Conundrum at the Cliff

I’ve been driving my 1989 Toyota van for 10 years. It was 21 when I got it, so it’s an antique now. It was the first car I ever drove that was actually fun. We got it so we could use it for camping, too. It didn’t take mountain passes fast, but the little-van-that-could made it over every time.

Toyota van with campstove
Isn’t it cute?

It has served me well and I loved driving it. Outfitted it with a galley in the back for camping. Very comfortable and great visibility because you’re sitting right atop the engine. It can park on a dime, if that is your thing. It only has 105K miles on it.

Old cars get to be increasingly difficult and costly to maintain as parts become difficult to source and plastic components start to get brittle with age. At some point, you just don’t want to put any more money into it, especially if some vital major part gives up the ghost.

Time to consider getting a new car. Wading through the choices is daunting.

Is It Time for an All Electric Car?

Obviously, buying a straight gas engine car (or ICE, for internal combustion engine) is no longer ethically feasible. The climate cliff is not ignorable anymore. It’s there. Face it, and make some choices that don’t help push us all over the cliff that much sooner, already!

2012 Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf has a very distinctive shape.

Of course, all electric would be the best. They say you can get used Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) very reasonably, because they’ve been around for 10 years now. The only problem is that the older ones don’t have much range. Depending on outside temperature and topography, 65-85 miles is typical. Probably be fine for someone who lives in a city.

But I live in the country, and although it would do fine for any trips into town, I couldn’t, for instance, go over to the Olympic Peninsula without planning on how I was going to recharge for the return journey. And I wouldn’t want to source one from, say, California and drive it back, because I’d drive for 90 minutes, and then stop to recharge, drive for 90 minutes and stop to recharge, rinse and repeat. That would be silly.

The newest Leaf can get 150 miles from a full charge, which would actually be enough for me, but that means buying new. I have never bought a new car. What a pile of money! I’d probably turn to salt as I drove off the lot.

3EVs charging, photo by Mariodo
Tesla Model 3 (left) and Chevrolet Bolt EV (center) and Ford C-Max Energy (right) charging at a ChargePoint on street public charging station. Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mariodo]
There is the Tesla — too expensive & sporty for me, and who wants to give money to that creep Elon Musk? Not I. There are Kias and Hyundais and Fords. They’re mostly sedans, and I am not a sedan person.

Model Fiat on toy boxThere is that cute little Fiat 500e — perfect to pair with my Corgi. It is the Corgi of the EV world.  But the range is like an older Leaf. Just not enough. Sure is cute though.

Ah, But There’s the Chevy Bolt!

The more I checked into the chunky, all-electric Chevy Bolt, the more I wanted one. With a range of 238-259 miles from a charge, it is equal to any ordinary gas car, and certainly up to my puny requirements. Comes in some awful purty colors, too.

Orange Chevy BoltHowever, there aren’t that many used ones around, since it only came out in 2017.  So I’d be looking at $22,000 at a minimum, for used. Yikes. I only put on 50,000 miles on my little Toyota van in 10 years. $22K to drive 5,000 miles a year is a bit ridiculous.

“You mean NEW new?!”

Once, a regular customer came into the teahouse and said, “I just bought a new car.”

“Oh, that’s nice. What kind of…,” I said, before looking up and seeing the dazed look on her face. I stared. “You mean NEW new? Like off the lot??”

chocolate cake
Buying a new car can turn out to be a very expensive piece of chocolate cake.

She nodded. “I need chocolate,” she whispered weakly, clearly in shock.

Some months later, she happened in when I was working. “How’s that new car working out for you?” I asked brightly.

She looked at me with baleful eyes. “My son totaled it.” Through gritted teeth she added, “I’m still paying for it. I’d never buy a new car again.”

Maybe a Nice Used Hybrid Then…?

Once you start looking into hybrids, everything pales in comparison to the Toyota Prius. Particularly in used cars. There are so many out there, and they are so reliable, that I decided that is the way to go. But then more research and choices have to be made. Which years had problems? What kind of problems? Plug-in, or regular hybrid?

The plug-in version gives you 11 miles of all-electric range. after that, the regular hybrid system kicks in. Huh? What kind of piddly nonsense is that?! What’s the point? Well, a lot of people drive less than 7 miles at a time, doing their errands and such. If those frequent short trips are all propelled by electric only, then you can really stretch a tank of gas. Such that a plug-in Prius will give you 90 miles per gallon! Wow.

However, the plug-in models cost $5,000 more than the regular hybrids, and there are far fewer available in the used market. People seem to be pretty happy with 90 mpg! I’d be, too. But honestly, I don’t need that much transportation.

Moderation in All Things

So I finally settled on getting a regular hybrid Prius, and I haunted craigslist and autotrader for a few weeks, and found a pearly white 2013 in Portland with only 54,000 miles on it, in mint condition. Bill and I drove down and bought it, just before the lockdown. It feels like I’m driving a rental car every time I drive it.

2013 Prius
Too snazzy-looking in the forest.

It also makes me look like every other car out there. I do miss my old Toyota van. I loved that van. It had personality and panache. It was fun!

The Prius cost much more than I have ever spent on a car, but my plan is to keep it for maybe 4 years, adding only 20,000 miles to it. Then I’m going to sell it, while it is still a “low miles vehicle”, before any major repairs are needed, and then I’ll buy a used Bolt (or similar), because there will be many more on the market by then. That’s my plan anyway. Quite a change from my usual, “find a deal and drive it till it cain’t no mo”.

But Does It Matter?

I started this post back in the Beforetime, before movement came to an abrupt halt. One thing this pandemic does is sort out what is important. And what kind of car I buy is really not very important. But at least I am polluting far less than I was before. The way this lockdown is going, I can measure gas consumption in “weeks per gallon”.  At least there’s that.

Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff