Sally and I bought a car the other day. Yup, that’s it on the left — a mid-sized, four-wheel drive SUV — what every guy who writes for an environmental website should own. As much as we make of buying “green” and polluting less with our vehicles, we’re sometimes left with few options.
What I learned from this transaction, is that the process of buying a used car is changing with the infusion of hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) into the marketplace. Let me explain.
Oh, the building in the background? I have a link at the end of the article.
As you know, we’re older. (Well, I’m much older, Sally’s just older.) We have limited income and some physical considerations, so we had to settle for something less than I would like from the standpoint of our carbon footprint. Purchasing a used HEV was out of the question, as much as I would like to have one, but I’ll cover that later.
I did all the “guy” things, you know, kick the tires, check the engine, look at fluid levels and general physical condition. Sally did her part. She looked it over inside and out, got in the passenger seat for the test ride and exclaimed, “I like it, let’s buy it,” and we did.
Later, I got to thinking, what used car will you buy in the next few years? This will undoubtedly be my last car purchase, and it was done in the traditional manner with all the traditional considerations as outlined above. You, on the other hand, may have to think about more than the tires, drive train, engine, brakes and the like.
Someone driving an HEV today will buy another car in three to five years, depending on their income, driving habits and so forth. The car winds up on the used car lot, you want to upgrade your ride, and look to the used hybrid for its environmental friendliness and lower cost of operation.
But wait, what about the battery pack, the ultra-caps, the electric motor(s) that drive the wheels, the electronics that manage the whole operation?
If you haven’t read it, let me refer you to my earlier article, “Will Plug-In Hybrids Become the Standard?” There’s a good illustration on how they work and the systems the coming used car buyer will have to take into consideration before making the purchase.
You, my friend, are faced with some factors that may take the joy out of your ride in the future. Kick the tires. If there’s a small gasoline engine included, you can check all the fluids and do that “guy” thing, but the battery pack is a whole new world. Batteries don’t last forever; their life spans vary according to age, usage and a limited number of charging cycles.
That used battery pack could go at any time, dependent upon the factors stated above, and they are expensive. No batteries, no money, no ride.
Manufacturers say the batteries used in today’s hybrid vehicles (Lithium Ion or sealed Nickel-Metal Hydrides) last a long time and are dependable and safe. If you’d like to learn more about hybrids, batteries and HEV’s in general, I recommend the Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center, which is constantly updated. I found it very helpful in my research for this article, and would rely on some of that information before considering a hybrid.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy used HEV’s. My point is to learn as much as you can about them before going to the used car lot, and be firm about getting all the information on the car of your choice before making the commitment to buy.
Finally, what will your used HEV be worth when you trade it in for a newer model?
Remember Ben Franklin’s advice, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Now, why did two old “codgers” buy a 4-wheel drive SUV? Any off-road driving I’ll be doing will be on a city street that isn’t paved, and we still have a few here in Tucson.
The car we traded in was a 1996 Ford Contour, a four-door and in pretty good condition. But we aren’t young and supple anymore, and just getting in and out of that puppy was becoming very uncomfortable for both of us. That’s why we needed something larger, one of those where you just slide your butt in and get comfortable. This car, a 2005 Kia Sorento, was perfect. We got a great deal from a car salesman who has been a trusted family friend for nearly 50 years. Of course, that limited us a great deal in our selection — but then, you know where used car salesmen rank in the public trust category. We did a good thing.
Now comes the question, what can we do to help offset and minimize our impact on the environment and still enjoy this nice vehicle? I posed this question to our list of writers, and MC Milker pointed me to her website, The Not Quite Crunchy Parent, and a post she wrote, Greening your Car.
She talks about a pair of my favorites, Click and Clack, who broadcast their Cartalk program each week on NPR. I don’t know if you’ve heard these guys, but they can be very funny, and informative. One of them, I’m not sure which, laughs at everything his brother says — or is it a laugh track? Probably not, but anyway, the boys dedicate part of their website to Driving Tips for Tree-Huggers.
Not surprisingly, I already know the rules, but will post them here if only to remind myself to follow the tips.
- Get Your Car Serviced regularly.
- Check Your Tire Pressure
- Don’t Top Off Your Gas Tank
- Don’t Use More Octane Than You Need
- Dispose of Fluids Properly
- Slow Down and Drive Sensibly
- Stop Your Idling
- Join a Car Co-op
- Carpool with the Yutz Next Door
MC also included a link to a great carbon offset site, NativeEnergy, and Sally and I are going to sit down and work this out. Neither of us, by the way, are eco-stressed over our car. We drive so little anymore, but I still think it’s important to do whatever we can to help reduce our impact on the environment.
Referring back to the picture, the building in the background is San Xavier del Bac, also known as The White Dove of the Desert. As you can see, renovation is underway on the building, which dates back to 1783. Services are still held at this old Spanish mission, one of Tucson’s most cherished sites.
Go forth, buy the HEV and enjoy.