America’s Car Market: in a word, DISAPPOINTING

We’re 2 months in on our experiment with one car.  It’s been an interesting ride so far.  On the whole it’s working well.  I found at first that I felt very bristly about asking for rides when we need them, but the reality is that people are incredibly generous when there’s a friend in need.  And happily, the reality is that mostly, we really haven’t needed to beg many rides.  My kids and I are very able bodied on our bikes and legs and we get the car on the days when our after school activities take us further afield.  My husband is fortunate to work close to a major T/Train station and can commute by train fairly easily.  A friend drops him at the subway when it works out, and when it doesn’t, should I need the car for the day, I can drop him at the commuter train station.  We were both worried about how we would deal with the extra pressure of knowing we’d have to be more organized to coordinate shared use of the car.  Bizarrely, what I’ve found is that it’s made us closer as we’re more aware of each other’s needs and movements as the weeks go by.  We did break down and rent a car for a couple of weeks while we had family visitors from Europe.  It was a peppy little Nissan – perfectly serviceable, but nothing to write home about.  It did have disappointing gas mileage considering how small it was.

Which brings me to my thoughts for today’s post.  Why is the American car market so pathetic? I have in my possession Consumer Report’s April edition which happens to be the car issue.  Although we’ve decided to stick to one car, I can’t help looking at other options; our 2 door VW Golf can feel a little tight with two growing tweens (and one of them certainly lanky teen sized) sitting in the back.  Paging through Consumer Reports, the best option overall for us turns out to be a Passat TDi which comes in at 42 mpg and covers our requirements (in an ideal world) of: available in a stick, reasonably fun to drive, a little more head and leg space in the back seat and good cargo capacity and most important of all to me, high gas mileage.  The snag – virtually no second hand market as they’ve only been available in New England since 2009.  But what really gets my goat is what I discovered last night as my husband flipped lovingly through his Car magazine (looking at Porsches and Ferraris – full disclosure, my husband is a car nut.  But the good news is he’s a bike nut too).  Believe it or not, in Europe, there are 2, not just one, but 2 Ford vans that sit 7 passengers, that come in 35 miles per gallon and get 4 and 5 star ratings.

RANT ALERT….here I go:

Let me put that in print again – a SEVEN seater vehicle that comes in at over 35 miles per gallon.  And yes, I did account for the fact that the imperial gallon is bigger.  That’s the figure converted to US gallons. WHY CAN’T THEY SELL CARS LIKE THIS IN AMERICA?  That’s a 7 seater VAN that gets better mileage most station wagons in this country and way more than any other van or SUV.  And the Europeans drive far fewer miles.  This is just wrong.  And so intensely frustrating.

Which brings me to the end of my post because I am so despondent thinking about this that I need to go and clear my head and think about what this really means about how screwed our economy, car industry and environment is.

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End of Suburbia : The One Car Challenge

Going forward:

Many of my posts are going to cover our current adventure: tackling life with an active family of 4 in American suburbia with ONLY ONE CAR.  Can it be done?  I would argue that increasingly, it has to be done, but we’ll see how it goes.  We’re lucky that we live a short distance (about a mile) from both my kids’ schools.  For us, the challenge will be the catalog of after school activities and running the household on 2 wheels instead of four or by working out a rota to share the four wheels with my husband.

How we came to be here:

It’s been on my mind to try to get our family down to one car, but just as a tickle in the back of it.  And then mother nature intervened.  Last week, New England was experiencing what we refer to as a Nor’easter (no the rabbit didn’t come).  We live just west of a major river system, which after several days of sustained torrential rain, decided to reclaim its many areas of flood plain.  In navigating one of these roads by car (when a kayak might have been a better option) I discovered that when the wave of a large puddle is washed  just the wrong way because of oncoming traffic, it can sneak into your air intake and move along to your valves and total your engine (if you happen to drive a relatively elderly car to begin with, so engine rebuild or replacement isn’t economically viable).

So here I am trying to make lemonade and turning it into a project.  Totaled car – well let’s just see if we can take the money from the insurance company and run.  Reasonably generous settlement check, refund on excise tax, refund on insurance, turn in the plates; tune up the bike, update the lights and brakes, tighten up the racks, haul out the old trailer from when the kids were young (for any hauling I need to do when it’s my husband’s turn to have the car).

The first week was great:

Mother nature may have been against me in the first place (ie the flooding that killed my car) but a week of beautiful spring weather following the event started things off well.  Even if we’d still had the car, it probably would have sat in the garage because after 6 moths of winter, and 4 days of horrible rain, it felt wonderful to be out and about on foot and bike in any case.  I did venture to the supermarket and have worked out a pretty good system with the bike trailer.  It’s not a great ride, but luckily enough, the one state highway I have to travel on for about half a mile to get there does actually have a sidewalk and I’m not too proud to use it (too many big SUVs with talking/texting drivers for my comfort).

But I have to say that on days like today where I keep looking for the ark out my window, my enthusiasm wanes.  In general, rain doesn’t really phase me – we have the full complement of rain hats, coats, boots and pants to keep us going.  But it’s also cold and windy and the day starts early.   However, today it’s all worked out well.  Although we are fully prepared to brave the torrential downpour in the morning, my husband juggles his schedule so he can drop my middle schooler on the way and another friend calls and offers my daughter a ride to elementary school.  On phoning a friend who lives nearby to find out what school bus services our road (we don’t have a bus pass but you can buy one for $2 for a single journey home, I just don’t know what number to put on the pass), she offers to pick my daughter up.  So today, everything falls into place and I am left happy to be housebound on an otherwise pretty miserable day.  I would go crazy feeling this way for more than a single day, but occasionally, enforced grounding is a welcome excuse to catch up on some reading and research.