Towards Sustainability

I can save you money – trust me I’m a car salesman

Out here on the farm our single greatest expense (apart from red wine!) is fuel. I continually challenge myself to find a way of reducing costs.  We could I suppose cut back on the alcohol and spend more on travel? But just supposing I chose to try and get the fuel costs down – how do I go about this.

Well – this month you get a mathematics lesson – or as the Americans say ‘Math Class’. (why singular?)

If you don’t have a car or you already walk to work or school, you have no need to read further.

Let’s say I stick with my 25 year old Mercedes – which cost me R35,000;  4 years back. It’s big and steady on dirt roads and has aircon and the ‘full works’ and reasonably reliable. I haven’t had to borrow any money to buy it but I have to replace something on it once a year. Because of living where we do and the need to get people to work we do 1,000 km a month . The car does 30km to 5 litres – let’s call it R12/litre. Do the math(s): 1,000 divided by 30, times 5 and again times 12 = R2,000 per month.  I don’t have to worry about the ‘carbon tyreprint’ of buying new ‘cos – in the words of the sage – it’s already been spent. The repair and maintenance cost is maybe another R2,400 per annum : a total (doing the math(s)) of R2,200 per month. Ok I’ll add on a bit for contingency for things going wrong and I get to R2,500 a month (80% fuel; road tax and insurance are extra but they would be for a new car in any case)

So – I decide to buy a new environmentally friendly car. I’m told that the Toyota Prius (other marques are available) should easily give 50km to 5 litres. Again do the math(s) and fuel will cost .. divided by .. times  =  R1,200 a month – also say rep/maint is a bit cheaper ‘cos it’s new – I will save R800 a month on fuel and maybe R200 on other costs. I’m saving R1,000 a month. Yippee more red wine? Maybe I can be super good at driving and get better mileage (should that be kilometerage?), I doubt it

BUT – shelling out R300,000 for a new efficient car isn’t an option – as I don’t have the spare cash. Googling on t’internet finds me a second hand Prius somewhere in KZN for R150,000 cash or R2,870 monthly for 54 months (4.5 years!) and 10% deposit.

Assuming I can flog the old Merc for the deposit – I am thus, do the math(s) R1,870 per month worse off until I reach the age of 70. In short it’s impossible to buy your way out of the fuel conundrum. Once you are in you are in. Sorry.

Obviously though if you have R150k spare and only earning you 3% then you would be better off investing in the second hand Prius . Depreciation on the vehicle though makes the idea of investment in a vehicle, nonsense.  The only way to retain the value of your money is not to spend it and even then – hey I’m an Engineer not an economist.

In Popular Mechanics last month there was a short article on how we can improve our existing kms per litre. The PM article was a re-issue of something from another mag combined with a Myth Busters TV programme. I have added a couple of my own tips and a bit more explanation. In the spirit of greenness I recycle the PM knowledge thus:

  • Do less driving
    • Walk to the shops, school or work – use your car less
      • If you live out of town
        • Park on the outskirts (near to the first shop but on your side of town) and then walk.
        • Cut down on your visits to town – make a list -shop once a week instead of everyday (other than a social need of course)
        • Shop for a neighbour – I mean don’t look for a new neighbour … you know what I mean?
        • How much cheaper does your food shop have to be to justify spending R500 in fuel going to Somerset West and back?
        • Never fill up
          • Never make a special journey to refuel – always refuel when passing a fuel station and only a fuel station on your left (more later)
          • Only half fill the tank – most tanks hold 60 litres (60kgs). So if you work between just above empty and half rather than half and full – you don’t have to carry round 25kg of additional load.
          • Carry less weight – personally and in the boot – be brutal – lose weight and throw out those old tools that were a bargain but you never ever use.
          • Manage the air-conditioning
            • Open windows and switch off AC at slow speeds
            • Close windows and switch on AC at high speeds. – The air turbulence and high speed with open windows reduces fuel efficiency
            • Drive carefully – pretend there’s an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal
            • Don’t  stop at robots (traffic lights)
              • I don’t mean- break the law – I mean try not to stop at traffic lights. Do this by looking ahead and adjusting your speed so that the lights are nearly always at green. The stopping and pulling away again is the biggest user of fuel. If you are stopped for any length of time then switch off altogether. Some modern cars do this automatically and instantly start when you depress the accelerator pedal.
              • Plan your journey turning left.
                • Not quite as daft as it sounds but not that easy either. Again this means trying not to stop for any length of time in the middle of a junction waiting to turn right. The South African 4 way stop actually helps to minimise the amount of time we are stopped. 4 way stops are a good thing.
                • Make sure that the tyres are correctly inflated. Most fuel stations in SA are manned so take advantage – get the tyres checked.
                • Have the car serviced regularly – if it feels lumpy or you have some extra noise – don’t just turn up the sound system- do something about it.

Give it a try – get your mileage down and your efficiency up.