Thursday, July 17, 2008

Van For Sale

When I decided to drive a mini-van instead of the prerequisite suburban SUV, I thought I was making a smart, fuel efficient change for the environment. Oh, I get better gas mileage all right, but for the last year I have been fighting with the van at the service department.

The "Big Three" here in Detroit have been struggling lately, posting stocks at record lows, lagging sales and plant closings. Now I know why. My van, brand new 14 months ago, has been back to the dealership three times for a major transmission problem - all in less than 11,000 miles. The first visit, only a month after purchase, the transmission was completely rebuilt. The second, changing out some modules and parts. This week, the third visit came up with a diagnosis of a completely new transmission that must be installed ASAP.
Luckily, this is at no cost to me, except for the aggravation, countless trips back and forth from the dealership swapping out car seats, back packs and toys. So, wait, I take that back. It cost me a LOT. But, what cost do auto repairs have on the environment? Where is my old transmission going to go? Scrap yard, landfill, recycling center? I'd like to know and I plan to ask.

We all assume the major impact automobiles have on the environment is carbon emission and fossil fuel consumption. What about parts, oil, motors, grease, axles, rims, tires, windshields, fluids, anti-freeze, plastics and electronics? When I bought my van, all I really saw was the gas mileage, seating for my entire family and some pretty groovy DVD screens. What about all the other "stuff". Where did it come from, are the materials recycled or brand spankin' new? What about at the end of the van's life, does the company have a take-back or recycling program?

I have another year left with this van - we lease here in the Motor City - it's incredibly cheap and helps to keep new cars on the road, so they say. So, next year I plan to ask a few more questions other than gas mileage and DVD players. Maybe I will buy instead of lease. Maybe - close your eyes eco 'burban dad - I might buy a Honda.


arduous said...

Oooh! Buying a Honda! I mean, I have a Japanese car too, but I don't live in Michigan. I've heard that having a foreign car there is just asking for your car to get keyed and stuff!!

Green Bean said...

Yikes! Arduous' story scares me. I have a Honda. Not a problem with it (knock on wood) but then I don't live in Michigan. Pretty ballsy, girl! :)

Heather @ SGF said...

We've been lucky so far with the Jeep. Dave got it in 2003 (before I knew him) but has only had a few minor things go wrong. I had a Lumina for 13 years (before someone totaled it with me inside) and it was a great car.

The decision to buy the Prius was hard. We were hoping to buy used to as not to use more raw material but the used ones were as expensive if not more so than the new ones (because you don't have to be on a waiting list - you get a used one right away). How crazy is that? So we went with new.

The bottom line here is that (at least right now), there isn't a perfect or obvious right choice (although there are some pretty obvious wrong choices). Just think long and hard about it, do some research, and do the best you can.

P.S. I like Hondas (though I've never owned one). They seem like really solid cars. But if plants are closing up your way, who knows, everyone might be driving one soon :)

Joan said...

I drive an 8 year old mini van.Most of the time I could get by w/something smaller except we go to all our alma mater's football games & tailgate. We usually bring people with us and the van is packed. No changing that w/my family. I like the fact the van has been paid off for years. My son gets his license in Feb. so maybe something can be done then. For right now I try to limit my trips, consolidate errands. My coworker just got a Prius.

Heather @ SGF said...

We're pretty good about consolidating errands too. We keep a list going all week of things we need to do. Then the day we have our lunch date together, we hit the shopping places too.

Greener Grass Notes, Inc. said...

My husband and I only have one car and consolidate our errands as Heather does. We both work from home so it makes it easy. I started a storytime group in my neighborhood, so we walk from house to house. The car companies could have gotten on board with the fuel efficient cars years ago - all those SUV's and Trucks they have sitting on lots wouldn't be there if they had. Next car for us - Prius. Hands down.

Jena said...

It is funny that you mentioned that bit about the Honda. I was all fired up and excited last night about finding a new local product (I'll blog about it later) and then a thought crossed my mind... all the auto workers around here are so touchy about people buying foreign cars but I'm a farmer and they buy food that is shipped in from all over the world. It makes me really mad to think that they don't see it the same way.

I personally prefer Chrysler Dodge Jeep products because I worked there for over 4 years but I did drive a Hyundai for a year or so and loved it! I see both sides of that argument but I guess the Big Three should learn to give people what they want so they aren't forced to go elsewhere for it.

In any case - good luck getting through the year with your van & happy vehicle shopping!

Joyce said...

We love our Honda! We had a car like yours-lemon yelow, appropriately. It boggles the mind that some one could ask you to pay so many thousands of dollars for a car, and not build it to last at least five years before things begin to need repair. Somehow, Honda has this figured out.

Wendy said...

When we bought our "requisite" SUV six years ago, it was because we needed something that seated seven people (five kids, two parents ;). Our biggest concern was gas mileage, and our SUV gets 22 mpg - pretty much all of the time.

Our "other" car (the one we drive the most now that two of the five kids are all "grown up" and on their own) is a 1998 Honda Civic. The other day my husband was at work talking with one of their vendors who was bragging about his hybrid that averaged between 37 and 41 mpg. My husband said, "My Honda Civic gets 37 mpg."

This is our third Honda, and they've all been fantastic cars. My first Honda was a 1989 Civic I bought used in 1993 and drove for another 140,000 miles, and I only parted with it - in 2002 - when I needed a bigger vehicle.