Keep fixing old cars or replace them?

This week’s show had someone with a “marital dispute:” She wanted to get a new car while her husband kept repairing their three old cars.

This reminded me of something in Consumer Reports magazine a few years ago: There is a carbon footprint for manufacturing a car. If you calculate the carbon footprint from both manufacturing and driving a fuel efficient car, such as the hybrid Prius, the carbon footprint will be larger than that from maintaining a driving a used car. The reduction in carbon emissions from driving the fuel efficient car is more than offset by the carbon emissions from manufacturing it. If we want to minimize our carbon footprint, it is better to keep used cars maintained and get as much use of them as we can before replacing them with new more fuel efficient cars.

Of course, the caller and her husband could get some used cars that are only a couple of years old.

Those decisions are seldom made on the basis of carbon footprint. The lady who wanted to “kill” the three used cars just wanted to go upscale to a fashionable car with a poor carbon footprint! If she had wanted a Prius or Hyundai Accent, I might have guessed she cared about the environment.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)has several publications on Life Cycle Enegry Requirements of motor vehicles. Typically, the manufacturing process uses only 15% or so of that Life Cycle Energy.

So, if the Husband has 3 Hummers it would benefit the environment if they were replaced by three economy cars or hybrids. HOWEVER, the Hummers would have to be destroyed, since the next owners of these cars may drive them even MORE!

I sold a 1988 V8 Chevy in very good condition to a 22 year old guy, and replaced it with a 4 cylinder Toyota. My wife’s environmentally conscious friends praised my “responsible” decision to help save the environment. I did not tell any of them that the single guy would be driving a lot more than me and being GERMAN he first read the owner’s manual from cover to cover and vowed to make the car last a very long time!!

The airline industry has a grave yard somewhere in the West where perfecty good Lockheed L1011s, Douglas DC8s, Boeing 707s are chopped up and become beer cans. The fuel costs make these uneconomical for profitable commercial airline operation.

If your uncle left you an early 70s big block GM or Ford (7 mpg city, 13 mpg highway, very poor driveability), you might just take it to the wrecker and get 2 cents a pound.

I agree with the OP’s premise, and that’s the exact argument I make every time my 1993 Ford Festiva fails emissions, but that argument never seems to persuade those government hardheads. I mean, they’re ‘passing’ dozens of Hummers, Expeditions, Escalades that get 10 - 12 mpg, but my car that gets 38+ mpg; that’s what’s destroying the environment. Shouldn’t I get some kind of extra credit for keeping an old car on the road, and a very fuel efficient one at that.

The woman in the marital dispute drives 30 miles each way to work. I’m not certain that the cars they own are all that reliable. On the other hand, had she been interested in strictly reliable transportation at the lowest cost, a BMW is not exactly the car of choice. We have a lot of high priced administrators at my institution that drive BMW’s for the simple reason that when they go to register their vehicles, this is the only make of car that they can spell. If the woman with the marital dispute is slightly sharper than the back side of a shovel or our administrators, she would want reliable, economical transportation that would be reasonably comfortable for the daily commute. There are many good used cars that fill this bill.

Triedaq left the computer logged in, so I will respond. We were listening to CarTalk when this woman called in. I’ve been trying for years to get Triedaq to get rid of the 1978 Oldsmobile that he bought new in 1978, but isn’t driven much any more and is partially blocking our driveway. He agreed to let me sell the car and I agreed that he could use whatever I get for the car to buy fishing tackle. My advice to the caller is to compromise–buy a newer, easily maintained reliable automobile and give him some reward for going along with the idea.

Mrs. Triedaq

Top Gear showed that the Prius isn’t all that environmentally friendly when you look at the manufacturing point of view.

Oh, but it can be! i’ve had (serially) 4 E28 5 series on the road since 1987. I don’t take them to the dealer (as if they’d be seen with anything that old on their lot!); I do the maintenance myself. This is about the last series that can be maintained without a megabucks BMW electronic test system, and virtually everything on it is bulletproof and easily repaired. I drive over 100 miles a day RT, and these are the most dependable of cars. This is all arguable; some will say the next-newer generation E34 5 series is a better; to each one’s own. Parts aren’t cheap, but if you’re careful what you buy (OEM only!), they’re not outrageous and well worth the money - nowhere near as expensive as having a dealer maintain a newer model that’s out of warranty.

So I think I understand the husband’s situation. He’s doing his best to keep these relatively inexpensive cars on the road, even to the point of having a third (exactly what I do) so there’s always a spare. Still far less expensive than a newer one. Mine are '86, '91, and a '97, all with over 150k each. I’m blessed; my wife is absolutely unwilling to give up her 325iX. The '86 is my daily driver, and the '97 is the garage queen, a powerful, beautiful car. I wouldn’t care if it was my last.

I wouldn’t trust those statements without more proof.

The study comparing the Hummer to the Prius apparently suffered from some bad assumptions–e.g. assuming the Prius would only last 100K miles, but the Hummer would last 300K miles. According to the rebuttal in the link I just posted, the study, if correct, would mean the Prius would use $286,500 in energy to manufacture and assemble.