Diesels and Mob Ignorance

So today was my first day at work with my new Golf TDI. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First off -now that I’ve seen it in real life: its is fantastic. Super clean inside and out, everything works but the cupholder, and there are no weird noises in the chassis other than a strut mount starting to show its age. We got over 50mpg on the way home, and its got plenty of power to tote around a family of 4 w/gear. Incredibly pleased with the purchase.

But back to my work. Seems that many, many people simply cannot understand why I would buy a diesel -even at 50mpg. The price stigma on diesel seems to be incredibly strong -all they can remember is when it was $4.79 a few months ago. I often get frustrated by normally decently intelligent citizens refusing to think things through for themselves. So here is the thinking to my argument with them -I will try to be less condescending here than in real life… The long and the short of it is that as long as you are getting 12% better fuel economy -a diesel can cost you less. But it is alot more to it than that.

Pump Price

Diesel is often, but not always, more expensive than unleaded. In the past year that I have been watching it it seems to anecdotally hover around 10-12% over unleaded. The issues with The Mob is that a 12% premium over unleaded at $4.29 is about $4.79, which carries alot of sticker shock. It is best to de-emotionalize the major purchases of our lives so lets stick to that 12% worst case scenario to be objective.


Diesel fuel has about 30% more “boom” per gallon than unleaded – but good engineers can actually eck out more efficiency than that using turbocharging and direct injection. Golfs come in both unleaded and diesel versions of the same car so it is a decent comparison of apples/apples. The 2.0 liter VW unleaded engine can was rated at 24/31 with 105 hp. The TDI in the same year was rated 35/44 with 90 hp, but more torque (they “feel” stronger). That is a a roughly 45% improvement! Now the 2.0 VW engine uses ancient technology, so lets compare it to a high tech Honda of the same year -though this loses some of the apples to apples as the Honda is more aerodynamic and weighs less being only a 4 Star car. It got 28/35. Still the TDI is a 25% improvement over the highly esteemed Honda 4 cylinder – and that is in a heavier car.

Fuel Cost

Really they only way to compare fuel costs is in dollars per 1000 miles o some other distance. Lets say unleaded is $4 a gallon. Lets compare a 2001 Honda Civic(28/35), a 2001 Golf TDI (35/44), and a 2004 Prius (48/45). I used the ’04 Prius since it the oldest year of the most fuel efficient 4 door car available. I will also include a 2004 Subaru Forester (19/25) as that is what we had until recently considered a frugal tow vehicle. These figures are from http://www.fueleconomy.gov and use the revised 2008 EPA numbers which are a joke -if you can’t beat these you are a menace to the planet. I will simply average the numbers for “mixed driving”.

  • 2001 Civic costs $126.98
  • 2001 Golf costs $113.45
  • 2004 Prius costs $86.20
  • 2004 Forester costs $181.81

The Prius is a hands down winner here. On strictly fuel alone, the Prius would save you about $800/yr if you traded in your Civic and drove 20k a year and a significant $2000/yr over our Forester.

Vehicle Cost

This is the Prius killer for us and many others. Lets compare average prices on Autotrader within 500 miles of me (Upper Midwest) which include Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis.

  • 2001 Civic were $7960
  • 2001 Golf/Jetta TDI’s were about $9500
  • 2004 Prius were $20,500
  • 2004 Forester was $13950

On Total Cost the Civic is our winner. But the TDI is close enough that many people would be able to make good rationale decision on more subjective things like safety ratings, towing capacity, resale, availability etc. The Prius loses out on any cost analysis, but that isn’t really what hybrids are about and this isn’t news to anyone.

Basically a diesel can save you some money in the real world. I drove a 2001 Civic for many years and got 37pg every single tank. I expect the TDI will get me about 48mpg on mixed driving, but that remains to be seen. That would save us a decent $300/yr. Better yet, it has alot more utility for our family -it can tow barrels and Grillo’s, is more comfortable on long trips to visit family in SD or Ohio, and most importantly I can make my own fuel for it which weighed very heavily on our final decision.
One final note, I didn’t even touch the emmisions debate -and that was intentional. Alot of the diesel emmision info on the web is from the old uber dirty diesel (500+ ppm sulfur) and the data on the 15ppm sulfur is not readily availible for these older cars. Also I plan to run 20-100% biodiesel mixes and tailpipe readings for that are even harder to come by. In this category the Prius gains significant ground as a PZEV it is by far the friendliest to the planet.

Again,the moral to this very long story is that as long as you are getting 12% better fuel economy -a diesel can cost you less, but there are sooooo many other variables you should really spend the time thinking this through that any purchase of this caliber deserves. I have made impulse vehicle purchases and have always regretted them.

Our world is very much in need or more mindful consumerism. Be the Change.


PS: The 2008 EPA estimates are frustrating. They seem to factor in driver behaviors even less than before and really show a bias to low tech producers like GM and Ford. Low tech and/or big engine like the Big 3 and the 2.0 liter VW engines seem to be more accurately reflected -my parents are slow drivers and can only eck our about 32 highway in their 2.0 Jetta -a 5% gain. Compare that to our Forestes (27mpg mixed ) a 20% gain, and that I was able to achieve 52mpg in my first ever trip in the Golf also for a 20% gain, and many Prius drivers can do the same. High Tech engines are better able to run efficiently if the driver is smart and light on the throttle -where the low tech ones cannot since they are always dumping in fuel. The EPA, under the Republicans and Big business, has catered to mediocrity. Again.  Your goal should be to beat the new 2008 EPA estimates for highway driving by 10% in
your mixed driving.  If you aren’t, adjust your behaviors and save money and the planet.

End of an Era

3 years ago I bought my beloved Honda Insight… a 2001 5spd with 54k miles on it. I have absolutely adored that car -it was literally the only car that could have broken by affair with Big Speed and my modified 330hp Mitsubishi EVO 8 race car. The Insight was everything I wanted -wicked huge mileage -peaking as high as 102.2, rolling poster child for “a Better Way”, and a nice slice of minimalism in a life that is not yet bike friendly. But in the past year our need for a second car that can either tow a trailer for our Eco LLC business or have a backseat for the kids has increased as our little uns begin to get Involved: swim and ballet lessons, sports, play dates, etc. Out here in the rural suburbia seemingly everything, be it groceries or a pool, is 10 miles away. So we began to look at options.

4 Months ago I was completed smitten with Plug In Priuses. Sure the $30k buy in ($20k + $10k conversion) was uber steep, but I had a plan to sell 160 rain barrels in the next two years to cover at least the cost of the conversion. Then oil hit $140+ and inflation crested 5%. That Prius became $35k as used hybrids appreciated and we struggled mightly to sell our first load of rain barrels as America (finally!) tighten her belt. We’ve sold most of the barrels, but just barely and selling another 100 is not likely since the majority went to one buyer.

But we still need a high mileage 4 seat car.  So 3 weeks ago I began to look very seriously for a used VW TDI.  There were never a ton of these on the road (thought the 2006+ are MUCH more common!) and they are also in demand.  Prices are ranging from 10-30% above Kelly’s Blue Book -and most buyers are flying in to get them and driving them 3 states home.  I had 4 semi local cars slip through my fingers -even calling within an hour of the ad posting is not enough to get these.   Then just this week I found my new car. I had email Mia my “Dream Ad” and don’t you know it, I came home from work to find a  new Ebay listing that matched it perfectly.  Its a 2000 Golf TDI GLS 5spd with about 110k miles on it.  I am as vain as the next guy so I wanted it loaded -moonroof, premium sound, and heated seats (these little diesels take like 20 miles to heat up in the winter) and I found it on Ebay.    4 doors, super clean, and I bought it for $4k less than I am selling my Insight for so the budget is uber happy.  Its in MN so I am bumming a ride with family on their return trip to South Dakota this weekend.

More on why I bought a TDI -this paragraph gets more than a little Car Guy.  Most guys driving them are getting 42-48mpg every single tank -and the hypermilers are getting 60mpg!  Second, they can be turned into nice little tow vehicles.  In Europe these engines have about 20 more hp -and the only part change is larger fuel injection nozzles-about $300.  You can also add a “chip” that remaps some of the boost parameters for the turbo and get another 10-15hp.  More importantly you can also get another 80 ft/lbs of torque making the Golf a better tow vehicle than our Forester.  Open up the exhaust with a bigger down pipe off the turbo and you can keep your Exhaust Gas Temps down too and add a few more ponies.  Here is the kicker -there are many guys with these mods still getting over 50mpg every single tank.  You only use the extra fuel and boost of the mods if you push the engine hard while accelerating/towing. Even still, I have yet to see anyone on the forums at TDI CLUB getting under 40mpg in a modded 5spd.   Nice.

Are hybrids more efficient?  You bet.  But they can’t tow, cost over twice as much, and I can’t make my own fuel in a pinch.  I am very happy with my decision and will likely start doing some home bio-diesel processing using Journey to Forever’s 5 gallon “Test” kit this Fall.  Making 5 gallons a week actually would cut my Dino Fuel use 100 gallons anually over a standard Prius.  I have already found a source for grease, just need to build the kit. In my “spare” time.

Very sad to see my beloved Insight going away, but also excited for the future!


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.


Ultimate Rain Barrel Delivery Vehicle

Hell Ultimate ANYTHING delivery vehicle!  This came up on Hybrid Cars today.  100 mile range, virtually as much payload as a F-650 (what its based on) and coming to America?  I just hope I don’t short it out with my envious drool on the test drive.  Diesel Sprinter eat your heart out!


More Fuelish Thoughts

We are still considering selling my beloved Insight for a 4 seat vehicle. Looked at many options, including a TDI Passat Wagon, a few 04-07 Priuses, and several 2008 Civic Hybrids. The hybrids are nice with lots of added utility over the Insight, but any one of the takes us into a 50% cut in mileage from what I am used to. Also, the value of my Inisght is going up almost weekly, with comparable ones on E-Bay going for 10-20% more than the $12,600 I paid for it 30,000 miles ago. I had not intended “going green” to be an investment, but apparently Good Things do happen to Good People sometimes.
The long and short of it was that their is nothing on the market compelling enough for me to take on debt and sell my baby. I am REALLY fond of my little blue “pod” -something I had not fully realized until we were very close to trading it on a ’08 Civic. I am also vain and shallow enough that I place alot of emphasis on having “special” cars. I like to tinker with my cars, and the fact that the Insight is the most effeceint car in America holds alot of sway. I had begun looking into plug in conversion kits, but they are all located in California or WA and driving 4600 miles to save gas seemed ridiculous. I had decided to peg my hopes on the 2009 Prius -it was strongly rumored to get 20% more mileage for the same money. But those rumors are drying up and after calling about 8 dealers to find someone savy enough to talk intelligently to me about them, I am mostly convinced that Real Change in the Prius market will not happen until late 2010.

But then, Hybrid Cars spilled the goods that Hymotion, one of the more reputable Plug In kit designers, was releasing a 2nd Generation kit. The Hybrid Car blurb had me from the first sentence: Lithium Ion battery pack, full crash test compliance, MIDWESTERN installers (MN), 3 yr warranty, and turn key price (including installation) of $10k.

Could this be The One? 100+ mpg is certainly a step in the right direction, it solves the “soccer problem” with its 4 seats, and being one of the Early Adopters pushing a new world changing technology is right up my alley. There are currently less than 250 plug in vehicles on the road -most in Public Utility fleets. I would be VERY pleased to add my name to that List of Honor.

But wait a minute -used Prius are not cheap -figure $20k for a lightly used one- and I’m adding $10k to that! WTH am I thinking? We’d be switching the 25k miles we drive on the Forester (26-7 mpg) to the 4 Door Hybrid. Even with a Civic 47mpg we were saving $75/mo. Jumping to 100mpg and that savings gets close to $280 at $4/gallon. Wait a gal darn minute, we don’t spend that now! But the truth of the matter is that with a 1400 mile range in combined driving I’d only be filling up every other month unless we took a long trip. Payback on the plug in kit is about 3 years with those numbers, not counting interest.

Suffice it to say that I am calling Hymotion and their MN dealer today to ask some questions.


Co-Gen Hybrids

I drive a 2001 Honda Insight.  Its blue, and I love it.  I love how small it is.  I love how useful it is (built in cooler!).   And of course I love its 70+mpg in the summer and 55+ in the winter.  And this year with the addition of dedicated snow tires it has handled as much as 8″ of snow with aplomb –even with only 4″ of ground clearance.  It is one sweet ride.

One weakness of hybrids is that in steady state driving (freeway) you are not recharging the batteries which ultimately hurts your mileage, this is why most hybrids get better mileage in the city.  But now Honda is working on a new generation hybrid that adds a third technology -electrical co generation using the waste heat from the gas engine.   the technology is still a ways out, but I would love to see the waste heat that I am paying  $3.30 a gallon for (and my country is paying $1 trillion a year for) doing something other than running out the tail pipe.  Their prototype is seeing 3x the energy storage than from regenerative braking alone in a typical US freeway circuit.  Sweet!

Brief, but informative, write up here 


Four Season Insight

I love my Honda Insight.  I love its minimalism.  I love its modern look.  I love the function over form engineering dripping from every aluminum widget.  And I love what it stands for: the first shot in the War for Sane Transportation.

What I do not love is driving it in Wisconsin Winters.  See, the original Bridgestones are still on the car.  They have 80k miles on them and will have enough tread to go another 50k at this

 rate.  They were specifically designed to be low rolling resistance, i.e. they are as hard as iron.  This makes them noisy, interesting in the rain, and downright unfun in snow.  They may have been fine new, but rubber compounds degrade over time and after 7 years mine have little grip left.  Last year during snows I would take our Forester to work, but now Sprout is in school and Mia needs it to take him in.  Though only one week of December is behind us we already have had 3 snows of over 2″. Big Win for the aquifers, but my commute this time of year starts at 3:30am and roads are typically unplowed.  3 commutes with the only way to make a 90 degree turn consisted of grabbing the E-brake (every time) to swing the tail around once the front lost grip were enough to convince me I needed to do something or end up in a ditch-or worse.
Enter my new budget WinterForce snow tires.  You know you are a die hard hybrid driver when you mount knobby snow tires and think “my, these tires sure are quiet!”.   Other than making my beloved Hybrid look like a Tonka Truck I am very impressed.   I did alot of reading about dedicated snow tires back when I was looking at rally racing my Evo 8 (yes I traded a modified 350 whp Evo 8 for a Honda Insight) and they were always billed as having surreal traction.  I must say that so far I am blown away by the difference!  
Case in point-today I went to visit the Hoop House north of town.  The property owner drives a Tacoma pickup and it wasn’t until I entered his driveway that I remembered he doesn’t plow.  The ruts were deep enough that I left a flat mark as the Insight’s ground clearance was not sufficient, and then I ended up parking off the driveway in 8″ deep snow covering the ice from last week’s sleet storm.  After checking on the plants [The -4 degree night on Wed did the radishes in, but the beds are not frozen yet.  Outside air temp was 3 degrees, but despite it only being 9:30 am interior temp was already 28 degrees.  Spinach, mache, and claytonia are all small but fine!] I returned to the car and realized I was going to have to back up 250′ or attempt a 3 point turn in the deep snow.  3 days ago I would spin all of 1st gear across plowed intersections, but despite cutting trail through deep snow I never spun a tire! 
I am sold: the Safety alone make it worth while.  Adding incredibly sticky tires has certainly hit my mileage… to the tune of about 10-15%.  But then again, the Forester gets 30 mpg on a good day, and with my “knobbies” on I was able to run errands today and still eked out 49 mpg.  I’ll take it.
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