The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

RIP, Little Blue

Ford FestivaMy darling little blue Festiva, the first and only car I've ever owned, kicked the bucket.  (Her sister is pictured here.)  Our very competent and cheap mechanic explained that when the timing belt broke, it knocked a bunch of things apart in there, and that it would cost $500 to fix it.  My gut reaction was, "I don't care!  Fix her!"  But after crunching the numbers, I'm afraid we're going to let her go.

I estimate that we drive around $10,000 miles per year, and when I started crunching the numbers, I realized that 75% of that time, we're hauling supplies and have to use the truck or the van.  Another 20% of the time, Mark's driving on long trips and doesn't feel like cramming his tall frame into a clown car, so it's only the 5% of the time I drive by myself that we were using the Festiva.  Her selling point is her great gas mileage (over 40 miles to the gallon), but at current gas prices and driving methods, it would take 50 more years driving her to make it worthwhile to fix the Festiva.

Farm truckSo I went on to consider a couple of other options.  The truck and the van fit a similar niche since we've taken the back seats out of the van and use that area for hauling supplies.  If we sold the van (estimated value $500) and bought a good gas mileage car to replace the Festiva, making sure we choose one that's big enough to fit Mark's long legs (estimated cost $2,000), then we could probably use the lower mileage vehicle 25% of the time.  At current gas prices, that would save us around $400 per year, which means the switch would be worthwhile in around 4 years.  On the other hand, you have to factor in a major hassle value for selling the van and buying a used car, and the possibility that we'd get a lemon.

The final option would be to stick with the van and truck and just admit that we're not the kind of family where it makes sense to have a gas efficient vehicle.  We don't commute, we don't drive separately (because I hate to drive), and we're often hauling big masses of compost or mulch or chicken waterer supplies that won't fit in a passenger car.  In that case the question remains --- what do we do with the Festiva?  Mark rolled his eyes when I suggested hauling her home to use as parts for the parts Festiva (and as a solar dryer.)

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Cost you $200 bucks to have Larry put the engine from the red into the blue. Where did it break down?
Comment by Errol Hess Mon Jan 24 09:20:39 2011
I considered the Larry option, but the truth is that our mechanic only barely charges more than Larry on other jobs. Mark estimates that Larry would still have to charge us around $400.
Comment by anna Mon Jan 24 11:35:50 2011
There's also donating it to a charity that can either use it as a running car or sell it off for parts & scrap, and you get the tax deduction (which might be as much as or more than what you could sell the car as a whole for).
Comment by Bladerunner Mon Jan 24 13:37:12 2011

A timing belt is one of those things you should have replaced at the precribed intervals, just because the repair can be so costly. With a bit of bad luck you get a valve hitting a piston.

In some cars you even have to take the engine out to get at the timing belt. :-/

If you do get another car, think about e.g. an older mercedes diesel (with a mechanical injection pump). Those cars are quite sturdy, and can run up hundreds of thousands of miles. And unlike some modern diesels, those oldies are relatively easy to run on straight vegetable oil or recycled frying oil if you'd like.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 24 14:14:45 2011

Bladerunner --- I always assumed your car had to actually be running to donate to those charities?

Roland --- Mark told me that we should have gotten the belt changed, but that it's often so expensive that people usually wait until they break. Of course, the car had nearly 300,000 miles on it, so it was only a matter of time until something really bad happened to her and made her not worth fixing.

Comment by anna Mon Jan 24 14:25:04 2011
Actually my first reaction when I read your post was like "why do you even have more than one car?".
Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 24 14:44:21 2011
The real reason is that Mark and I each brought a car to the relationship and neither one was willing to give up our beloved vehicle. :-) But it also made sense since both vehicles are around 20 years old and break down a lot, so it's good to have something to drive while the other one is in the shop. Since we live so far from anywhere, it also makes sense to have a vehicle if someone's left alone on the farm and needs to get somewhere for an emergency --- we certainly can't count on an ambulance out here, and we could walk the mile to the closest neighbor's house only to realize they're not home and we have to keep walking....
Comment by anna Mon Jan 24 15:05:32 2011

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