Fuel-efficient cars – not that big of a deal if you’re even close to 30mpg

So my wife and I have been looking for a more fuel efficient car.  She has taken a nursing job which will require her to drive about 150 miles one-way twice a week (and stay at location for 3-4 days).  Our current car, a 2005 Mazda 3s, gets an almost constant 27mpg per tank (note that current 3’s get slightly better mileage – the first generation 5-door 3s came only with a 4 speed automatic and the bigger 2.3 liter engine).  It’s shockingly consistent, actually.  But with cars out there that can get anywhere from 45-55mpg according to some reports, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at them considering the cost of gas (about $4.00/gallon for regular right now in this part of CA, though that’s new – it was $4.50 like 3 weeks ago).

The results of our research are actually quite interesting.  It turns out that if you’re current car gets anywhere near 30mpg and you don’t have a huge down-payment ready, you’re not going to save nearly enough.

First, we looked at hybrids.  The Prius came to mind, of course.  However, aside from the new EPA down-rating of their mileage figures (which still gives a nice 45mpg on the freeway), the issue is that with all that freeway driving the gas motor will be worn out faster than usual.  It’s designed to give the electric motor a boost.  And unless my wife sets it on cruise and never runs into a hill, she’ll be asking a bit more of the gas engine than it’s designed for over the course of the car’s life.  Plus, they are going for ridiculous prices right now.  5-year old models for almost current sticker (and ones that are less are usually salvage title).  6 month wait on a new one.  Crazy.  I believe dealers are marking them up, too, which just plain pisses me off.

Then, we looked at efficient gas cars.  The Mini Cooper has come up, and my wife loves convertibles so that’s a great option, too.  32mpg on the freeway, which would seem to be a solid cushion above the Mazda.  The problem is that they aren’t that cheap to begin with, there is a long wait as well for a new one, and dealers are marking them up about $4000 on a regular basis.  The used market isn’t terrible in terms of price for model, except that almost all the models are tricked out so it’s a good deal on a model and trim that was pricey to begin with.  Plus it’s a private owner and that’s dicier.  Interestingly, the Mini/BMW Certified Used program offers a really crappy warranty.   I was surprised by that.  Oh, and the Mini takes premium gas which cuts into its actual savings.

Now I’m looking at the new VW Jetta TDI turbo diesel.  Previous generation TDi’s have reported 65+ mpg on the freeway, and an average of about 50mpg overall.  Yes, diesel is more expensive, but 1) that’s a HUGE mpg difference and 2) probably because of how expensive gas is here, the differential between regular and diesel isn’t that big.  I could get a used, certified one but again the warranty isn’t terrific, and the Jetta, being a bigger car than the Golf and Beetle models that preceded it in the TDI line-up, is a lot more practical.  So new isn’t bad.  Also, the 2009 Jetta is the first diesel to meet California’s strictest guidelines.  And dealers around here aren’t marking up, though they aren’t holding cars or taking orders, either.  So it’s first-come, first-served.

However, after some Excel work, I discovered that since our Mazda gets close to 30 – and that is the magic number these days and we are not achieving it – none of these cars make sense unless I happen to have $25,000 lying around.  And if I did have $25,000 lying around, I’d probably get more in the long run by investing it (note ‘long-run’ – I am not unaware of our current economic situation).

Basically, a payment, even at an excellent 5.75% from my credit union, will run between $300-$400 with $3000 down at the various prices I’ve been utilizing, based on what I’ve found via research.  Even if the TDI gets close to the 44mpg that it’s reported to get initially (diesel engines take a while to break-in, and it’ll take a whole year to reach that range where we should get up to about 55mpg that some early sales folks have been able to get), we’re only saving about $80/month.  That’s not even putting a dent into monthly payment to get into the TDI. It’s a lot worse with the Mini – the savings per month are about $23.

So the only reason to get a new car is if my aging, beat-up, 16-year-old Cabriolet falls apart (which it might).  But that scenario means that I need a new or used car no matter what, in which case taking on a payment is perfectly fine with me.  But in terms of a direct replacement for the Mazda for the purpose of my wife’s long commute’  Nope.  Not worth it.

Interesting, no?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *