Rethinking the Car

The American really loves nothing but his automobile. – William Faulkner

We flew into Salt Lake City Tuesday night with a to-do list that included buying a used car for our home here.  Our plan was to sell both of our cars in Indiana and replace them with one shared car here.  We still may, but now I’m not so sure.

Car shopping just isn’t fun for me.  It’s stressful, boring and expensive.  Then there’s the air quality issue.  Our winter air is filthy..the worst in the nation.  It’s mostly a result of geography that traps auto emissions in the valley.  Remove the emissions, clean the air.  This is a moral issue for me.  People need to breathe and when we drive it makes breathing harder, particularly for those at risk.  I want to contribute as little as possible to that, which means driving less and cycling more.  The less I drive, the less I need a car.

Like most Americans, I went through a car stage.  Fortunately, mine didn’t last very long.  I can relate to Faulkner and Queen, strange bedfellows though they may be.  I don’t get the whole car-love thing.  It’s just clever marketing…nothing more.  It seems so obvious to me.

But it’s very effective marketing and an awful lot of nice folks are smitten.  When we take the emotion out of it and think about what we pay to move around, though, it just doesn’t make sense by any reasonable measure.

Cars, even old used cars with lots of miles, are very expensive.  $40,000 for a new Jeep Wrangler?  I think not. $15,000 for a used Subaru with 50,000 miles?  No way, Jose.

We have a Plan B.  We can get the most practical of our existing cars, a 2008 Toyota Corolla with 150,000 miles on the odometer, fixed up.  It needs a new timing belt and clutch.  It probably needs brakes and struts and shocks.  I’m thinking we can get all of this for around what we’ll get when we sell our other vehicle, an older Dodge Ram pickup.  That leaves the full $15,000 we’d spend on a used car to play around with.  What can we do with $15K?

Well, for starters, Jan wants an eBike to help get her up the hill.  We have our eye on Juiced Riders U500 cargo bike.  Tora Harris has designed a beautiful bicycle, one that is capable of getting Jan to the grocery store and back effortlessly and without a problem.  It’s the most practical eBike I’ve seen and the price is right…$2,500, more or less.  That leaves $12,500 to play around with.

Tora Harris has designed and built a beautiful grocery getter.

Tora Harris has designed and built a beautiful grocery getter.  I want.

Next, I’d like a Brompton folding bike that I can roll on and off the bus and put in the overhead bin on airplanes.  That will cost us about $1700 but it eliminates the need for rental cars when I travel.  Sweet.  That leaves $10,800.  Even sweeter.

The Brompton looks kind of weird, but the engineering is legendary and it fits in an overhead bin.

The Brompton looks kind of weird, but the engineering is legendary and it fits in an overhead bin.

We’re not done yet.  The Salsa El Mariachi is the bike I want for my adventures on the Great Divide, Kopokelli Trail and other similar routes.   The base bike is more than enough and it’s a steal at $1,700.  If I buy one, we have three new bikes and we’re still $9,100 ahead.

Salsa's go anywhere El Mariachi.

Salsa’s go anywhere El Mariachi.

Jan said something about a spa vacation awhile back and that sounds good to me.  She can do the spa thing and I can ride.  $2000 gets us first class for a week or so, door to door.  That leaves $7,100 in the bank.

I could go back to Westin's LaPaloma in Tucson.  Lots of good mountain biking is available right out the back door.

I could go back to Westin’s LaPaloma in Tucson. Lots of good mountain biking is available right out the back door.

The Catalina Mountains, Tucson.  Let's ride.

The Catalina Mountains, Tucson. Let’s ride.

We could use that to redo the bathroom or throw solar panels on the roof or some other such thing.  When you buy an old house, there are always projects that require doing and those projects require money.  When you buy an old home in a walkable neighborhood, one thing you don’t need is a car for every little trip.

You get the idea, right?  Next to housing, we Americans spend more on transportation than any other expense category.  Cars are why.  I haven’t even talked about insurance and oil changes and air fresheners and floor mats and extended warranties.  I’m not going to.  Instead, I’m going to suggest that if you can find a way to take away the car you will free up a lot of cash….beaucoup bucks, in fact.

Not there yet?  No problem.  Here’s something else to consider that may help sway you.  If you’re like most Americans, you use your car less than one hour per day.  It sits in your driveway  or garage or a parking lot collecting door dings and rust the other twenty three hours.  You pay 100% for something you only use 4% of the time.  Just saying…

I don’t hate cars.  I just don’t want to own one any longer.  I am eagerly awaiting the day when car share systems are available everywhere.  When that day comes, it will be an easy decision to sell the final car and simply rent one as needed.  Until then, our plan is to spend as little as possible on cars and then take the savings and use it to make our lives better in other ways.  This is the very essence of the Bike 5 life.


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