August 9, 2007

car {s}hop

we have been a one car family for 2 years now. we always planned on getting a second vehicle. this is l.a. after all and everyone drives. everywhere. but we found that d could manage with a combo of biking and taking public transit to work. it added an extra half hour or so onto his commute, but he found he was was less stressed, and in better physical shape too. we have been lucky to have an extra car (thanks friends and family!) at our disposal through all this - "just in case" - and it has come in handy when something has come up where i can't pick up the kids in our usual way. a kind of car-share that has worked will in a pinch.

but we are looking now for a second of our own. i think the ideal would be something very fuel efficient with a low carbon footprint. of course. and a camper/van. to ease our weekend getaways and our yearly trip up the coast to canada. and it could also serve as our "just in case" vehicle.

where to look? and how do i decide? oh i do like those hybrids you see all over the place (sam, leslie, you do love yours, don't you? and they are comfy for family outings?). but i keep thinking straight vegetalbe oil (svo), and ultimately waste vegetable oil (wvo), may be the way for us to go. i worry about the impact of the demand for palm oil that biodiesel may cause. of course inroads into pond scum fueling my car sound interesting. and the idea of a used vehicle appeals to me. (converting an older diesel to wvo and practicing the 3 R's as much as possible.) but we do need one reliable vehicle. (again - this is l.a...) we certainly are not waiting for ford and gm's much touted corn ethanol fueled vehicles. (you can read more about "why corn ethanol isn't the answer" here.) i have checked out the top 10 green cars (unfortunately for the uk and many models not available here - but it gives me some ideas.)

i don't like car shopping at the best of times - hence our 2 yr lack of a second vehicle - and all these additional issues begin to overwhelm me - as you can see. oh yes, and of course we are trying to do this on a budget.

so i turned to my "go to girl", and friend alegre, of Green and Greener. she told me:

"From an environmental stand point I’m torn. While I haven’t found CO2 info about burning used veggie oil, I agree that it’s always better for something to get used two or more times before it enters the waste stream. However, I also believe that lowering CO2 emissions is the SINGLE MOST IMPORANT thing we can do right now because of the urgency of global warming. So I’d recommend getting a PRIUS, having it modified to be a full-plug-in (find info here) and then make sure that you are signed up for GREEN POWER with DWP (if you don’t have solar panels) so that the energy you are getting is CO2 emission free."

so there you are. we are looking and thinking and wondering if, as more hybrids come on the market the price will beging to decrease. (perhaps i will still be blogging about this in another two years!)

in the meantime, i have purchased a terrapass for our minivan.

i would love your feedback on this.

wanted: earth-friendly, reliable set of vehicles for family of four. must be willing to commute during the week, enjoy short drives to the beach, and weekends in the mountains as well as yearly drives to the great white north.

any ideas?


Anonymous said...

We just bought an 07 Prius in Jan. We are a family of 4 and LOVE it. My husband calls it a computer on wheels. We live in a very hilly area and get about 57 mpg. I do coast alot when no one is following, to up my gas milege. I find the cars mpg gauge is not right on. So when I fill it, I always compute it for myself. I do get better mileage by not using the AC and limit the heater in winter. The only thing I have have a problem with is the thick windshield frame on the sides. I always have to look around it, it maybe because I'm short. BTW just started reading you blog and Love it. Thanks so much!!! Dawn

Julia said...

we bought a 1983 mercedes diesel station wagon a little over a year ago. it was already being run on biodiesel (which requires little modifications anyways), so we didn't have to do a thing. it's super reliable, safe, and can fit a lot people or stuff. and i know there's tons of them in california (we bought ours in berkeley). biodiesel is certainly not as carbon neutral as svo or wvo, but i still think it's a pretty good deal. despite the eco-friendliness of the car, we still bike/walk/carpool as much as possible. ultimately, we'd love to make our own biodiesel from wvo or just go straight wvo. (when we're not renters and can make a mess of our garage if we want to).

it's a tough choice. i personally think that there's no single solution to this predicament--that the solution will be a lot of alternatives. if you have more questions about mercedes/biodiesel/etc. i'm happy to help (although i'm certainly no expert.)

Greet said...

Have you heard about state governments cracking down on untaxed fuels, like homecooked biodiesel? I hate the thought, but understand why.

lisa s said...

oh tracy. such such good info. THANK YOU

BunkleLife said...

Argh. Tough one. I'm a big fan of the Prius (and if it had been in my budget a few years ago would have gone that way instead of my Corolla - but at nearly twice the price, it wasn't in the cards)& though the conversion to full plug-in doesn't sound all that accessible at the moment maybe it is future possibility. They are certainly reliable - not sure if it is the case down there, but they are now a very common choice for taxis up here.
I'm lucky - transit is convenient & still my main mode of transportation (which is why my 5 year old car has 27,000KM on it...which sometimes makes me wonder why I have/need it... ;-).

Good luck!

G&G said...

Another option for two car families if one of you only drives locally is a ZENN car. They can't be driven on highways because top speed is 25 - 40 miles per hour depending on the model. There is a dealership in Glendale ( since their cars are full plug-ins they are ZERO emissions if you have solar or wind generated electricity. They are also very affordable. The deluxe package for their car is about $16K.

posiepatchwork said...

What a lovely blog you have here, greetings from Darwin Australia (right up the top, centre, tropics). My husband is a soldier (read: not as green as his uniform) so i do my best to stamp out his imbalance by walking or riding bikes to get our 4 children to school & drive as little as possible. We have one big 4WD as the family car, which is hardly used, & soldier boy uses a tiny little hatch back - he's manly enough not to care. I work from home, goodness that helps.

Loved your blog about trains, we are 4500km from our nearest big city, so we only JUST got a train track functioning again about 3 years ago, with trains twice a week - yes, into the whole state of the Northern Territory/ entire middle of Austalia. It's not very populated. So it has been years since our children have seen a train & never caught one.

It is being green & we try really hard in Australia too. We live in Army housing so our hot water is solar, no excuse in our climate, where we are it's 30C+ every day, sunshine & happiness. We're in the middle of our Dry Season, so no rain for 6 months. Needless to say, we all use clothes lines to dry clothes.

Tally ho, love Posie

Samantha said...

I LOVE my Prius. If I ever get a new car, it will also be a Prius. I have a family of four. Two teenage boys, and it has worked out great for us.
My only complaint is that the gas mileage Toyoda claims the Prius gets is very exaggerated. I here next year, the 2008 Prius, will get even better gas mileage (like double the gas mileage of the 2007 Prius). So, it may be worth it to wait a few months.
I am sure those will be pretty popular.

Anonymous said...

Please stop driving. One car is more than enough. Be fortunate you are rich and have options. Take a bus, bike , walk, remain closer to home. Find new creative ways to enjoy your space. If you must vacation take a bus and rent a bike. Become active in your community to make it less car-dependent. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

green LA girl said...

But Tracy -- If going without a 2nd car's been such a success, why're you now gonna get a new one? Have some circumstances changed to necessitate a 2nd car?

I understand that sometimes a car purchase is really the only practical way for some people, but from all you wrote at the beginning of the post, it seems like a 2nd car's not really a necessity.... Did I miss a detail? Wondering why --

Also, what about Flexcar? Is one in your 'hood?

Ally said...

Hi, I'm new to your blog, and wouldn't usually leave a comment, but my husband and I just went through something similar to what you described...

We had decided on a Prius because we felt that reduction of CO2 emissions was our priority... BUT! We hadn't considered two things: the Prius battery needs to be replaced every few years. The toxicity and CO2 generated by the **creation and disposal** of a hugely expensive battery was very difficult to justify for us. Also, the CO2 emissions created during the process of building a new car was something else to keep in mind. We decided that reusing a car (especially in the US) was a huge factor in our decision making... (and we agreed on the importance of maintaining a lifestyle where we walked as much as possible, etc)

A car that runs efficiently for many miles was ultimately our choice.... his last Toyota truck ran well until it hit over 250K miles! Of course, we are still using gasoline...

It's a hard decision! Good luck to you!!!

stephanie said...

hi tracy,

i've been meaning to write to you about this, so i'll do it here!

first of all, i think we all need to be asking ourselves, "how can i be driving less?" we all have personal, professional, financial, geographical, and cultural limitations that weigh on that question, so the answer is different for everybody, but it's the first question to be asking. we become comfortable with what we can do, and then we ask ourselves *again* (and again).

we are currently a two-car family - one minivan to meet our traveling needs (we have chosen to live in a dense urban area because we could get around without a car most of the time - but the trade-off is that we do feel the need to get out into the wilderness as much as we reasonably can) and one bio-diesel car that my husband uses to see clients a few times a week (and is too unreliable/small for family travel). i did find that once we got two cars we drove more, even though our driving needs had not changed.

we've been reevaluating our situation and have decided to try to rid ourselves of both the minivan and the biodiesel car and get just one (used) station wagon (probably with a roof cargo for travel) that we can run on waste veggie oil (hopefully from our neighborhood thai restaurant) and commit ourselves to walking/biking/bussing as much as we can. problem is finding one...that may take a while.

i have to say that it always feels more positive to me to reuse something rather than purchase something newly manufactured (be it oil or a car).

good luck with your decision...xo.

glorious.girl said...

I would also second car sharing rather than buying another car. Flexcar is offered in the LA area.

I own a Prius (which has been an excellent car, but I have concerns about the disposal of the battery and sometimes wonder if it wouldn't have been more environmentally benign to have bought a used Corolla. I don't think I would ever buy a new car again and would really like to get to a place where I don't have to own any car whatsoever.

Good luck!

ms. pea said...

if the minivan suits well for out-of-town travel, i think a flexcar is the most carbon-neutral option for vehicle #2. that way you get to offset the manufacture of the thing, and it guards against the syndrome of driving more just because of having another car. thanks for the thought-provoking post, tracy!!

Tracy said...

thank you thank you thank you! (this is what i love most about being a part of sewgreen!) such good advice here. our decision to look for a second vehicle mainly surrounds our growing kids, and aging parents. and our need to sometimes be in more than one place at once. we do prefer to walk as much as we can. take public transit when it gets us where we need to go. (oh los angeles!) and we carpool when we can too. (this week i am the schoolbus for all the neighborhood kids attending a daycamp on my way to work.) i have looked into flex car and unfortunately they don't service the sfv at this time - but i have shot off a message asking if this is in the works for the near future. i hadn't thought about the prius battery issue. and many of you confirmed my thoughts on a used vehicle. we are not "rich". well, at least not monetarily. and our budget for this endeavour is a big part of our decision making process. again - thanks for the feedback!

Sarah said...

I too question the need for another car. On the rare occasions when you might need another vehicle, wouldn't it make more sense to rent or take a cab?

filambulle said...

I am sooo happy that we are able to live without car! With three children aged 6, 3 and 1 year! and two adults working part-time out of the house! Of course the great public transport system of the Switzerland helps a lot (long-life to it!).
we are using our feet (constantly), our bicycles (almost daily) the train (4 to 5 times a week) and the buses. Sometimes (maybe four times per year) we use a car from the car-sharing association we are life-subscribers to, and a bit more often, we borrow our friends or family cars.
Can you imagine? I don't even have a car license! We don't own a TV neither, which make us a kind of alien family for more "regular" people!
Anyway, I confess my life could be easier sometime with a licence and a car. But I love the train, it is way more enjoyable with and without children than the car. Of course it keeps me from "just going quickly to" shops, swimmingpool and so on... (which in the shop case may well be a blessing.) But I am so horrified by the place given to the cars in our countries, and the pollution it occurs that I do not regret our choices. At all.
Good luck with yours, anyway! ;-)
If we only could fly!!!

Mercedee said...

you gals are so amazing and so what we're looking for, but no where on your site can i find a contact email--thus my reason to intrude into your comments section. we're Made From Scrap, workshops for inventive recyclers, and we're looking for teachers. i guess you'd understand more if you checked us out at: We're located in San Francisco. Give us a shout!!

Tracy said...

thanks mercedee. i think most of us have email information on our profile page - but i make sure our sf peeps know you are looking for them! t

this single spark said...

Have you read this yet?

Anonymous said...