Car-ful living


It had to happen one day, I guess.  Relying on buses to get around is not a bad option in the city, but getting work and shuttling the kids around eventually made it necessary to buy a car. Joining the ranks of the car-ful wasn’t easy for me, but I was able to find a 1997 Ford Escort that set me back less than $1000, my running average price for a car over my lifetime.  I may be consuming more gasoline than I did before, but the experience highlights just how wasteful our society is – and how much we could save if we tried even a little.

The car I have isn’t much.  It was cheap for several reasons, including the manual transmission and the dents on each side.  And it’s purple – not royal purple or Minnesota Vikings purple but very Barney.  What’s remarkable about this ride isn’t just that it’s cheap to buy and insure, but that a 13-year-old hunk of union-made American iron can get 30 miles per gallon average in mostly city driving.  That’s a real-world number, not some fancy test.

The USofA averages around 20 miles per gallon over all the cars that we drive.  There are cars like the Ford Fiesta that get twice that without anything as fancy as a hybrid engine, but I’ll leave that aside.  If everyone drove something like what I do, we’d burn about 33% less gasoline overall.

As a nation we run through about 20 million barrels of oil per day, 12 billion of which are imported.  At about $60 a barrel, that adds up to $438 billion every year spent basically getting from here to there and winding up back where we started at the end of the day.  A good $260 billion of that goes to other nations, a bit over half of our total trade deficit.

The bottom line works out to about $4,300 per household spent on nothing more than petroleum.  That doesn’t count the taxes that pay about half of the cost of our roads or any of the cost of refining and distributing it.  This is just the money that makes dangerous operations like deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico lucrative and even necessary to keep our lives running.

Doing nothing more than switching to something like my 13-year-old Barneymobile would reduce that number by a third and save us at least $1,400 per household every year.

I realize that there are many other fancy technologies we could use to improve that number dramatically.  Public transit or biking would create even more savings.  We could even make a point of driving less and changing how we live so that we don’t have as many miles in the daily loop around the stations of our lives.  But to stay with the most simple and obvious thing anyone could possibly imagine, driving a smaller car, we could do more to save money, reduce pollution, and improve our national security than most people can even imagine.

Why don’t we do it?  When I describe my car I can see the reason in people’s eyes – they’d never be caught dead in such a pathetic looking ride.  In other words, what stops us from actually doing something for our wallets, environment and our national security is pure vanity.

I don’t drive a lot and hope to only fill the tank once a month.  If I have to have one of these things parked in front of my house I want it to be as cheap as possible, so I’m not changing my habits too much. I happen to be proud of my li’l purplesaurus, but I’m not going to fashion a whole lifestyle around it.

It’s nothing more than a tool for getting a bit more control over my life.  Spending money on gasoline definitely works against that goal.  I wish more people could drop their vanity and see it that way.