Saturday, July 26, 2008

Can a Used Car be Greener than a New Hybrid?

Some look at the numbers and say "Yes!" (Wired) Others see the numbers adding up in favor for the hybrid and say the Prius is your best long-term energy saver. (Slate) The best thing going in this discussion is that people are genuinely looking at creative alternatives to the norm. Both articles mentioned present good arguments. The Slate article is basing numbers on keeping your car for 11.5 years. They propose that a well-made car should last 15 years. Most people don't keep their cars 11.5 years. The norm is about five years. Based on keeping your car five years, a used car will probably use less energy than a new hybrid considering the premium cost of producing the hybrid. You have to purchase an efficient used car to make this work and you have to keep it five years. If you could manage to keep your used car 11.5 years, then, Slate says, the Prius wins out. I bought my current car because my previous car, which I purchased used, was totaled in a wreck. It was two years old. I kept it for six years. I was intending to pass it on to my daughter when I purchased a new car so losing it in the accident stung. Now my car is that magic age of five. It's a Camry and gets 30.5 miles per gallon over all. It is very tempting to purchase a shiny new car with all the new bells and whistles you get these days. However it is priceless having NO car payments. I got the windows tinted last month. This has helped the cooling efficiency tremendously which should hopefully also impact fuel usage at least a bit. My rule of thumb has been to keep the old car as long as the maintenance is less than a monthly car payment. The revised rule of thumb has to also take into account the cost of fueling up at $4 plus a gallon. If the cost of fuel and maintenance is more than the new car payment considering fuel savings, then time to buy. When considering whether to buy used vs. new, I divide the cost of each vehicle over the number of years I would be likely to keep the car. I have found that for a long term hold, new seems to win out on year-to-year cost. One point in favor of buying a new energy efficient car such as the Prius is that the emissions are much cleaner than a non-hybrid new or used. My 2003 Camry runs pretty clean, but if you were to purchase an older fuel efficient car, you might consider the emissions. The consideration for keeping your car as long as possible along with having no car payments is that when you purchase your next car, the longer you wait, the more efficient car you should be able to get. I am counting on getting a total electric car about five years from now that will knock the socks off of any Prius I could purchase today. But then, you could always buy a used Prius. Wonder what that does to the numbers? I have to admit, I have been coveting the pretty green Prius I have been seeing on the road...and you can get it used for a bit less than the new '08 versions! This is the pretty baby I have been wanting! Compared to the 2008 Prius, the used '07 is a couple thousand less, but not with all the bells and whistles I put on the '08. After I pay to transfer the used Prius, that brings me a step closer to the new price. There is a discrepancy in the MPG's claimed by the used vs. new. The used claims 60/51 where the new states 48/45. In the end, I would probably buy new again. You have to figure that there will still be a market for a good used Prius in 4 - 5 years if the new technology tempts me to buy again then. My current car would cost me about $15,000 - $17,000 if I bought it at Carmax today. Here's a comparable version except that I have a sport package with rear-spoiler and leather seats. Let's see, a trade-in value of say, $12,000 against a $29,000 car...payments might be around $350. Not bad...however I have no payments now. Maybe I can talk them up to $15,000 and down to $27,000??? Payments of $275 - $300 a month? Ah, so much for day-dreams, I will stick with my faithful Camry with no car payment for a few more years.

Buzz it up


Anonymous said...

The chief limitation for a totally electric car is that it takes a long time to charge up the batteries.

Case in point: The all-electric Tesla Roadster that is available now can go 200+ miles on a single charge. But once you drain the batteries, you need to plug it in for at least 3.5 hours to fully charge it up again.

If you are in a hurry and had to get to somewhere on-time, you can't afford to wait 3.5 hours for your battery to charge.

For that reason I think plug-in hybrids like the 3rd-Generation Prius will be the best solution-- You can either plug it in to charge when you have the time to (such as overnight), or you can run it on gasoline when you can't afford to sit around to wait the batts to charge.

Anyway, I don't think buying used cars is a universally acceptable solution for everyone. Some people like me have been burned in the past buying someone else's lemon. People like me insist on buying new cars because you can be 99% sure it's a problem-free car. If one needs to buy a new car, I don't see a problem in spending the money on a fuel-efficient hybrid.

Joy said...

Your points are well taken. But who would have thought that we would have a total electric car that could go from 0 - 60 in just 3.9 seconds which would also go 220 miles per charge?

The Tesla isn't your daddy's electric car. :) It's a beauty and will be the envy of any driver on the road. Take a look.

But the reason I wouldn't buy a Tesla now are two fold. Cost, and well cost. The range of 220 miles makes it a great in-town car since I drive about 200 miles each week going to work and back. With the ability to charge it over night, I would virtually never have to worry. Unless...say I want to drive out of town to see my mom which is 300 miles away. I guess I might have to take a long lunch to recharge if I could find a place to hook up. I wouldn't spend what a Tesla would cost me for a car that can only be used in town.

My car (the '03 Camry) is currently the best "used car" on the market for me. It gets relatively good gas mileage and is extremely reliable. And since I know exactly the type of care it has gotten I have no worries. I agree with you that buying a new car, if you keep it for the long term is your safest bet. I just hope that your new car is an energy efficient one.

If you and I say that in the general terms, meaning the general public, would happen to have a big fat Explorer or H2, and you want to scale down but just want a good car to hold you over until the technology gets to where you want it to be in performance, efficiency and practicality, then buying a certified used car which has a warranty (you may pay extra for an extended warranty)would probably make sense -- if you are just planning to keep it 3 - 5 years. When I bought my car I considered buying used, but I computed the cost of use over 10 years. A new car just plain costs you less over 10 years of use.

However, if you want a really good car that you can keep for 10 - 15 years, then by all means, get the fuel-efficient hybrid now. When I bought my Camry over five years ago there were still concerns about hybrid car batteries dieing after three years and having to dole out thousands of dollars to replace them. So I decided to buy the Camry which I am very happy with. Looking back, I wish I had bought a Corolla instead for the edge on fuel efficiency, but my children were still at home at the time and it seemed to make sense to go for a bit more room.

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