Archive for the ‘cars’ Tag

Do Environmentalists Wash Their Cars At Home?   Leave a comment

According to most of the propaganda: no. And yet, weekend before last I was outside washing my car at home. In fact, I wash my car at home as often as I can. Eco-sin? No, I don’t think so.

Water conservation and pollution is the major reason that commercial car washes are touted as the more environmentally friendly option. Commercial car washes can filter and reuse water so that they use less water per wash than if you’re using potable water from you hose. A car does not need to be washed with potable (drinkable) water, and not doing so reduces the energy required to treat water to drinking water standards. Additionally, car wash waste water is discharged to the sewer where it goes to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment before discharge to whatever water body. The wastewater from a typical home car wash runs into the street into a storm drain where it discharges directly into whatever water body, without any treatment to remove oils, metals, or particulate matter. So from a water perspective the commercial car wash wins out compared to a typical home car wash.

But what if you don’t discharge into the storm drain at home? When I wash my car I pull it onto the lawn first. This way the lawn soaks up the waste water, preventing non-storm water discharge to the storm drain. The oils, soap, and any other organic compounds will biodegrade in the ground. Any heavy metals will not degrade, but I figure that the trace amount of heavy metals in the waste water is probably comparable to what deposits from the air (from exhaust and dust raised by cars in the street).

And what if  you really restrict water use? Some people use a bucket method: one bucket for soapy water, one for clean water, and that’s it. You could use rainwater or gray water to avoid the energy cost of potable water. Since I don’t have my rain barrels hooked up yet, in the winter I use the hose with a spray nozzle so that the water is off when I don’t specifically need it. In the summer I let the hose run, but I don’t run the sprinklers that weekend and consider the car wash to also be watering the lawn (a two-birds-one-stone approach).

In my mind there are other environmental benefits to a home car wash. I use a mild vegetable soap, while I assume that most car washes use a petroleum based soap. Inside the car I either wipe down with just a damp rag, or a damp rag with the same mild vegetable soap. For the windows I use the same vinegar/water/castile soap glass cleaner that I use everywhere else in the house, as opposed to a commercial ammonia-based cleaner with synthetic fragrances and additives. Personally, I could care less about shiny tires so I don’t clean the tires with anything at all.

As far as electricity use goes, I have no idea which method wins out, although I’d guess it’s a bit of a wash. The car wash may get a per-car reduction in electricity when multiple cars are going through the tunnel together, and they may spend less time with the vacuum on then I do. But the car wash also has to keep the lights on in the attached building, run the register and the inevitable popcorn maker, and run the blower to start drying the cars. I use a chamois cloth to absorb most of the water instead of a blower or lots of towels, and I don’t think that my regular home electricity use counts in this calculation.

On a completely different level I really like washing my car at home because of the increased awareness it grants me about my car. When you are washing your own car you really notice new dings, scratches, paint transfers, etc on the outside, and you can focus your cleaning inside on the things that you care about. And for those of us who personify our cars, talk to them, and generally have a relationship with them, bathing them personally feels like a thank you treat for the friend who so reliably transports me wherever I want to go.

Posted February 27, 2012 by mayakey in cleaning, energy use, environment, frugal living, water use

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A Prius Owner Happy To See The Yellow Stickers Go   Leave a comment

Those yellow stickers that have allowed hybrid owners to drive in the carpool lane in California expire at the end of this week. I for one am a hybrid owner who is not at all sad to see them go. At least my opposition to said stickers didn’t got as far as to get one and never put it on my car so that there would be one less stickered hybrid in the carpool lane. I’ve heard reports of people who did just that.

Those yellow stickers didn’t make any sense to me, and the green and white ones that are coming out for zero-emission vehicles and partial zero-emission/plug-in hybrids don’t make any sense to me either. The type of car has nothing to do with carpool lane, only the number of people in the car. Yes, hybrids and “zero” emission vehicles have fewer emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon dioxide, and toxic constituents of auto exhaust, but reducing emissions isn’t the only purpose of the carpool lane. Encouraging carpooling reduces the number of cars on the road, which means that there’s less wear on the road, less maintenance needed, and less idling in traffic jams and spewing wasted emissions for all the drivers on the road. Giving a specific type of car that gets marginally better gas mileage permission to continue to embrace the one-person-one-car mentality does nothing to benefit society. Maybe I’d feel differently if we were talking something that gets a decent gas mileage (like 100-200 mpg), but I doubt it. Admittedly, carpool lanes are an ineffective tacked-on “solution” for the problem of cities designed for cars not people, and it would be better to go for radical urban redesigns and a change in the social mentality that makes an hour or two commute acceptable. Here’s a pie and there’s the sky. I know.

Confession: I’ve never carpooled, I’m a one-person-one-car driver. It’s one of my major eco-sins. But I have yet to find an alternative that works for me since public transit is not practical, I’ve never lived near anyone else in my office, I use my car occasionally for work or run errands during lunch, and I don’t necessarily work a standard 8 hours every day.

Posted June 30, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, musings

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Looking Into Commuting By Bus   1 comment

The employee commuter survey that my company just put out served as a reminder that I wanted to try taking the bus to work from our new home. At our old house it was not possible. And now after a visit to the Sacramento Regional Transit website, I’m not sure it’ll ever happen at our new house either. Why do they even bother? Is public transportation in other cities in similarly bad shape?

Here’s my dream: Start the morning off with a nice quarter mile walk to the bus stop down the block. Have time to read or pray the rosary during a ride lasting not more than 25 minutes with not more than one transfer. Walk across the parking lot and into my office building. Repeat in reverse in the evening. This has been a dream of mine for about a decade now, since graduating from college. Back then, I had the best morning routine ever as I got dressed and ate breakfast at home and then prayed the rosary on my 10 minute walk to the bus stop and 10 minute bus trip to North Campus. Even during the cold Ann Arbor winters it felt so good for the soul to have that short (and brisk paced) morning walk. The reverse trip was a great decompressor, and offered quality “me” time without needing to resort to psychologically unproductive “veg in front of the TV” time.

OK. Now reality (based on the website, not personal experience).

The bus is EXPENSIVE! It’s $2.50 per trip, not including transfers. Since the route between my home and office requires at least one transfer, that’s a total of $10 per day at the basic single fare. The practical solution would be to purchase a daily pass for $6, and if I could ride the bus more than 16 days per month the $100 monthly pass would reduce the cost a bit more (down to around $3 day for a daily rider). But compare that with my current driving costs. A recent gas station receipt indicates that my fuel costs are $0.09/mile in the winter (the worst gas mileage season), so my 4 mile one-way commute costs me approximately $0.72/day for fuel only. Using the current federal auto reimbursement rate of $0.19/mile to account for maintenance as well brings the total cost of my commute to $1.52/day. (I don’t think the $0.51/mile business reimbursement rate applies since I pay registration and insurance whether or not I drive the car, but even at that rate it is $4.08/day). I’m not a mathematician, but $6 > $1.52! This may sound odd, but I don’t think I can AFFORD to take the bus to work.

This would be a rather stressful exercise consisting of watching the clock and standing, as opposed to sitting and reading. The bus that comes by my house runs ONCE AN HOUR and the bus that goes by my office runs twice an hour, so there’s no flexibility with time. According to the trip planner on the RT website the shortest possible commute time is 35 minutes if I bus to light rail (12 min), take light rail a couple stations (4 min wait, 4 min ride), and then bus to work (10 min wait, 5 min ride). If I just take the two buses it is 47 minutes, which consists of a 7 min ride, 30 min wait, and 10 min ride. Add walking time to and from the bus stops and my 10 minute driving commute turns into almost an hour-long transit commute.

Now I understand why the places that I’ve heard of having success with transit keep the fares super low, with lots of buses/shuttles/trains on frequent schedules, and restrict vehicle access from many areas (low fares x many riders equals more money than high fares x few riders). Those things have to happen first before people decide to use transit. Not the other way around. Transit is an essential part of healthy modern communities, but it has to make sense. Inconvenient expensive transit is just not going to gain ridership, and is therefore nothing but greenwashing for cities like Sacramento.

Posted February 3, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, frugal living

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Hybrid Owner Questions   Leave a comment

I was going to do a post on either composting or carpet recycling today, but I realized that my response to my husband’s uncle’s questions about hybrids would make a good post instead. (And since it took me almost an hour to write the email response, I ran out of time to write a separate blog post.)

We are a two-hybrid family. My husband is a “newbie” hybrid owner with his 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. I’m a veteran owner with my 2001 Toyota Prius. I was one of the experimental owners. I ordered my Prius in the first couple of months that Toyota started taking orders for them, so my baby is a 2001 model 1st generation Prius. She’s driven in Albuquerque, Bay Area, Sacramento area, and three times between Albuquerque and Bay Area/Sacramento, plus various other trips around California. Ooh, I just realized that today, 23 September 2010 is her 9 and a half anniversary! I’m so proud of my car (I should probably give her a car wash for her birthday).

My husband’s uncle will be teaching a class on hybrids this semester, and he emailed us some questions about our experiences with our cars:

1. Overall reliability, repairs, any nagging problems. Overall, she’s perfect. I’ve had no problems with the hybrid system. Really, I’ve had no major problems at all. I can tell that she’s not a new car any more, but I’d say she’s still running great for 9 and half years. There have been various recalls over the last decade, but they’ve all been taken care of and I never had any problems. I don’t notice reduced performance of the hybrid system, but I’m not sure that I would notice it until there was a noticeable decrease in gas mileage.

The only minor mechanical problem that I’ve had is related to long crank time in cold weather. Since the driver doesn’t crank the engine when turning the car on, there’s no way to know when the engine is having trouble turning over. When it is cold and the crank time is longer, the warning lights can come on. It first happened to me the first Thanksgiving that I had her, when she’d been sitting outside for a long weekend while I was out of town. When I got home it was below freezing and when I started her up, the warning lights came on. I panicked, spent the night at my mom’s instead of driving home, and carefully drove in to the dealer the next morning. They read the diagnostic code and told me that it was just the car telling me that the crank time was unusually long. Last winter after we were out of town for a long weekend while my car was outside, I started her up and the warning lights came on. I drove my errands like usual, figuring that she just needed to be warmed up, and sure enough the next morning the warning lights were gone.

2. Fuel economy as advertised. In the first year and a half that I had Hagan I averaged higher than advertised gas mileage. Since moving to CA, though, my lifetime gas mileage has decreased (I suspect it’s because of the ethanol), and I’m now only 47 mpg (advertised was 48). It’s depressing that recently my 3rd quartile gas mileage dropped below 50 mpg. That was a depressing month when I realized that. My inter-quartile range is approximately 43.5-49.75 mpg. Hagan has a high variability in gas mileage depending on weather. Mike’s car has demonstrated little to no temperature-related fluctuations in gas mileage over the last year and a half. In CA my gas mileage fluctuates about 10 mpg between winter and summer. In Albuquerque where the temperature range is greater (teens to 100s), the fluctuation was more like 15-20 mpg between summer and winter.

3. Performance with pedal to the metal as needed when passing or climbing hills. When I first got Hagan (spring 2001), I had been driving my family’s old 1986 Toyota Corolla. I felt like I had major power under the hood with Hagan. The old car couldn’t maintain 75 mph on the big hills on the freeway to my mom’s house, but Hagan could accelerate past 75 on those hills. I’ve never “taken her out to see what she can do” despite that being one of the questions I get the most as a hybrid owner. But when I need to accelerate on a hill or passing (or passing on a hill), she’s usually quite up for the job (although it is sometimes a bit noisy). I do experience some unpredictability in the amount of get up and go, though. I don’t think Mike has this issue with his newer hybrid, especially since it is an SUV. I figure it is because of the dynamic allocation of power draw between the engine and the motor based on the level of charge of the battery and the amount of power needed. Since the engine and the motor have very different horsepower and torque ratings, there is a noticeable difference in the response if the car is running more on motor or more on engine at a given moment. As a result, she does sometimes feel sluggish when I need to accelerate quickly, but it hasn’t been a problem for me. If I were an adrenaline-craving young man, however, it might not be enough.

4. Any high voltage battery problems covered under long term manufacurers warranty. I have had no problems with the high voltage battery either while I was under warranty (8 years), nor since. When I was approaching the 8 year mark I was getting really exciting about the prospect of converting my baby into a plug-in hybrid (I didn’t want to risk voiding the warranty). Unfortunately, Hagan’s 8 year anniversary was the same month we found out our former landlady was going to be foreclosed, and we decided that spending $2k to convert my car was not a wise move at the time. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future I can get a conversion kit, and then I’ll really be using/taxing the high voltage battery.

Posted September 23, 2010 by mayakey in energy use

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Buried in Debt   1 comment

Or at least that’s how I feel, especially after catching up on my frugal living blog reading and making a car payment today. And especially since we are FINALLY moving forward on buying a house now that the bank is done twiddling it’s thumbs and has approved the short sale.

I am, by nature, a saver and not a spender. I hate shopping and I don’t really like spending money. I need a very large savings cushion to feel comfortable, and large transactions make me very nervous. I am also not comfortable with debt. After college I accumulated a $10k car loan for my beloved Prius, and in grad school I accumulated approximately $2k credit card debt to cover emergencies and travel to a good friend’s wedding since I had no savings cushion. Within months of getting a job after grad school I had the credit card debt payed off, and within a year the car loan was done. I was then able to ramp up my savings, reaching almost 30% of my take-home pay. When my husband and I got married we were able to pay for the entire wedding ourselves without endangering my savings cushion. I was really proud of myself, and my ability to manage my finances. Now I feel like it is all crashing down around me, and I have to own up to the fact that maybe I’m not good at managing my finances.

Last year, my husband and I financed a new car. We needed to replace his pickup truck with a more family-friendly vehicle (read: a vehicle that seats more than two), and took advantage of a $5,000 cash back weekend. Unfortunately, we had to buy a car that cost $5,000 more than we wanted because Toyota doesn’t actually make the basic model of the Highlander Hybrid, they only make the models with the “popular packages”. Not buying a hybrid was not an option for me (well, I would have happily bought a biodiesel, but my husband vetoed that option and it is his car). Buying a small car was not an option for my husband (I totally understand wanting to be higher off the ground). Neither of us had any inclination to buy a used car that someone else broke in (we want this car to be the car that our teenagers drive in 20 years). Our savings had not quite recovered from paying for our wedding, so we didn’t put down a very large down payment and are therefore left with a large loan. In the months afterwards I started realizing that financially we had made a dumb move by buying before we could put down a larger down payment. It embarrasses me to no end to ‘fess up about the amounts, and for that reason I am going to do it here and now and get it off my chest. The principle on the loan was $36k. We had put down $5k. We have been making double payments on the car loan in an attempt to limit the overlap of car loan & mortgage & new baby expenses. This month we reached a milestone and the amount of the car loan is now down to $20k.

But now we are buying a house. Every day I panic. “Can we really afford this?” “Are we making the biggest mistake of our lives?” And then I open up Quicken, and I look at my spreadsheets and I say “yes, we can do this, we’ll be ok.” Things will be a little tight for a while, but I know we can do it. And I know we can do it without making compromises that I cannot live with. When I read personal finance or frugal living blogs I sometimes get anxious and defensive, especially about the car loan and the $17k wedding. Truly, I am at peace with those large expenses, since I would not have been happy with less than what we got in both of those cases. Buying used cars may be a tenet of the frugal living world, but I stand firm on our decision to buy new. Paying cash for a car may also be a tenet of the frugal living world, and I will own up that we messed that one up (but in 10 years when we buy our next car it will be payed in cash). Buying a conventional car may be more “cost effective” but I am proud to be an experimental owner of a 2001 Prius and proud to be a member of a two-hybrid household (can you tell that I believe strongly in hybrid techonology?). Having a private wedding would have been easier, but we wanted to celebrate our love in a big party with our family and friends and we did (even if I did sell my soul and have the reception at a country club). Renting may be easier on the budget, but I have been dreaming of owning a house for over a decade and I want to raise my family in a healthy home, where I am the one making the decisions not some cheep or faceless landlord.

Posted May 6, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living

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