Well, I made a decision. It may not be the best decision (I still have mixed feelings), but it’s certainly a decision, and that, at least, pleases me. I traded in my completely debt-free 2003 Dodge Durango (SUV on a truck body), and bought a Mazda3 on credit (with a smidgen of equity).
Previously, I had traded in two vehicles and got the balance of the Durango on credit, because I was spending roughly 350% of a car payment on monthly repairs to one dodgy vehicle and tires for an irreparable one. We got a 6year loan and paid it off in 6 months. Alas, that won’t be happening this time, but it’s got similar logic behind it. I did the best I could – got it at invoice, and got a decent, if disappointing in this market, value on the trade-in.
Fuel economy: I’ll save about 50% on monthly gas costs – roughly half the car payment. For one thing, I got the stick shift, so I can do a bit of hypermiling. With an auto, you stay in gear all the time. With a stick, if you’re smart, you spend a lot of time in neutral, coasting up to lights, coasting on offramps, and you watch the mpg meter soar: 37-55-99… On balance, it’s changing the way I drive. And that leads to the primary reason that I’d do it, even if it was actually cheaper and certainly financially safer to drive my SUV:
Fuel justice: This was actually the biggest tipping factor: a mix of thick shame and the ardent desire to do right. Watching the progress of Africa drying up, species nearing extinction, the tendencies toward starvation, and resource wars breaking out, I realize that every bit of energy I use contributes. I want to minimize my impact.
Smaller footprint: In addition to the carbon footprint, there’s a psychological difference with physically taking up less space. Less parking space, less unneeded room of all kinds. This fits with our current thinking about downsizing from our relatively sprawling home to a condo. More on that some day, perhaps.
Efficiency: An SUV was really a wrong choice for us from the beginning. I looked on it as a replacement for my truck, but you can’t put a full sheet of plywood in the back of an SUV, so from then on it was pretty much like hauling around an extra living room on wheels. It really was a decadent mistake.
Reliability: I was nearing the exit date on the extended warranty and worried about costs. All in all, it seemed very solid, but this was a factor.
Comparison: I had thought I wanted a Corolla. Corolla and Civic have the highest reliability ratings and best gas mileage in their class. I had considered a Smart Car as well. But I couldn’t get my knees under the steering wheel of a Corolla. I’m over 6’2″, and I was finding that, physically, I’m a mid-sized car person. I’m a truck person, but we don’t have solar trucks right now. So I went on my mid-sized car hunt, meticulously narrowing things down, until, just to be thorough, I drove the Mazda3. It’s a compact car with enough room for a man my size. It’s like a 280z in that respect, or a Volkswagen Beetle – surprisingly roomy for the driver. And once you’ve driven a 3, you know why you have to have one. So, I’m fitting in a compact car after all, and it’s got a really satisfying racy appeal, even when coasting through an intersection.
My 3: Black on black, leather, with moonroof, 2.3L engine and 5-speed stick. A snappy combination. That’s me easing into the space marked “compact” and standing up out of it like a tall man from a clown car. I love the car – it’s made 100% in Hiroshima, Japan, and shipped over. Got that tight, well-engineered feel to it. I can drive like a pocket rocket or a hypermiler – my choice. It feels like a glove.
Regrets?: I don’t like not owning it (the bank owns it ’til it’s paid for), but I’d get another one of these. For next time, I’m also thinking about the Subaru Impreza. It’s AWD, which really really helps in the winter. I haven’t driven one yet, but it’s on my list for some day. I loved my old Subaru Brat, so it’s got a fond place in my heart, and I understand it drives like a 3.
This is my first and hopefully last new car. New cars are just too inefficient to own. Currently, the good used small cars are in hot demand so they’re not priced as reasonably as I’d like, and right now I can’t take on any interest in auto repair, but I’m going to get where I can. Buy them for cash, own them outright, put aside enough to fix them when it makes sense (take all the warranty responsibility on myself), and drive them ’til the wheels fall off. Rinse and repeat. I say that, but there’s a certain piece of mind being relatively certain my car will take me across the country right this minute. It’s just that I’m planning to go where I wouldn’t ever want to do that. Anyway, this was the decision process, it’s done, and now I can concentrate on getting it paid for. 🙂 I can always sell it, if I decide there’s a better way at a better time.