Over spring break my father and I took my 1994 BMW 325is to Rennsport, our favorite local mechanic in my home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had Rennsport put on some new Bilstein shocks, and replace about half a dozen less significant parts on my car, which now has over 213,000 miles on it. Most people would have bought a new car long ago, the idea being that a new car would get significantly better mileage, that it would be better for the environment, and that the overall experience would be better. For the most part this idea is false.
When most people think of the impact that cars have on the environment they only look at the impact in the present tense, that is they only think of the emissions of the car. However, the greatest environmental impact related to a car is it’s production and disposal. Cars take a great deal of materials to be built and there are many byproducts of both the production of the vehicle and the materials it is made of. Think of Rolls Royce, for example (an EXTREME example), who uses 17 to 18 bull hides for the leather in a single vehicle. That’s 18 bulls that have been bred, fed, and processed. Cars also use a lot of complex synthetic materials whose components can be toxic when handled or disposed of improperly. Metals that make up our cars are also mined and go through many processes (many of which involve dangerous toxic substances) before ending up as a shiny new car on a dealership’s showroom floor.
Unfortunately many Americans have this idea in their head that a car is simply worthless after an arbitrary number of miles. Say 100,000 miles, for example. This is the main fallacy that needs to be confronted in terms of how we regard cars in our country. In Europe it is quite normal to meet someone who owns a Renault or Mercedes that has been driven half a million miles and is on its second engine or transmission and they never stop bragging about it. They simply love their car. It’s like an elderly couple telling you that they’ve been married for fifty years. The key is to find a car you love and stick with it.
You might argue that it’s cheaper to buy a new car, particularly because a new car is more economical with its fuel consumption (certainly not much more efficient than anything else made in the last 30 years) or that it’s too expense to maintain used cars. While this is a lovely justification for purchasing a new car, it doesn’t hold much water. Say that you buy a new car that gets 30 miles per gallon over a used car that gets 20 miles per gallon, the payments (and the most likely higher insurance rates) on the new car will far exceed the savings of it being more fuel efficient than the used car. Furthermore, if you are the kind of person who just has to have a new car, you’ll probably move on to another car shortly after you finish paying off the new car.
Maintaining a used car is also significantly cheaper than buying a new car. Firstly because even new cars end up needing maintenance and even break down at times. My mother’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which she purchased new, had a major transmission repair before it even reached 50,000 miles, not to mention the fact that the brakes have had to be replaced about every 20,000 miles. While those particular problems may be specific to that model, every car has its issues.
Since buying my BMW for a mere $2,000 my father and I have probably spent another $4,000 replacing a slew of important parts that should allow the car to make it another 100,000 miles or so. Owning this car has also been a much better experience than I would have gotten if I had bought a new car. My father and I have done a lot of the work on the car ourselves and it was a great opportunity to spend time together.
As for the work we’ve had Rennsport do, I’ve heard of very few people receiving the same level of service that we’ve gotten by taking their car to a dealership. Many dealers are becoming less oriented towards servicing cars and more oriented towards selling news ones. Mechanics, on the other hand, almost exclusively service cars and therefore must give you a high level of service if they want to stay in business. When we took my car to Rennsport for the work I mentioned earlier they did the work in less than a day. They also gave us a list of other things that they suggested we fix next and discussed what they thought we could do ourselves, what we should probably have them do, and when we should have those tasks completed. They even offered to sell us a discounted copy of the same repair manual they use when working on my car. I remember the first time we took my car there and discovered that four of the car’s five previous owners had taken it there, and one of them was even a mechanic at the shop. They even printed out service records, for me, of everything they had ever done to my car.
Service like this is great for sustaining your car, your local economy, and for giving you a good experience with your car. For me, personally, it goes a long way toward boosting my faith in the humanity of the car industry, particularly after some repeated horrible experiences with the two car dealerships where my parents got their current cars.
So the next time you are in the market for a new car, stop and think about it. Ask yourself some questions. Do you really need a new car? Can you get a used one instead? Is there a cute little convertible, a big SUV, or a sporty hatchback that you’ve always wanted? Do a little research on the major things that go wrong with that particular car and what they cost to fix. Who knows? Maybe buying that sports car you’ve always wanted used can make it affordable and you’ll enjoy it just as much.
If you absolutely must buy a new car, you need to buy it with the understanding that to own a new car should be a long term relationship. And while you should factor things like good fuel economy, utility, and practicality into your decision, the most important factor should be how much you love your car. If you love the car that you buy, then you will take good care of it and it will last longer and you will have less impact not the environment in your lifetime . You wouldn’t get married to someone who you didn’t really like or get a pet that you don’t want so why would you buy a car that doesn’t make you happy? If you are one of those people who must have a new car, you could consider leasing (if that’s financially viable for you) or ,at the very least, make sure that the person you sell your car to when you’re done with it is someone who will love it.