Friday, 17 August 2012

Confounded by car culture

We got a new car. It's a bit of a digression from house building, but relevant to the larger narrative of conservation at the mercy of consumerism.

Our old car was one of the most environment friendly in the city, but not because of high efficiency or low emmission technology. It was twenty years old and did 7 or 8 km to the litre, which car dealers call 10 km to the litre. I'm not sure what that is miles per gallon, and I'm not sure of the units of fuel efficiency in the UK where people buy litres and drive miles.

We took it to get a shaken, the two-yearly test the car must go through to be allowed on the road, much of which seems to function as a tax on old cars, and an incentive to get a new one and keep the wheels of the motor industry turning. I was expecting this would cost around one hundred thousand yen, but after taking it to the garage they said it would probably be two or three. They spent a day or two looking at what needed to be done on it, and found a dodgy brake cable and a leaking fuel pump, as well as the erratic speedometer that goes up to 60 when you turn on the engine. We then had to decide whether to get a new car, or fork out for the shaken.

After looking at the cost of a new car and the cost of shaken, as well as house-related costs over the next year, we decided to go for the shaken. This would have lasted another two years over which time we could look for a new car. Also this would give us time to build a car port to put it under.

As we arrived at the garage with our decision, the guy rushed out to tell us that the problematic part was not available. Toyota had stopped making that fuel pump and they couldn't source any. I suspect if we had gone through a smaller garage they would have been able to get some pump to work on it, but the place we went to was part of a chain and bound by insurance policies to only fit parts from the original manufacturers. But we didn't have the time and energy to go around looking for another place, and the car is being scrapped. Cut down in its prime at the age of 20, only around 90,000 km on the clock. Or perhaps sense will intervene and someone will fix the pump and drive it into a new future. Another dawn rather than a sunset.

Another option was to do without a car, using taxis or rentacars when we need one. This would probably work out cheaper long term, after considering the price of the car, insurance, tax and shaken. It would certainly have been the cheapest option short-term. The garage would have charged us for scrapping the car, but included it in the price if we got a new one. This influenced our decision to get a new car, even though the saving in the grand scheme of things was tiny. It's ironic that false economies like this are keeping the economy going.

The main reason for deciding against going car-free was that this would probably be very limiting on our freedom and convenience. It's certainly possible in theory to get taxis and rentacars, but probably not in practice. I'm not sure whether this would really be a bad thing as freedom is a fluid and flexible concept. We went for luxury and convenience anyway.

While we were talking about new cars I asked about hybrids, and told them that I'd hoped the next car I got would be electric. They seemed to think that these are way off, although I'm not so sure. Apparently there are EVs with a 300 km range, but if you're driving them in the winter the range drops to about 100 km if you use the heater. Electric motors are more efficient than combustion engines, so they put out much less heat. A hundred km is barely enough to get to a ski resort and back, which is one of the things we'd use our car for. In fact the main reasons we have a car - going camping in the summer and skiing in the winter - are the most challenging types of journey for electrical vehicles. If we wanted to ride around town and go shopping, they would be perfect.

When I say a new car it's not brand new, just new to us. Four years old actually. Belonged to an elderly couple. It looks new.

The worst thing was that we'd just put new tyres on the old car. It had only done a hundred km on them. I asked them to give me back the tyres when we scrapped the car, so I could try to sell them. It turns out that when you scrap a car, it needs to have wheels on, so I took in the winter tyres, and asked them to change them, then give me back the summer tyres. This seemed OK, but in the process of changing the tyres and the guy I was dealing with taking the day off, my tyres vanished somewhere. He told me he could give us a discount when we go to buy winter tyres off them. I suppose we need winter tyres. Actually I wonder whether we really need summer tyres or whether we could use our studless winter tyres all year round. That's a whole other issue.

The insurance man came since and the premium has gone up by 1500 yen a month, just to give another tug on those suspicions that we made the wrong decision, and make me feel that everything that is happening is primarily to get more money flowing out of my pocket.

The best thing is the number plate. I hadn't really looked at it until we got home and my wife asked me whether I'd chosen it specially. I thought perhaps it was one of our birthdays. I looked at the number and it seemed a little familiar. It's our wedding anniversary!