Friday, October 5, 2007

An interesting experience

My wife and I have been house- and car-sitting for some friends who are away for a few months.

Our car is a 1992 Honda Civic hatchback. I was in an accident this spring -- slightly more than a fender-bender -- and fixing the car completely would take more money than the car is worth. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be an issue -- I am of the "drive it til it's really dead" school -- so we don't usually look at how much a car is worth when we repair it; we look at how much it's worth to us to repair it. And, sadly, it does not make sense to fix this car back up, especially since it still runs okay. If we ever move back to a state with annual inspection, though -- which could easily be next summer, when my wife finishes her PhD -- there's also no point in taking the car with us, because then we'd have to spend $1500-$1800 fixing it; it would be time to sell and replace. (One advantage of living in a state without annual inspection: a market for used "junkers." One advantage of living in a state with annual inspection: it forces you to do decent maintenance on your car.)

But, ever since the accident, I've been pining for a new-to-us car. Our car is old. It was already a little battered; now it's visibly a lot battered. It has no pick-up. The seats are ripped. The paint is fading in places. It doesn't have a cd player (we use a portable with a tape adapter). The a/c, which I wouldn't care about except that I have asthma, works intermittently. My boss' patients, who routinely see it in her parking lot, ask me about it anxiously if they don't see it. Etc.

Worst of all... we have friends with hybrids.

Yes, I have car envy.

So, car-sitting seemed like a good opportunity to both spare our car some wear-and-tear before we sell it this winter or spring and to drive something with more... zing.

The car we're sitting is a Subaru Legacy. Hmmmm.

At first, I thought this car was much more fun to drive. It has pickup. It has a moonroof and a sunroof. It's shinier and newer. The a/c worked great on those rare occasions when I've needed to use it so I could breathe. We could take our own car in for an oil change without transportation gymnastics.

We decided we'd drive the Subaru for a tank of gas, check the mileage, and decide how often to drive it vs the Honda.

I routinely get 40 mpg in my little, old, battered Honda Civic.

We got 20 mpg in the nice, shiny, big, all-wheel drive Subaru Legacy.

The Subaru uses twice as much gas!!

Not only was that way too much money to pay for gas, there was just no way we could justify it environmentally.

So, I went back to driving my little old Honda every day.

Here's the interesting bit.

I thought going back to the Honda would feel like a sacrifice. You know what? It didn't. The Honda's not actually any less fun to drive than the Subaru. So it doesn't accelerate as fast from a dead stop. That is really about it. And swift acceleration burns more fuel. The stereo is nearly as good, and my portable cd player has lots more flexibility. (It plays cd-rw's. It has a shuffle option. Etc.) The Honda is more manouvreable, even though the Subaru has power steering. There's no difference in how much fun shifting is in one vs. the other. And so forth.

And while the Subaru has a bunch of conveniences on the interior, because I can easily reach the back seat floor in the Honda, that also doesn't make that much of a difference.

I thought I'd be cranky about going back to my old car. And I'm not. And that's what I find interesting, and rather nice.

Plus, since I can't get to my job on the bus, it makes me much happier to get 40 mpg.

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