Friday, February 6, 2009

On the providence of car-trouble

It’s been a long time coming. My wife and I bought a used Pontiac Aztek years ago. We needed something to get me to and from the office, and it had to be a suitable weekend ride for our rambunctious basenji hounds. The vehicle fit our need and our young married-couple budget. From the beginning, the vehicle’s fuel economy didn’t set well with me. But, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and we weren’t the first owners, so I felt good about reusing an existing vehicle.
Alas, dear Aztek is about to join the departed. After this problem with the air conditioning a couple of years ago, that problem with the alternator last year, and a recent bout of overheating on a weekend trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains that ultimately resulted in a blown main gasket, it just doesn’t make sense to get it fixed.
With one of our two cars on its way out, I started considering my options: Hybrids, small conventional cars, and fuel-efficient diesel cars. I was wearing the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” blinders.
What I realized later the same day that I started researching new cars is that my family doesn’t actually need two cars. Our home is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, several parks and playgrounds, a library, and a movie theater. Moreover, we walk past (or through) a Metro station on the way to these places, where we can catch Metrorail, Amtrak, and MARC trains and Metro and Ride-on buses. And, we can pick-up a Zipcar there.
On the latter option, I find myself playing the proverbial kind in the candy store. For those unfamiliar with this grand idea, Zipcar is an updated take on renting cars. It’s also an Internet-age version of the WWII institution of car-sharing clubs, which began to help communities to conserve fuel. With a conventional rental car one goes to a rental office, fills out a bunch of forms, and gets the car for a daily rate. With Zipcar, the driver signs up for an account (once) online, and from the web can reserve a car at an hourly or daily rate. Zipcars are available all over the place- places like Metro stations, shopping centers, town centers, &c.
The benefits to the economy of my household and to the environment are several. First, I’m not adopting a car payment for a vehicle that will mostly sit in my driveway. Nor am I paying to maintain or insure said sedentary vehicle. Instead, I’m paying a comparatively miniscule amount to effectively own a tiny share of a car (a fleet of cars, really) with a large group of people. This allows me to have a second car on the rare occasion that I need one, but I'm not saddled with its expenses when I don’t.
The environment wins, too. Again, I will share a car with other people. The significant amount of energy and raw materials that go into producing the vehicle are spread out across a group. Most of the Zipcars are also small, fuel-efficient cars, with a goodly number of hybrids among them. And since the performance of the vehicles factors into their profitability, the company has a vested interest in keeping them well-tuned.
So, my wife and I are interpreting the end of our car as a blessing. Rather than complaining about environmental problems and going on with business as usual, we’re taking this opportunity to go from two cars to one. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Image sources:
National Archives and Records Administration. ARC Identifier: 516143


Pat Jenkins said...

on a side note i HATE car buying so all the time renting might not be a bad idea!! but i had never heard of this erd. if you decide to take this on make sure you keep us abreast of the feasibilty of it.. i would like to know!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Thanks for stopping by. I plan to get a Zipcar account within the next couple of weeks. Once I've had a chance to actually make use of the service and form some opinions, I'll definitely post about it.

Sue said...

What a great idea; I'd heard of the practice in some small college/university towns but was unaware that any major urban areas had developed programs. That makes something else to add to our list of desirable amenities for a community to move to in retirement!