This is a guest post by the fabulous Moriah Chace who writes over at Our Table 4 Two. Check out her site! And if you’re in need, she is a fantastic personal finance freelance writer.
We have always tried to be a one car family. It’s better for the environment because it keeps our carbon footprint down. During our year living in California, we set up our life so that most everything except for my job was within walking or biking range. It was glorious, and if you and your family are able to do this, I highly recommend it. It’s great for the environment, and it makes for some exciting weekends biking around town. I love the memories that we made having to get creative with our transportation.
However, when we moved from California to Texas, we quickly noticed that one car was not going to be enough. I got a job about 30 minutes away from our house, and my husband was going to interviews consistently. When he finally got a job, his hours were such that biking wouldn’t be safe. So we needed a second car. To hold us over, my brother helped peddle us around, but that wasn’t going to be a sustainable solution. But at least we had time to shop around for a car.
Of course, the best car for the environment would be an electric vehicle, or at least a hybrid car. And I really, really wanted to try and spring for one. However, those are expensive, and we weren’t in a position to buy a fancy car. We even considered taking out a car note, but since we’re also trying to buy property by the end of the year, taking out debt for an environmentally friendly car And let me tell you, it killed me to make that decision.
Instead, we set a budget of $2,000 and started looking for a decent used car. If we couldn’t buy what’s best for the environment, we’d do the next best and find a used, high mpg car.
Finding a used car is tricky. You want to make sure that you’re taking the proper precautions so that you don’t find a lemon. This is especially important when you have a small budget like we do.
Since I’ve only bought one other car in my life, a used SMART car for $3,000 at a dealership, I decided to chat with some of my friends to give me their take on buying used cars.
The basic principles are to always buy an unpopular model from a private party, not a dealership, and get a pre-purchase inspection before you buy. Dashboard Light is a solid site because you can check out the specs on the vehicle before you buy.
I found three cars that I wanted to consider. A Subaru Outback for $1,800, Toyota Prius for $2,200, and a Toyota Tercel for $1,100.
Outbacks are decent cars. However, their parts are expensive so maintenance can be a bear. I went and looked at the car, but I didn’t love it enough to drop money. Plus, the gas mileage isn’t great. So I passed.
While I really wanted to, the Prius I decided not to look at all. It had some red flags. It was low mileage (~150k, so not super low mileage, but a well maintained Prius can last for over 300k) and low priced for a car as popular as a Prius. I decided it was too good to be true and moved on.
The moment I saw the Tercel, I have to be honest, I fell in love. We took it for a test drive. And it hit all my boxes. It’s a small enough car that I feel I can see everything without a lot of blind spots. It’s a stick shift.
But it didn’t come without some problems. The back tail lights didn’t work and it had a slight oil leak. The pre-purchase inspection showed $1500 of work that needed to be done including parts and labor. Thankfully, a lot of it was things I already knew how to do. Like replacing brakes and rotors.
So, we decided, problems and all, to purchase the car. But knowing all the problems it had, we were able to negotiate from $1,100 to $850. And I’ve never been happier.
The car gets almost 30 mpg, and I only have to fill up my tank once every other week or so. And since gas is so cheap in Texas, we spend about $30 a month on gas for my car.
While buying a used car wasn’t my first choice. Three months later, we’re still very happy with our purchase.
Sometimes the most ecofrugal choice isn’t the most accessible one. But it’s important that we still make the best choice we can with the means we’re given. While I would adore to own an electric car, my old little clunker from 1992 was the best second place decision I’ve made.
Ecofrugality isn’t doing all the best things all at once. It’s about slowly making choices that shape your life into a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. A bunch of little choices will add up to shape a much larger, impactful life.
And that’s what I have to remind myself when I’m feeling down about my less than perfect, but still better than nothing, choices.
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