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Thread: Pain at the pump is optional

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Pain at the pump is optional

    Pain at the pump is optional
    By Eric Peters
    for immediate release

    High gas prices may be unavoidable -- but that doesn't mean we're powerless at the pump. The key to spending less on gas is, of course, to burn less fuel. But that can get tricky if you end up spending more up front than you end up saving down the road in your quest to acquire a more "economical" car.

    For example, fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius are enormously popular right now. The problem is that the Prius' popularity means you can count on paying full MSRP "sticker" for it (and every other hybrid vehicle currently on the market). In the case of the '06 Prius, that would be $21,725 -- before adding in destination/delivery charges and the inevitable dealer mark-up.

    If saving money's the bottom line, there are substantially less expensive -- and comparably fuel-efficient -- alternatives available.

    I. Diesel deliverance

    For example, one could purchase something along the lines of a slightly used (2-3 year old) diesel--powered Volkswagen Jetta GL TDI sedan instead of a new hybrid. The Jetta's about the same size as the Prius and is rated by the EPA at 49 mpg on the highway and 42 mpg in city driving -- very close to the real-world performance of the Prius. (Actual experience with hybrids has found that most people end up getting less-than-advertised economy; this is probably due to the fact that hybrids are designed to get their best mileage at low-speeds, in city-type driving -- unlike regular cars, which get their best mileage at highway speeds. Most Prius owners are reporting average economy in the 45-50 mpg range overall. EPA rates this vehicle at 51 mpg on the highway, 60 mpg in city-type driving.)

    Current retail prices for a 2003-2005 Jetta fall between $12,775 and $15,755 -- thousands less than the cost of a new hybrid (any hybrid). That means you'll still have at least $5,000 left over to pay for fuel for the next 3-4 years.

    The sporty (and cute!) VW New Beetle is also available with a diesel engine -- and is capable of 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway. New, the Beetle TDI starts at $18,390 -- still far less expensive than the least expensive gas-electric hybrid sedan. Two-to-three-year-old examples will be even cheaper to buy. If you need something larger than either the New Beetle or Jetta, the mid-size, 5-passenger VW Passat is also available with a diesel engine; this is a large, family-style sedan capable of nearly 40 mpg on the highway. Current retail prices for 2004-2005 models run from around $16,000-$18,000 on average to just over $20,000 for very low-mileage examples.

    It's more car for less money -- with about the same appetite for fuel.

    (OPTIONAL TRIM)

    Diesel-powered cars have the additional virtue of superior built-in longevity and should easily outlast any hybrid (or for that matter, conventional gas-only) vehicle -- chugging along happily for 200,000 or more miles of reliable service. Finally, diesel vehicles can operate on environmentally lower-impact/renewable bio-diesel fuel, which is becoming available in more and more areas of the country (see www.biowillie.com for more details.)

    (END OPTIONAL TRIM)

    II . Buy a new "B-car"

    If you must have new, maybe a B-car is for you.

    "B-car" is auto industry jargon for a type of car (hatchback, sedan or wagon) that's one step in size below the typical subcompact, but still larger than the micro-sized "A-cars" sold in European and other markets. You've got your pick of three models -- all of them under $14k and capable of tickling 40 mpg:

    * 2007 Honda Fit ($13,850) -- This new Honda is much more than just another depressing econo-box. Its box is actually pretty big, in fact. Though nearly two feet shorter overall than the current Civic sedan, the Fit's interior has almost as much space as the current (and mid-sized) Accord -- which means that despite its compact exterior dimensions, it can serve as a primary car, not just a mini-me commuter.

    The Fit's clever multi-configurable "magic seats" fold up as well as flat, allowing objects as tall as a standard-sized bicycle to fit inside. Overall, there's 41.9 cubic feet of cargo space available with the second row seats in the down position. EPA rates the Fit as capable of 33 mpg in city driving, 38 mpg in highway driving -- making it one of the least expensive new cars to feed you can buy.

    * 2007 Toyota Yaris ($10,950) -- Offering best-in-class highway fuel economy (40 mpg), standard air conditioning and a $10k price, the Yaris is one of the least expensive -- and most efficient -- small cars on the new car market. It is available in both three-door hatchback and four-door sedan bodystyles. Like the Honda Fit, the Yaris has an interior designed to make the most of the available space -- with three glovebox storage areas (including one right behind the steering wheel) in the hatchback model. There are also sliding and reclining rear seats -- an unusual but highly functional feature that should have been incorporated into all cars years ago. But right now, the Yaris is among the very few cars you can buy that offers them. And even fewer offer better gas mileage for less money -- with AC and a new car warranty included.

    * 2007 Nissan Versa ($12,500 - est.) -- The Versa five-door hatchback is about the same size as the Fit and Yaris sedans and while official EPA figures weren't yet published at the time of this writing, Nissan is advertising a 38 mpg highway capability (city mileage should be low-mid 30s), putting it close to the top of the pack, mileage-wise.

    But the biggest difference between the Nissan and its primary competitors in the new "B car" segment is its standard -- and class-leading -- 120-hp engine and short-throw six-speed manual transmission. (Most vehicles in this price range offer 5-speeds and around 100-110 hp.) That combo makes the Versa the muscle car of the bunch -- a sort of mini-me Z-Car for the enthusiast driver who wants sporty performance without the not-so-sporty appetite for fuel.

    III. Buy a slightly used econo-compact

    Those B cars are nice, but they're also brand-new -- and new cars always cost more to buy than used cars.

    To cage some more nickels, think about buying a low-mileage, slightly used econo-compact. In particular, a low-mileage Korean econo-compact like the Kia Rio or its Hyundai equivalent, the Accent. These are great little runabouts with excellent track records for durability -- and long-lived, fully transferable 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranties.

    They also cost much less to buy than equivalent small cars from the established Japanese automakers -- primarily because of the perception that Hondas and Toyotas are better-built. That used to be true, but according to all the latest data (incidence of major repairs/recalls; consumer satisfaction surveys, etc.) Hyundai and Kia now rival the best Japanese small cars in terms of build quality/reliability.

    A nearly-new 2005 model Rio sedan's current retail price range is between $6,800 and $7,800 -- about what you'd pay for a new motorcycle and less than one-third the cost of a typical new car. And you'll still get nearly 40 mpg on the open road (29 city/38 highway for the automatic-equipped model).

    Cash in -- before the word gets out!

    IV. Lose the SUV -- but not the space

    Station wagons were a great alternative to SUVs before there were SUVs -- and the latest crop of "mini" minivans can often handle the people-and-cargo carrying role of a traditional minivan (or gas-hog SUV) with much lower operating costs.

    * 2006 Mazda5 ($17,435) -- Just 181.5 inches long and about 3,300-lbs., the Mazda5 is shorter and lower to the ground than traditional vans -- and weighs about as much as a typical mid-sized family sedan. This gives it sporty handling, in contrast to the oceanic lurching typical of the average van, as well as much tighter turning radius -- 34.8 feet vs. the 36.8 feet needed by the Sienna, the 39.7 feet required by the GM vans and the 40 feet needed by the Nissan Quest. This means it's much more maneuverable and easy to park in close quarters. Yet it has room for six passengers, three row seating -- and 44 cubic feet of cargo-carrying capacity.

    And because the Five is less of a fatty, it gets by with a smaller, more fuel efficient four-cylinder engine that sips less fuel than the typical minivan's V-6 engine -- especially in stop-and-go city driving, where the little Mazda is solidly in the 20s while the other vans all dip into the gas-guzzling mid-high teens. And with a base price of just $17k, it is far cheaper "up front" than any conventional family van.

    * 2006 Ford Freestar ($19,650) -- If you need a bit more room, check out Ford Freestar's minivan. Recently cancelled ('07 will be the final year) the Freestar is by no means a "bad" van -- it just didn't stand out in a segment that's exceptionally competitive. That means there are some great deals available on this perfectly serviceable 7-passenger, full-size van -- new or used.

    Well-equipped 2005 model SELs with fold-flat third row seats, captain's chairs, rear-seat air conditioner and DVD entertainment systems are currently priced in the $15,500-$17,000 ballpark -- compared with $24,00 and up for a similarly-equipped, similar-in-size "popular" new model minivan. While the Freestar's EPA fuel economy economy rating of 17 city/23 highway doesn't seem especially impressive, it's fully 10-15 percent better than a comparable 7-passenger full-size SUV. Over the course of a single year, that can amount to several hundred dollars in fuel savings if you do a lot of driving.

    Other compelling options are small station wagons like Suzuki's Forenza ($14,399) and so-called "crossovers" like the Scion xB ($14,030).

    The Forenza wagon comes equipped with air conditioning (including a cabin filtration system), height-adjustable driver's seat, power windows and locks -- even an eight-speaker, 140-watt CD-playing stereo and side-impact air bags. You can add an automatic transmission (in place of the standard 5-speed manual) and still be well under $16,000 out the door -- including delivery charges, taxes and tags. Buy one that's a year or two old and the price comes down to $10-$12,000 -- about half the price of a new hybrid.

    Scion is Toyota's youth-oriented small car spin-off, launched in 2004. With room for five and class-leading cargo carrying capacity (43.4 cubic feet) the xB makes an ideal commuter/all-arounder. Air conditioning, ABS, power windows and locks -- even a nice stereo system with CD player and six speakers -- are included in the xB's base price. You also get some high-end safety features such as traction and stability control at no extra cost. And the xB's EPA rating of 31 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway means your fuel bills won't be unbearable -- even at $3.50 per gallon.

    And finally, some general advice:

    * Don't assume you need to pay extra to get a six cylinder engine for adequate passing/merging power. Today's four-cylinder engines produce, on average 120-150 horsepower. This is comparable to the output of six-cylinder engines of the recent past -- yet many people haven't upgraded their perceptions and assume they need the larger (and thus less efficient) six-cylinder engine when the standard four-cylinder is often perfectly adequate -- and significantly more economical.

    * Let depreciation work for you for a change. It's a real drag to be the guy holding the keys -- and the loan balance -- to a car that's worth 40 percent less today than it was when you drove it off the lot barely two years ago. But if you're the second guy to hold the keys, it could be the sweetest deal on wheels you ever got.

    Cars that depreciate rapidly are not necessarily bad cars, either -- so don't be scared off by Athat old saw. Sometimes, a glut of a certain make/model on the used car market will cause retail values to plummet. It's a simple case of demand being outpaced by supply -- and not by itself indicative of a problem with the car as such. (The Ford Taurus, for instance, is a very solid, safe family-type car. It's also built in very large numbers -- and sold to "fleet users," such as rental car companies. That means there are scores of them sitting on used car lots, looking for new owners.)

    * Remember to factor in secondary ownership costs whenever you run the numbers. New cars not only cost more to buy -- they cost more to insure and personal property taxes (where applicable) can be much higher. Buying a 2-3 year old vehicle can save you thousands in initial/direct costs -- and thousands in insurance/property tax and other peripheral costs as well. That's money in your pocket that can be used to defray your annual fuel costs -- or put to some other worthwhile purpose.

    OPEC may have us over a barrel -- but that doesn't mean we can't roll with it.

    END

  2. #2
    JohnB
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Getting a new car doesn't work for everyone, Eric.

    Let's say that one has a semi-fuel efficient mid-size car that's either fully paid for or has a couple of years of relatively low monthly payments to go. To dump that car and get into debt or into debt for a longer time is counter productive. It may take years to break even on the price difference. Then there's higher insurance in a newer car, higher registration fees, etc.

    Interestingly enough, the insurance, both liability and comprehensive/collision was cheaper on the new '06 Grand Marquis than on the older '98 Lincoln because it was considered a "safer car" due to its size. Go figure

    One needs to do the math in each individual case.

    Of course, if one does it for the "feel good" effect, well... that's different. Might as well just go down to skid row and pass out dollar bills to the winos.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Hi John,

    Yes, you make an excellent point - agreed.

    "Paid-for" can be a lot more financially savvy - even at 20 mpg - than a not-paid-for 35 mpg new (or later model) vehicle.

    PS - The Kaw should be alive within two weeks if all my bits and piece come together!

  4. #4
    JohnB
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    Hi John,
    "Paid-for" can be a lot more financially savvy - even at 20 mpg - than a not-paid-for 35 mpg new (or later model) vehicle.
    PS - The Kaw should be alive within two weeks if all my bits and piece come together!
    Indeed. Either that or pick up a relatively low mileage truck or (god forbid! ) SUV for a pittance and drive it until the wheels fall off. I don't have a problem driving my long ago paid for, 11 MPG full size Bronco.

    So, how do we move up from "Newbie"???

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    You know, it might even be worth developing this into a serparate story; as Elvis might've said - thankyaverymuch!

    On "newbie" - it's a matter of the the number of your posts, apparently. I think once you've made a dozen or so, you move up the food chain. I'm still learning the ropes here, too!

  6. #6
    JohnB
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    ok, then I'll keep on posting ....

  7. #7
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Diesel-powered cars have the additional virtue of superior built-in longevity and should easily outlast any hybrid

    One important thing hybrid owners should remember is the batteries aren't going to last forever. Here have heard a figure of up to $AUD 2000.00 quoted for replacements.

    That buys a hell of a lot of diesel.
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional


    One important thing hybrid owners should remember is the batteries aren't going to last forever. Here have heard a figure of up to $AUD 2000.00 quoted for replacements.


    Yes - but no one really knows for sure at this point; the issue's speculative at best. The automakers claim economies of scale will lower the price of pack/cell replacement to about the cost of a brake job within the next 5-8 years or so. Of course, their claims may be absolute BS - but we won't know until we get there. My own belief is that they've worked the numbers and done some extensive thinking on this - and I doubtr they would have committed so much to hybrids if they believed that in a few years the whole thing would explode on their heads in a PR debacle over outrageous battery costs. It would be out of character for Toyota, especially...


  9. #9
    JohnB
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Yeah, but unless that full batery pack comes to about $2-300 bucks or individual cells down to about a buck I seriously doubt those claims.

    Have you bought a laptop battery lately?

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    Yes - but bear in mind the batteries used in hybrids are not Lithium (as in laptops); they are old-fashioned lead acid. Much cheaper.
    And as I argued before, I'd be very surprised if the automakers made the commitment to hybrids they have if they knew the down the road costs would be so high. It will be a huge fiasco if they are...

    PS - Didya see the new pics I posted in "Two Wheels"?

  11. #11
    JohnB
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    I can bet you that it's going to become like the airbags, where cars are stolen just for the bags and sometimes the HID headlights.

    The cost of the cells may come down some but it certainly is not going to be a DIY project for many and the shops that handle it will get theirs.

    Maybe in 15-20 years it will become as cheap as brakes, but not for the short term.

    Besides.... The object was to flood the market with the hybrids to satisfy the bureaucrats and the "feel good" shepple.

  12. #12
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Pain at the pump is optional

    ...and to make some coin; don't forget that!

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