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!

-Rob

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.

-Rob

Hybrid Update

With the decision not to get a new car until late summer, I finally opted to get my winter snow tires off the hybrid (I know, its May).  Mileage week1 was 67,69,68mpg on the commutes, but today I decided to hypermile it.  The Inisght needs an oil change, and I think the tires are a little under inflated from the tire shop (I run them FULL) so I was “only” able to eck out a 97.4mpg on my first attempt of the year (ha!)  I had 101.4 at about 17 miles into my 19 mile commute, but the final 2 are in town (3 stop signs) and uphill which kills it.  My record commute of 102.2 last year I had about 106 heading into town.  Interestingly that trip was also in mid May-something about the warm spring air and longer days I guess.  I will change the oil this weekend, and correctly inflate the tires, which should push me back into 100mpg again.  It is noteworthy that the fine muscle skills needed to feather the throttle to that level lead to calf cramping and soreness on the “go” leg when I am out of practice.  With the tires running more resistance and the oil a little thicker, I had to drop my average speed into the low 40’s from the low 50’s of last year, but I still made it from work to home in an internal combustion engine, on decade old technology, and averaged almost 100mpg.

It is going to be damn hard to sell this car.

To that end, I am actually considering blitzing another 100 rain barrels, despite no free time with the farming, to earn $10k to pay off the Insight and earn enough to give $4k down on a 4 door hybrid.
Yes, I realize how insanely blessed we are to have the choice or whether or not to make an extra $10k.  Gaia gives.

-Rob

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 

-Rob

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