Thursday, October 18, 2012

Junking the Gas Guzzler


    A couple of years ago we bought our first SUV, mainly because it was half price and had enough car seats for all the grandchildren—plus a built-in TV. No longer did I have to sing the Wiggles song, “Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy,” or point out all the Big Trucks we passed to keep the kids amused. Looney Tunes would take care of them.

    Then the economy deflated like a bad tire, the price of gas blew up faster than an airbag, and we were left holding the keys to a car that barely got 15 miles to the gallon. We could only afford to drive it to the gas station and back before having to refill the bottomless tank with what appeared to have become liquid gold.

    It was time to do something about this money pit before we went bankrupt. While I hated to give up on our “luxury car” (heated seats!), I searched the Internet for a site that would tell me the value of my car so I could sell it on eBay, take the cash, and buy a small, money-saving vehicle that got at least 16 miles to the gallon.

After checking Blue Book and sending my car stats to AutoTrader.com, I got the results—and they were better than I expected. They must have missed the part where it only got 15 miles to the gallon, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them. Now we wouldn’t have to pay to have the car towed away. They would pay us—almost enough to buy a new Smart Car. It was a start.

My husband and I had very different ideas about what kind of car we’d buy next. I had my heart set on an adorable yellow Mini Cooper Countryman at the local car lot, but after a test drive around the block, my husband deemed the car too small for our purposes—hauling around grandkids, carrying suitcases, packing groceries, and fitting in garage sale finds.

He had his eye on the Volt, the all electric car that he said would be “the car of the future.” 

“You never have to go to the gas station!” he said. “Just plug it in and take off down the road…” At least for a few miles until you have find an outlet and recharge the battery again. And what about the electric bill? Our bill is already too high. No doubt we’d double it by plugging in a whole car every night.

So we compromised and decided to check out a car that was somewhere in between—the Prius. We have friends who own a Prius and they love it. “Drives like a dream. Rarely have to go to the pump. Plenty of room.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

     Okay, so we’d take a look at this miracle car—but just a look. It wasn’t like we had to buy something immediately. That old SUV would surely last until the final drop of gas in the world had been consumed, right? Besides, we’re not impulse buyers. We like to shop around, sleep on it, and not make any snap decisions.

    Yeah, well, they don’t call them car salesmen for nothing….

    He saw us coming the minute we drove up the street. We were barely out of our gas-guzzling SUV before he was asking us what color we wanted.  So much for playing it cool. Still, we’re not rookies. We’ve bought cars before. We knew the game.

    “Just looking,” I said, strolling through the lot as if we were just killing time until the nearby movie theater opened.

    “So, what are you looking to buy?” said the car salesman, strolling behind us as if he knew there were no good movies playing.

    “Uh, not sure,” I said, keeping it vague. “We’re thinking of trading in our suburban tank for something that mostly coasts.”

    “I can do that,” said the car salesman. He shook his head in pity at our SUV.

    “Auto Trader said our insatiable beast is worth a lot of money,” I said.

    “I can do that,” said the car salesman.

    “We don’t want to spend much more on a new car,” I said.

    “I can do that,” said the car salesman.

    Oh, so he wanted to play hardball, eh? We could do that.

    “To tell you the truth, we plan to test drive a couple of other cars before we make a decision,” I said. “My husband likes the Chevy Volt because it’s all electric and never needs gas. And I like the Mini Cooper Countryman because it’s so cute.”

    “Then the Prius is perfect for both of you,” the car salesman said. “Gets fifty miles to the gallon, compared to your old car which probably gets fifteen.”

    “More like twelve,” my husband mumbled.

    The car salesman laughed. “Then driving a Prius is like driving for free.”

    At that point, he went on tell my husband all about the physics of driving a car that practically runs on air. He threw out words like, “aerodynamic,” “coefficient of drag reduction,” “estimated fuel efficiency rating,” “increased torque,” “electric water pump,” “power train,” “inverter and transaxle,” “ecological bioplastics made from cellulose (cellulite?), kenaf (hibiscus family), and ramie (nettle family).”

My husband’s eyes widened with each point. He’s a sucker for that kind of stuff.

Then the car salesman turned to me and began his practiced, hard-sell technique.

“What color?”

I smiled. This guy thinks he knows what women want? Ha!

“Seafoam,” I told him, smugly. There was no way I would become one of those Prius drivers who rarely accelerate to save gas while watching the digital display window that constantly shows the MPG instead of watching the road.

We never made it to the Chevy or Cooper lots. The car salesman made us a deal we couldn’t refuse. Three hours later we left behind our fuel-wasting dinosaur and drove home in a new Seafoam, battery-charged, practically gasless car. We rationalized that the money we’d save on fuel would cover the new hefty monthly payment.

Of course, we’re going to have to grow our own organic food, listen only to NPR, recycle our laundry lint, vote the green (Seafoam?) party, become Wiccans, decorate the house in earth tones, join the Occupy/protest movement, drive ten miles below the speed limit, and ride our bikes instead of using the car.

That’s fine.

I just hope I can figure out how to drive it without a class in physics.

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