Commuting Commutations

So I have used this forum as a sounding board on many occasions, and will continue to do so since the advice and comments are typically of a pretty high caliber. What we are continuing to struggle with is our transportation conundrum. We had spoken of earlier of the need for another 4 door vehicle. We live in semi rural Wisconsin – which is incredibly pedestrian -UNfriendly. We have a 7 mile drive to the nearest grocery store for example. There is essentially no mass transit Our children are starting extra curricular activites and only having one 4 seat vehicle is starting to be more than just an inconvenience.

We have looked at the new generation hybrids -Civic and Prius, but moving from a 65mpg Insight to a 48mpg Prius is frustrating, especially when the ticket to ride costs well north of $20k for a used one. I am also REALLY interested in plug in technology and we had an earlier post to that effect -but with the economy going to crap my funding scheme (the conversion adds another $10k) is faltering -we still have 15 of our 80 barrels left and it would have been much worse without a Gaia-Sent order of 50 from a Municipality. We need to sell 160 to fund the conversion. Plugins are essentially out. Selling the Insight is no problem -they have actually gone UP in value despite my adding 30k miles to it.

So now what? Still frustrated by the cost of the new hybrids -though that is driven by the fact that I am getting 65mpg now -rationally I think they are worth it. But with the economy crapping out and energy bills for home doubling, adding $13k in debt is not appealing. So I am coming back to diesel. TDI’s are getting cheap as the price of dino diesel goes up. I have some alerts set up on Autotrader and TDI Jettas and Golfs with under 100k miles are availible for less than I can sell my Insight for. New Beetles are to be had for under $8k. We would want a wagon, but both the Jetta and Passats came in wagon models. A 4 Door Golf might also work. I have always LOVED the Passat Wagons -which are an A4 Audi wagon with some very slight body mods, and even more so when I learned that they have a stronger TDI engine (60lbs more torque than our Forester and better brakes!) that would tow barrels just fine. But the Passats are holding their value VERY well and cost as much as a used Hybrid, though they are more useful.

The reason I am willing to get 44mpg on a TDI vs 48 in a Hybrid is that I can make my own fuel. I am firing up my research again on the decades old debate of home Bio-Diesel still vs a WVO conversion in the trunk. Price is similar if you build your own still and we have a Coop in Madison that does installs on the WVO kits and use a very high quality German system. WVO is cheaper and to some extent easier, but I see WVO becoming a commodity in less than 2 years, so either way I would want to get a 4-5 yr “right of first refusal” contract with a local restaurant before I dropped several bills on a kit. BioD takes some time to make, and you have things like lye and methanol in the garage. Both are alot less noxious than they first appear, but still something to think about. There is also the energy consumed in heating the still (though it could mate with a gasifier just fine if I could get one in the garage!) which needs to be considered. That said, making bio-fuel is a skill I want to learn, I would like to be able to grow my own fuel someday. Either way we could have a eco-fueled TDI for about $15k -or $17k less than a Plug In Prius, and $7k less than a plain jane Prius. I want air-bags so the old Mercs, etc are out. But for a farm truck, I have found a BEAUTIFUL old Land Rover pickup out east that was imported from Europe and is titled. Those things are bullet proof! But that is a few years out.

I would love to hear about personal experiences with home Bio Diesel manufacturing and WVO conversions to help me out.


4 Responses

  1. I don’t know enough about the economics of biofuel to make any comments on that aspect of the issue.

    I do think it is the right thing to do to help you and your community become more energy independent. As a nation we are absolutely dependant of foreign sources of oil, biofuel offers us a small margin of security against supply disruptions.

    And if you can get a long term contract for free waste oil… don’t turn down free fuel!

  2. No experience in that area – but just an observation from “Farewell, my Subaru” ( is that he is noticing competition for the left-over grease from restaurants. So it may not become such a bargain if they wise up and charge for it.

    So if you have to fallback on diesel, it’s selling at a 10% premium over gas (because diesel is the fuel of choice in Europe). I think it will stay that way too with even higher prices in the winter when it is also directed to home heating oil. So factor that into the miles per dollar and not miles per gallon. The 45mpg would compare to a 40mpg gasoline fuelded vehicle.

  3. TDI and hybrids are extremely efficient. However, there is no car on the road which is as efficient as not driving at all. If more workers were to work remotely, the savings in fuel would be tremendous.

    In the past, home telecommuting was the only option for remote workers. Unfortunately, a lot of employees and employers were hesitant about workers working out of the home. They were fearful of bad infrastructure and lack of focus with distractions around the home.

    There is a new solution which solves many of the problems associated with home telecommuting – Remote Office Centers. Remote Office Centers lease individual offices, internet and phone systems to workers from different companies in shared centers located near where people live (i.e. the suburbs).

    There is a free web site where workers can go to find a Remote Office Center by location.

    Most workers spend all of their time on the phone or working on a computer system that is hosted in some remote center anyway.

    Remote Office Centers are a fairly new concept, but there are already 360 centers listed on the web site, including 17 government supported sites around DC.

    The best way to solve the fuel crisis is to use fuel as efficiently as possible. This means two things: 1. use more efficient transportation. 2. do not drive some place far away, if you could just as easily get your work done from your own home or an office down the street.

  4. I just ran across this really interesting article which states that miles per gallon can be slightly misleading because intuition can lead to the wrong conclusions.

    For example, let’s say you have a 10mpg behemoth and a 25mpg sedan. You drive them both about the same amount. Because of high fuel prices, you want to upgrade one or the other.

    It turns out you’ll actually save more fuel by upgrading the 10mpg to something that gets 20mpg than upgrading the 25mpg to 50mpg. It seems that a 25mpg improvement would be better than a 10mpg improvement. But if you invert MPG to gallons-per-mile (or gallons-per-100-miles for readability) it becomes much clearer.

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