…For We Are Up-sizing…

Last time we were left with the question of what a low-income family is to do about owning two aging and unsuitable vehicles, especially when the family wants  to live in a more sustainable way. The  first response is likely to be, “are you sure they’re both unsuitable?”

In a word…probably.

The case against the wagon is pretty clear-cut: Dear Wife won’t drive it. Game over. Seriously, though, there’s more to it than that. It’s got a laundry list of “fix-me”s:
-Fan switch is broken
-Reverse lights are out
-Windshield is cracked
-Rear hatch support struts are worn out
-“Check Engine” light is on (again)
-Front brakes need service
None of which address that it’s hard to steer, hard to park, noisy, and too small for us. So, it is out of the running and currently for sale.

The situation with the minivan is a bit murkier. True, it does have some positive points, among which is the ability to seat us all without us touching each other (an underrated benefit). But its poor service history and marginal cargo space put it squarely on the bubble for long trips, and we are planning a doozy for this summer. I could probably make it work if I had to; after all, we drove it over 3,400 miles to Colorado and back two summers ago and lived to tell the tale.

But maybe I don’t have to! Maybe we could parlay the two vehicles and some of our savings into something that would really work for us as a family-a large family that doesn’t use a car that much, but often hauls large objects around, loves to take long road trips, and enjoys camping. What would that look like?

Would it be a full-size van, possibly with a customized interior? We had one once, and it was great-except for how it wasn’t. They’re roomy enough for everyone, great for highway driving, and could hold all our gear or even tow a small trailer. On the other hand, they’re thirsty for fuel and generally rear-wheel drive. That’s a big downer in a hilly, snowy town like ours, especially for a family’s only vehicle.

A motor home would be even more impractical, forcing us to keep something else for our day-to-day driving. Also, a motor home’s auxiliary systems require maintenance and the question of storage looms in the headlights too. And fuel economy? No, not really. As portable motel rooms go, they’re great; but as cars, not so much.

What’s left, then? Could we be looking at-gasp-an SUV? Maybe, but not just any SUV. This one has some very specific parameters: it has to seat 7 or more, it has to get decent highway gas mileage (18-22 mpg), it must have a good reputation for reliability, and it must be cheaply had-no more than $4000 for a good example. Does such a creature exist?

As a matter of fact, it does.

Permit me to introduce the Chevrolet Suburban, perhaps the quintessential SUV. They are surprisingly well-mannered and fuel-efficient for their size, as long as one steers clear of the “big-block” 454 cubic-inch engine. The 1500 series with the 350 cubic-inch V-8 gets about 18 mpg on the highway, not much less than our V-6-powered minivan, and the difference in space, comfort, and capacity is like night and day. Most of them come with 4-wheel-drive, and prices range from $1000 or so for a “mechanic’s special” to $4500 for a 1996-1999 model with light to average mileage (150-180k).

Time to go shopping, then. How hard could this be?


About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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2 Responses to …For We Are Up-sizing…

  1. momof5 says:

    Ah, we’ve made this journey. Minivan to full-sized van to SUV after the rear wheel drive van got stuck in the snow one time too many. (Actually, I’d have made the change the FIRST time it got stuck in the snow, but my dear husband has an adventurous spirit, so it wasn’t until the winter that we had to leave the van parked for about 3 months that he agreed maybe it wasn’t working out so well.)
    Don’t tell your eco-minded readers, but oh! I love that Suburban. Nothing stops it. Once I was stuck in a particularly muddy driveway (not ours), thinking, “Am I really going to have to go back in that house and get help to leave this party that I didn’t want to come to in the first place?” Then I remembered the 4-wheel drive, flipped the switch, and off I went. We can fit all the kids, the dog, and whatever accoutrements we need for any trip, and though they can still touch (we have more kids than you do), there’s room for them to stretch out and sleep. We fit a humongous number of kids for a carpool, which means every family (we all have SUVs) drives less often. And if you’re feeling guilty about the gas mileage, remember it’s less of a guzzler than pretty much every other SUV out there, including the so-called mid-sized ones.
    True, my children sing the Capitol Steps song, “I Love My SUV” whenever I mention how much I love that car. And true, its tires cost a mint. But we load it up about once a month at Costco, and then in theory we can just grocery shop for small amounts by foot or bike for much of the rest of the time. That has to be worth something, right?
    This is a good time of year to find them – so good luck!

    • poorlocavore says:

      Thank you for confirming that we’re on the right track. Considering how few miles we actually put on a vehicle per year, I think it will pencil out. Finding one, though…stay tuned.

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