Family Transportation Connundrum

We are nearing a point of descision with our modes of transport.  We a a typical suburban family: 2 kids, 2 (big!) dogs, and two cars.  We also live in a small bedroom community that has no grocery store within 7 miles, and we each have long commutes of 7-19 miles.  We are a-typical in so far as one of our cars happens to be a Honda Insight that gets 65mpg.  The “family” car is a 2005 Subaru Forester that until recently we have loved.  In fact we still love it, but are beginning to resent its 28mpg.  The Insight is used whenever possible, but the Subaru gets used whenever we all go somewhere.  We also have family spread all over and take 4-6 trips to either South Dakota (1100 miles roundtrip) or Ohio (1200 miles round trip) annually which really ramps up our annual mileage to a combined 30-35k, typically 22-25k on the Forester and 10-12 on the Inisght.

The connundrum is that with out eldest (6yrs) looking to start after school activities the “family” car will
be in high demand.  With my farming off site I use the Subaru many evenings and most weekends, which effectively maroons any family that did not come with.  Errands are piling up, frustrations are forming, and when Sprout starts soccer we will be shut down.

So it is looking like the Insight may need to go.  However, I am very unimpressed with the current hybrid offerings.  The Civic gets a ho-hum 45mpg (remember I am used to 65) and I have never warmed to the Prius.  One of my numerous faults is elitism, and the space shuttle looks of the Prius are an issue.  Both are fairly expensive new, and the used market is VERY high right now.  That is also a good thing -I can sell my Insight for what I paid for it 2.5 years and 30k miles ago.  The best option may be the 2009 Prius which will get powertrain upgrades and a slight cosmetic overhaul.  Both the gas and electric powerplants get a boost and the rumor is of doubling the battery pack to enhance electric capability.  Mileage is supposed to improve 10-20% getting it firmly in the 50-60mpg camp.  Pricing is allegedly not to change, and my local Toyota dealer has confirmed much of the Hybrid Cars rumors.

Another option may be a dedicated “work” truck for the rain barrels and farm.  A clean late 80’s 3/4 ton Ford/Chevy diesel can be found for under $5k and converted to WVO for another $1500 or I could make a biodiesel still for about the same or less.   Even w/o the WVO the truck would get similar mileage to the Forester towing barrels (22-24mpg).  Mia is not pleased about going to  a  3 car set-up  and there  is a lot of  wisdom there -we already have alot in the driveway with the utility trailer etc and are considering storage for the Grillo and my monster wheel barrows…  Buying another vehicle seems counter intuitive to simplifying life even if it has good arguments.

Another strike against the truck is that getting a 4 door hybrid, even the lower mpg Civic, means BIG fuel savings for our errand and road trips.  Savings of $80-100/mo look reasonable as the mileage would swap to 20-25k on the new hybrid and 10k on the Forester which helps take the edge off the $24k payments.  That whole partial zero emissions is way cool too.

I would like to hear everyones thoughts, your input on the Grillo helped me clarify/justify my decision.  We are leaning toward putting money down on a 2009 Prius, but the work truck has some upside too -like not taking out a $20k loan…


9 Responses

  1. a conundrum indeed. The idea of a smaller (or no) loan is a major factor in my mind, (and I am personally not averse to the 3 car notion, I have a turbo saturn coupe in the garage that…god help me will either run on ethanol or be converted to electric. I suppose you can take the grease off of the greasemonkey, but you cant take the grease out of the greasmonkey.

    the aesthetic question doesn’t really seem like a question to me, you drive an insight…that is more space shuttle looking than a prius to me at least.

    how’s this for a plan: total overhaul. Ditch the forrester and the insight, get the prius and the truck to run biodiesel. Make a BD still, use it for the truck, the grillo, and anyone who comes along and needs a few gallons of clean burning dino juice substitute.

    take the permaculture approach, this change is only a problem if your system has not found a way to incorporate the criteria, once you adjust to meet that criteria, make the functions stack.

  2. I never buy first-generation new technology, if I can possibly help it. The second gen will get the bugs out. And brand-new cars…mom always warned me about them. Of course, a Prius would keep value like nobody’s business…

    Hmm, would trading the Insight for a Prius (any year) satisfy you? There might be a hypermiler out there who would like to trade 45mpg for 65mpg.

  3. I own a Ford Escape Hybrid. It has more room then your Subaru and gets about 30-32 mpg although I have gotten as high as 35. I love it. I wanted better gas mileage but I also needed something with four wheel drive. It was more expensive then the traditional option and incredibly smart people have done the calculations to determine it will take a lifetime for me to get my initial investment back in gas money but in the meantime my car is better for the environment so it is worth it. If you are worried about getting another loan and car payment buying a new Hybrid- depending on the model will get you a significant tax break.

    Personally our next car will be a Prius. I don’t particularly care for the look of it but it is the most tested model out there. As for getting in on new technology, yes it changes with time but the warranties now on Hybrids are better then they will ever be because manufacturers know that people are concerned about long term performance. My Hybrid has a 10 year warranty on the hybrid engine and the market for used hybrids is super hot so I stand to make a decent profit should I decide to sell it in the next 3-4 years.

  4. How about looking at a used vintage pickup w/ manual transmission for your farm chores? Most people don’t remember that there were a number of great vehicles that averaged more than 30+ city.

    I used to have a 1982 Nissan pickup 4 cyl manual trans(w/ 8 spark plugs) that was still getting about 42 mpg and plenty of pickup when I sold it a few years ago when the family expanded to more than two of us.

  5. Thanks guys. Selling the Forester is not an option as they have lost value much quicker than in previous models (this is our third, and with the 10% DECLINE in mileage for the 2009’s, also our last) and we would lose our shirt on negative equity at least for 18 months or so, but your scenario of Prius and Truck was my Dream Plan, except I would keep the Insight for commuting. Making that much bio diesel to keep my 170 mile weekly commute would take some doing, and I do NOT need new chores right now. The Dream Plan is too expensive.

    Any Prius MAY be an option, I have some friends that are single and drive a Prius, but we’ll see if I can work it into conversation.

    The Escape are nice, but I need it to be a workhorse towing as much as 1800lbs routinely which is a pit much for a 175hp Forester as it is, and the figures I remember from the hybrid Escapes didn’t bolster confidence. It also takes the net mileage for the family down considerably, and only gives us a 10% bump for the long trips.

    Now if I converted it to plug in from Cal Cars and put in a solar array…

  6. Have you heard the buzz about the new 50mpg, 2008 TDI VW Jetta? There is a wagon version–great for the family. No batteries to replace, and diesel engines last much longer. Say, how “green” is it to produce and replace batteries in a hybrid when compared to 50 mpg, low-cost, low-maintenance, diesel?

  7. Jim, thanks for the tip! I had not heard that VW was that close. A ’05 TDI Passat wagon is on my short list of “real life” dream cars.

    I have listened to enough arguments about batteries v. diesels to make my head spin. My personal conclusion? Batteries are contained and recyclable, while petroleum based fuels eco issues are diffuse and not reclaimable. A Prius is a Partial Zero Emmisions vehicle, while even low sulfur diesels still have particulate and other emmision issues which adds up BIG over the life of either vehicle.

    Get a TDI going on bio diesel from home grown sunflowers, WVO, or do a WVO/SVO conversion and the TDI is a hands down winner.

    Again, thanks for the tip -I will DEFINITELY follow up on it.

  8. I’m holding out for one of these.

    Ok, not really. I’ll have to wait until they hit the low-end used market in 2017 before I can get one.

  9. I love your site. I just visited it and I find it to be quite appealing. I will definitely be back.

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