Car Saga is done (hopefully!)

I reported on a car accident that we had recently. I just wanted to followup and say that the other driver’s insurance company came through and totalled our car. We got a pretty fair settlement and spent a weekend car shopping. I think what convinced them to total the car was having me meet them in person and talking about the situation. They called back later on that day and said that they had rechecked and the car was now going to be totalled. I expect that when they first looked at salvage value they had neglected to mention that it was a diesel (VW diesels are in high demand), and meeting with them got them to look at it again. In the end the adjuster at the insurance company really did seem to be on our side, and that was helpful.

I hate car shopping. Our car is an expensive item that I personally don’t care too much about, but I also don’t want to end up with an expensive lemon. We were buying used (it’s hard for me to justify the cost of a new car) and it was 3 days of chasing ads on Craigslist, trying a variety of cars, and getting over the fact that we wouldn’t be buying anything that had similar fuel economy to our old TDI (which got around 30mpg around town and 45mpg on the highway). I didn’t sleep well for 3 nights because I kept wondering stuff like “should we buy X or Y?”, “is car A too old and going to be unreliable for us?”, “do I like VWs just because they seem familiar?” and “can we fit our kayaking or camping stuff in a sedan instead of a wagon?” (wagons are harder to find).

We ended up with a Subaru Forester. This is the first car that I’ve bought which burns gasoline (instead of diesel) and which isn’t made by VW. We got a nice deal on a 2006 model that looks like this (this isn’t our actual car, but it is the same color). It’s comfortable, holds lots of stuff, isn’t too big, is fun (perhaps too fun) to drive,and gets average (ie. bad) fuel economy:

A 2006 Subaru Forester

If anyone in Seattle is looking at used cars I can recommend a good mobile car inspection service that we used. It is called Kar-Chek and the owner is named Jim. For $100 (price probably going up a bit soon) Jim came and gave the car a thorough inspection. He was available on weekends (which most garages are closed) and did a good job of checking everything over,finding a number of issues (all small) that I had missed. I hope we don’t have to buy another car anytime in the next decade, but if we do I’ll use his services again.

Fuel economy rant: 15 years ago Honda Civics got fuel economy close to or exceeding what the current Civic Hybrid gets. The Forester that we bought is moderately small (about the size of our old Jetta Wagon) and it sounds like we can expect around 20-22mpg in the city and 25-27 on the highway. That’s pathetic.Current versions (and the current Impreza, which is smaller) are even worse. Even the small cars like the Smart, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris get worse fuel economy than the best small cars made 15 or 20 years ago (such as the 50mpg Honda Civic VX). None of the small/midsized wagons that we considered (VW, Subaru, Volvo) were rated for more than 30mpg on the highway. I hope that turns around before we buy our next car.

The odd part is that when I do the math, MPG is a small deal for us because we don’t drive much. We were driving 7000 miles per year and getting 35mpg over the year, so using 200 gallons of fuel per year. The fuel that we used (biodiesel) cost $5/gallon this year, so about $1000/year. Now we’ll probably drive 7000 miles per year, get roughly 23mpg, and buy fuel that costs $4/gallon. That is about $1200/year. $200/year is not a big deal in the total costs of car ownership. Giving up on using a renewable fuel (biodiesel vs petroleum) and the idea of driving a gas guzzler is worse than the economic reality of driving a gas guzzler.

Anyway, this blog will now return to it’s normal discussions that aren’t about cars. I have a few bike projects starting up again, and some new fun tools on the way.


  1. chiggins says:

    We have a Forester as well, 2005 that we bought when we lived in SoCal, but we”re selling it now.

    The thing about the mileage is that it’’s a much heavier car than the Hondas I grew up with (the cost of airbags, side impact protection, etc), and it’’s also driving all the wheels all the time. In your case, if that’’s a picture of your car and if I remember correctly from when I was shopping, the scoop indicates you got the XT model, which features what’’s basically a detuned STI engine, that right? More fun, worse mileage.

    I will say this though, this car’’s been very, very good to my family, and the sentimental part of me is heartbroken to be getting rid of it. At this point, we only ever use it for longer trips, so we can”t justify the expense of keeping it anymore than we need our own airplane. But it’’s been one of the big ticket items in my life that hasn”t disappointed in design or build quality.


  2. Rory says:

    I”m going to take a stab at the lower MPG reasoning of now versus 15 years ago. the first reason is the engines are larger because the american public is demanding more pep. the geo metro’’s engine was a 3 cylinder 1.0 liter, versus the Yaris” 1.5 liter.

    however, to compare toyota’’s fuel efficiency, since that’’s more apple’’s and apple’’s, they”ve had the same size engine for a while now. in 1990 1995 they had the tercel as their budget car, which had a 1.5 liter engine, and it got 28 and 30 mpg average respectively versus today’’s yaris of 32 mpg, meanwhile the yaris produces a little bit more HP while meeting tougher EPA ratings. something right happened there.

    however, looking at’’s compar-arator, the 1995 honda civic was rated as the same as today’’s Yaris, and much lower then today’’s civic Hybrid. The Yaris and the Civic both have a 1.5 liter engine.

    so, if we want more MPG, we need less engine.

  3. AlexWetmore says:

    We did get the XT model. That was because we got a very good deal on a XT model. The fuel economy differences seemed to be marginal (a couple of percent). It is the same engine as the WRX. I wasn”t intentionally trying to buy a XT, but I”m not unhappy that we got one either. If the fuel economy is going to suck I”d rather have a fun car.

    The Forester isn”t that much heavier than my VW Golf was.

    I”m glad that you liked yours. The one thing about them is that there seem to be very few unhappy owners.


  4. AlexWetmore says:

    Rory — Compare the 1994 Honda Civic VX (1.5 liter engine) with the 2006 (just to pick a year for one that I”d find used) Honda Civic Hybrid or Honda Civic.

    The 1994 VX gets 39/50, 2006 Hybrid gets 40/45, and the 2006 non-Hybrid civic gets 26/34 mpg. That is a huge drop in 12 years of car technology!

    I don”t think it is just engine size or just weight or just modern emissions standards. I think it is a combo of all of these things. I hope things are better whenever we next need a car (in 7 years at our current rate).

  5. Jimmy Livengood says:

    Nice! At least you avoided the Forester Alivio, with all it’’s crappy plastic instead of the nicer aluminum parts.

  6. Rory says:

    I agree that it’’s a combination of things that lead to worse MPG, but my point was that it is all market driven. when the VX was replaced with the HX, it was because people wanted a larger, peppier car, and honda responed. the drop in fuel economy seemed to not be that much of an issue.

    I would go ahead and wager that things will be better in 7 years, as the economy is going to more or less demand something that doesn”t cost that much to maintain and operate.

  7. Nelson Ralls says:

    Another EPA mpg change is due to a fundamental change in the ratings last year. As a whole ratings of similar cars went down, as the new rating is more real world. However since I drive easy the old rating was closer to what I actually get. The other things are true too though, cars are heavier and bigger engined for the same model. The Civics now are bigger and heavier than my old 88 Accord.

    Take Care,

  8. Jun says:

    Hope you enjoy your Forester. We have a 2000, still running strong. The mileage is bad, but the 4wd means that we don”t worry when we get plowed in at the curb. The small wagon form factor is ideal for us. Like you guys, we don”t do much mileage anyway (one tank of gas a month). Been putting lots of mileage on the Xtracycle, though

  9. Ghost Rider says:

    The Forester is a good choice…not great on gas mileage, but not as bad as LOTS of other vehicles out there.

    We have a 2002 model, and it has been dead reliable.

  10. Bujiatang says:

    At least you didn”t buy a minivan.

    Our Silouette RIP, made it into the mid 20s on the highway, but I had to drive like a granny to make 21 in the city.