Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Sustainable Car

I've had a great deal of fun on Facebook today celebrating my car's 15th birthday.  Fifteen years ago, I took delivery of my brand new car.  I was so thrilled to get my navy blue sedan; I've always loved four-door cars (in obvious rebellion against my strictly-two-door parents), and I so much wanted a car in my favorite color.

In the intervening years, she has served me well, lasting until I can (hopefully) see the day when I can retire her to the garage and keep her as just as a fair weather, pleasure-only vehicle.  Hey, Papa FC&G shows a 1994 car in area car shows, so a 1998 isn't that far off!

Our culture expects consumers to get a new car every two to five years, which may be good for the auto industry but is bad for your pocketbook and your sustainable lifestyle.  A couple of the benefits of keeping your car way past the trade-in expectation are:

No car payments for years:  To be honest, I wrote a check for my car, so I've never had car payments.  God willing and knock wood, my plan is to never go into long-term debt for anything smaller than a house.  But even if you take five years to pay off a new car, keeping it for 15 would mean a whole decade without payments.  If you put even half of that money into a savings account, think of how much you would have.  For example, let's say I typically budget $400 a month for a car payment.  If I spend a decade without making that payment and save half of it each month, I would amass $24,000 before interest.  That's a good way toward another new car, a room addition on your house, or a year's tuition at a decent college.

Safety from knowing your vehicle:  My car and I have been together so long that I know if something is wrong just by how the engine sounds.  I can tell how fast I'm going from the vibration of the seat (although I do check the speedometer).  I know exactly how big of a parking space I can fit into and still comfortably open the doors, and I know how much room to allow for stopping on dry pavement.  This all translates into better driving.

So, how can you make your car last for a decade and a half?  My method won't work for everyone, but here's what has made my car into my lifelong companion:

I drive very little:  OK, this tip will not work for those of you in certain geographic situations, but I have always lived my life around avoiding driving.  It isn't that I am purposely being miserly; it is just that driving bores me to tears.  I've never been one of those people who can't wait to slide behind the wheel; even as a teenager, I thought cars were transportation, not entertainment.  Therefore, when I chose jobs as a single woman, I would only consider jobs located within about 20 minutes of where I wanted to live.  If a job would require a 30 minute commute, I would either turn down the job or consider moving.  I just don't want to spend my life in a car, no matter how cute it is.  In fact, one of the top motivations for starting my own business and working from home was that I could go days without getting into a car, except maybe for a brief shopping or gym errand.

I drive so little that, years ago when I did a calculation of how many years it would take me to recoup the cost differential between a new traditional car and a new hybrid car in fuel savings, I came up with something like 20 years.  Things have certainly changed, with lower relative prices of hybrids and higher gas prices, but by keeping to a very moderate driving schedule, I can drive what I want with no guilt.

My Dad is a car guy:  As I mentioned, Papa FC&G is a car guy extraordinaire.  He shows a car, and he has always enjoyed detailing and working on cars.  He is the only man I know (but not the only one *he* knows!) who thinks Q-tips are a car detailing tool.  I once bought him a glorified dental mirror so he could check the undersides of engine parts for dirt and grime.  So trust me, he doesn't let me forget my routine maintenance, and he makes very good suggestions about mechanics to use if I have a problem.  Not everyone has a car-guy father, but I'll bet most of you have a friend who can give advice (if you don't care for such things yourself).  Also, it helps to keep that maintenance record that came in your original car manual filled out, and pay attention to such things as suggested maintenance at given mileages.  Dropping a couple or a few hundred bucks once in a while is a small price to pay to keep your car running well.

I protect my car:  This car has never sat out overnight (except for very occasional emergencies), but even before I had this car, I always tried to find a way to shelter my vehicle.  At first, I did have to leave my car out, but I tried to park in relatively sheltered locations overnight (I got very good at knowing which way storm fronts blew in over certain apartment complexes and which parking spots seemed to get less snow).  As soon as it was financially practical, I rented a carport, and later, a garage.

Even if you can't garage your car, I can tell you one way to protect your vehicle that everyone can do:  Set a rule that NO ONE eats in the car.  Yes, that means you, the car owner, too.  I hate the smell of fast food that lingers in a car, and I hate the chance of spills on upholstery and greasy fingerprints on the steering wheel, although I am always guilty of there being mascara and lipstick on my steering wheel from me touching my face while driving.  Growing up, it was a hard-and-fast rule in our house that if anyone needed to eat or drink anything, we stopped the car and got out for that to happen, either at a restaurant or a rest stop.  This is my biggest rule for my car today, and it has the added benefit of making us all a little more mindful about our eating.  If you have to stop to eat, you may as well make good choices about what you are consuming.  And maybe you don't really need to consume anything at all.

Do some detailing once in a while:  Papa FC&G is going to laugh at me for this, because I am not nearly as good as he is, but I will say that it is a good idea to get out once in a while to wash your car, vacuum the inside, and clean the various surfaces and windows.  You'll feel good about your car's condition, and it will keep the finish from being damaged by road salt and the like.  (Pro tip:  Never use a slick cleaner like some of the tire polishes to clean your gear shift, steering wheel, or foot pedals, because they could cause your hands or feet to slip off at an inopportune moment).

So there you have it.  When I took delivery of my car, I planned to replace her at 10 years or 60,000 miles, whichever came first.  Clearly, 10 years has come and gone, and we certainly won't hit 60,000 for some time yet.  I no longer want to replace her, although I wouldn't mind a cute little playmate for her one day.  My car has lasted 15 years with a shiny finish and a bounce in her step.  I hope she's around for 15 more.

Pin It!


  1. Papa FC&G thinks that is one of the neatest and factual accounts of how you and your car have stayed together all these years. As they say today "spot on" on how to make it work. It has paid off both financially and with longevity for something you liked. No everyone is as obsessed with detail as I am but remember I have one that has to sit out and follow those guidelines as best I can. It does pay off. Thanks for listening all these years and not getting too upset on my reminders.

  2. This is an amazing post, which depicts your love for your car. I believe that if one treats his belongings in an appropriate manner then there is no chance of wear and tear before ages.

    Sara William
    Learn more about automobile transport Services

  3. Way to go!

    You don't live in the country, do you?

    1. Always been a suburban girl. There are a few things we give up by not being city or country, but for darn sure you can locate within a short drive or bike ride of all your basics.

  4. Congratulations on your car 15th year! It is amazing how your car can still run great even after 15 years. If that isn’t a good enough basis to believe your tips, I don’t know what is! I like the idea of doing some detailing once in a while. It can certainly help keep the car in good condition. After all, a good car isn’t just about having a well-tuned engine – it’s also about having smooth functioning parts.

  5. You are right, Erwin! A car’s good service should not only rely on the car’s engine, but also on how it works with the other parts. Hence, an owner should take care of both the car’s exterior and interior parts by conducting regular checkups and upgrading.

    Patrick Gauer

  6. Seems to me that you are one heck of a car owner! You managed to maintain the crispness of your car for 15 years. I know you have a very special connection with your little blue car, but I hope this won’t stop you from owning another lucky car for you to drive around and care for in years. Well done, Jennifer! ;D

    Stelle Courney

    1. Thanks, Stelle! I have plans to get my little blue car a buddy, when the right one shows up. :-)

  7. Thanks for the post, and congrats on your car making it through 15 years! Do you still have it in 2016? How did the rate for your car insurance change over the 15 years, considering that you kept the car in very good condition? I got car insurance in Saugus MA on a 10-year old car and my rate was pretty low, but I've heard people say the opposite as well.

    1. Charles:

      Yep, I still have her in 2016! She's getting ready to turn 19. :-)

      My insurance rates are pretty low, but I think my insurance company couldn't care less what condition she's in; all they care about is Blue Book value and number of miles driven per year. My problem is that I can find no one who will insure her for her actual replacement value; I've tried classic/show car companies, and they are not interested. But it would take a lot more than book value to replace her if I ever had to.