three times as efficient because it's not throwing off all of that extra heat that an internal combustion engine does. Second of all, per kilowatt hour, electricity costs about half as much as gas, so the cost is halved, neglecting any efficiency gains. On top of that, every time I have to fix my exhaust system, it costs $500, I realize this is only an issue when you have more than 200,000 miles like I do, but it's still an issue. Electric cars don't have oil changes. That's another $120 a year saved, plus the time of actually doing the oil changes. Finally, while I have never had a transmission issue, and only had to replace the radiator once, electric cars do not require a many parts, or wear them as heavily as the standard internal combustion engine. Electric cars are a no brainer, except for the range.

So I look at hybrid cars. My parents buying a new Prius C was really surprising to me, because again they had not bought an actual new car in 25 years. It's surprising because I actually suggested to my parents that I was looking at it, two weeks later they buy one… they didn't even know it existed until I told them. There are other hybrids out there that are interesting. But if I am going to look at hybrids for the long range, what I really want to look at is something that can take the full place of my van, a place to sleep.

There are some smaller vehicles out there, like the Mazda 5, Kia Rondo, or Nissan Rogue, which I could probably sleep in the back of and they get much better mileage than my 22-23 highway mpg. The thing is, in the last year I slept in my van only five nights. One in the winter, three in the mountains in the summer, and one in the fall in a city. The amount of money that goes down my fuel tank drain every week, or on longer trips for the luxury of sleeping a few nights a year discreetly in my van, is hard to justify when it comes to a newer vehicle. I realized that this is actually a problem for me. What I mean is, my van to me means independence. I can drive some where, sleep in a parking lot, a trailhead, or a city side street. It's not that sleeping in it is important or cost saving, it's the thought of not having to find a hotel, worry about bears, or otherwise conform to the trappings of the road frequently traveled. Sometime in the future I will probably upgrade and get a full size van, I like the new Ford Transit, or the Dodge Sprinter. Something that large could seat four or five people, and have enough room for plenty of sleeping space, a cooler, skis, or bicycles. (Look at class B RVs, I didn't know these things existed until I followed one through town a few weeks ago.) The problem is, gas mileage goes down again, and parking the thing will make my Previa van look like a compact. Of course, on a larger upfront budget, I could have my electric car, and a full size van and have everything I can think of. Yet the solution of two vehicles is not really that utilitarian for one person. More insurance payments every month and another place I have to park.

Getting back to the electric car question. On the way to my parents, my grandparents, or the Chicago airport, there is a Tesla supercharger within about 150 miles. I was looking into it and the little Honda Insight from 2000-2006 is basically the most efficient production car ever made, and they can be converted to all electric, and then you can basically throw in as many batteries as you want. BTW, I've thought about range anxiety, and a $300 generator can actually charge an electric car, so you could always throw one of those in the back and if you run out of electrons on the side of the road, set up charging and wait. So who knows, I may just end up driving a one off experimental car, and rent a car for those unusual 300+ mile trips.

I don't know. The two decisions I have made so far are #1 not get rid of my 1993 Previa and #2 to not buy a new(er) car yet.

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