Sunday, July 29, 2018

End of an Era: On Buying My First Car

I bought a 2009 Kia Rio. I went with a friend because I had no idea how it all worked, and I had lots of stupid questions, like: How do I get license plates before I have the car, or do I leave the car at the dealer and get them afterwards, and then walk up to the dealership carrying them? And when does insurance happen? I was a bit baffled by the sequence of events about to transpire. I thought I'd leave with the car, but it took three days to do all the things to be done.

I intend to live north when I retire, so I knew a motorized vehicle would be in my future eventually, but I was banking on getting a car in another year or two, once some of the newer electric cars had been out and tried and tested for a while. Once Ford got in, and that rebate disappeared, though, I reconsidered. I went for an old car that will hopefully make the five years until Ford is gone and the rebates return with a more reasonable premier.

If we're not all burnt to a crisp by then.

Three other events provoked decisive action:

1. My youngest leases a horse now, thanks to her dad, but she needs to get back and forth to the stable, thirty minutes away by car, three times a week. I had been borrowing vehicles to take her, since her dad can rarely make it, but that route was wearing thin. The deal I made when I agreed to the horse, of course, was that I'd only have to take her once in a while here and there, but we know how those things work.

2. My older two suddenly started making noises about getting their licences. Neither wants a car of their own, but we're beginning to realize how handy it would be if they had the ability to drive - not to mention how much more employable it makes them. And the youngest is just two years away and chomping at the bit to be at the wheel. It's hard to learn to drive without access to a vehicle to practice with. Rentals won't allow it, and I wouldn't impose that on my closest friends.

3. Whenever I rent, I throw a bike carrier on the back (like this, but for three bikes), and it often leaves some little scratch or indent, and I stress out about it for the entire trip. Before returning cars, I've sometimes had a buddy take a piece of wood and a hammer to tap the dents back out. It made it more tolerable when a slimy rental guy charged me for a dent I definitely didn't make when I used a car for a brief trip sans bikes. I figure that's just karma. I wrap the entire carrier in towels and sponges, and put socks on the pedals, but there's no great way to install one without a trailer hitch. With my new car, I pretty much immediately made an indent on the tailgate thingy, so I don't have to worry about that anymore!

A neighbour who was also scammed by the same slimy dealer considered buying a car together with me, but that started sounding complicated. It makes a whole lot of sense for neighbourhoods to share vehicles, but so many just want their own. And, with four of us using the car on my end alone, sharing with another family would be difficult.

So it's done. And now I'm dealing with a bit of buyer's remorse.

The car is really, really small. We all went up to a cottage, and it barely fit one bag each. Then a camping trip was a feat for a Tetris master, with the cooler just barely making the cut. I almost got a slightly larger car, but it was shiny orange, and it felt a bit ostentatious buying something so bright. That's the mennonite in me talking.

And the hills! I'm used to driving almost brand new cars when I rent, and the crappiest of them can easily overtake tractors with minimal extra pressure on the pedals. I never think twice about passing. This baby can barely make it up the hills once you get north enough that the roads run through blasted rock. I'm not used to being that annoying person everyone is desperately trying to pass, but 80 is a bit of a struggle sometimes. Sorry everybody. It helps to laugh at myself by listening to John Mulaney's bit about driving:
"If you're ever on the highway behind me, I hear you honking, and I also don't want to be doing what I'm doing."
Driving a piece of crap is reminiscent of driving my first boyfriend's car: a Chevette with 300,000 km on it. Whenever it hit 60, the entire car would shake. I was always pretty sure one of the doors would fall off from the vibrations. It was low to the ground, like my car, so it always felt securely on the road, and you could take the corners crazy fast, but I worried about breaking through the floor like Fred Flintstone. I drove it on its final trip: a block from home, the brakes completely failed, and my bf had cut the emergency brakes the last time he replaced the brake pads (They were in the way!!), and it was just a magical stroke of luck that the lights changed just in time for me to be able to turn left at the bottom of a hill and coast my way home in one piece.

But it's great on gas. Muskokas and back for $40.

I figured if I could drive it for five years, that would be about the cost of renting each year, but I forget insurance. Insurance alone is about the cost of all my rentals and taxis and bus rides. So it definitely won't save me any money. It's just saving me the time and trouble of booking a car, trudging to the rental place and filling in the forms to get the car, and having to bring it back later. And sometimes there isn't a car available. Rarely, but it does happen. Yes, of course I've looked into car sharing, but it costs more than renting and isn't significantly more convenient.

So now I feel a bit like a traitor to the movement. I let convenience tip the scales away from concern for my GHG production. But, really, I'm not driving more (hopefully), I'm just driving an extra car that wasn't in circulation previously. Philosopher Luke Elson, in The Conversation, recently concluded that buying carbon offsets makes air travel a moral option, and his argument could be extrapolated to work for cars as well, except I don't really agree with it. He takes a consequentialist stance banking on offsets actually having a 1:1 exchange, which is a thin premise creating a shaky foundation. Even if it were the case that we could pay someone to plant a tree whenever we drive and the GHGs produced would be fully subtracted again by the tree growth or some other fix, it's still adding GHGs to the total. Morally, it's clearly better to avoid adding those GHGs to the atmosphere AND to pay for some trees instead of paying money for a flight or a car or an air conditioner or a steak dinner. We need to get into the negatives when it comes to GHG production. There's no time for bargaining on this one.

If we all run on Elson's moral code, then we'll keep burning fossil fuels and just trying to plant trees faster than they can burn to the ground. The overriding problem with consequentialist ethics is that we can never guess the future with accuracy. For this issue, we have to err on the side of contributing less GHGs, rather than being hopeful that subtracting them might work.

There's no moral way to justify convenience of my family over the survival of our species.

But now I'm one of the normals. I was invited to a far away cottage this summer, and the owner gave me a convoluted route to take to get to there including trains and several busses, rather than the obvious choice of carpooling with another guest. Many people just can't get their head around how to live without a car. They aren't intuitively aware of all the other options, like getting rides from friends, and borrowing vehicles, and they don't recognize how far they can actually comfortably walk and bike, or how cheap it can be to take cabs and use rentals. I'm thankful my family made it this far so we've got the knowhow that makes alternatives obvious and second nature.

I still plan to bus when I go into Toronto. It's just over $10 if I book it online ahead of time, which is cheaper than parking downtown, and I can read on the way instead of stressing out on the 401.

And today I biked 7 k to MEC for my very first life jacket for my next trip. Look at me, buying all my own stuff instead of renting and borrowing like I have for five decades, starting with all my sib's hand-me-downs! To too many people, my life looked like I was cheap, or worse (because of inherent prejudices), a "poverty case." Nobody congratulated me on going without for so long. Nobody encourages others to borrow instead of buying - well, nobody in my circle. That's a paradigm shift that's got to budge soon.


8 comments:

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm of that generation for whom Kia, K-I-A, meant "killed in action." When Kia came to the market I swore that I would never, but not ever, think of buying that brand.

Marie Snyder said...

But we typically spelled out K.I.A. and M.I.A., rather than saying kia and mia as words. The Kia Soul must be particularly offensive despite the roomy interior. I googled the Korean translation, and it means "to come out of the east," which actually fits with K.I.A.'s connotation in that "go west" is a euphemism for dying. The only brand I avoided is Ford, not because it might remind me of the premier, but because I've always heard that was an acronym for "found on road dead."

Owen Gray said...

Now you'll have to take it in at regular -- or irregular -- intervals for maintenance, Marie. May those intervals all be regular.

The Mound of Sound said...


I knew a woman who for many years owned a Fiat, a name she claimed stood for "fix it again, Tony."

What I don't get, Marie, is that you've got four people and you chose a car the size of a grocery store cart. I imagine it can get pretty crowded if you're off for a road trip.

Relief is on the way. B.C. is exploring whether to join Holland, Germany, India, Scotland, the UK and France in banning the sale of gas engine vehicles by 2040. There are plenty of knowledgeable types who believe we'll all transition to electric well before 2040. That makes a bargain car a smart buy while this all sorts itself out.

Marie Snyder said...

We're only ever in the car together for that one cottage trip each year. The rest of the time, it's just two of us at most, and while I'm shopping around for land up north, it will just be me driving back and forth.

2040 seems too far away. I'll be 75 by then!! There's getting to be a good variety of choices available; now if they could only bring the price down a bit!

Marie Snyder said...

@ Owen - I haven't quite figured that bit out yet, but I think I have a few months before I have to find an honest mechanic.

Dustin Vinland Jarl said...

Marie, I think it is very admirable that you are taking steps in your own personal life to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.

When my car wears out I do plan to buy an electric car. They are a bit expensive but I think it will be worth it to buy, even if I have to "tighten my belt" to be able to buy it.

What are your thoughts on nuclear power? Some people don't like it because of the risk of meltdown, but I've always liked it because really fossil fuel sources like coal have caused far more deaths because of diseases like lung cancer because of fossil fuel emissions than all the meltdowns combined even when including Chernobyl.

Marie Snyder said...

I think nuclear power is better than coal, but I think even better is to use solar, wind, and tidal power, and to reduce our need for products that produce GHGs: energy, transportation, eating beef.... I say more here.