Reflecting on Consumption: A Car for a Dollar

October 24th.

Today, I bought a car for a dollar.

Well, it’s a bit more than a dollar once the transfer tax and vehicle inspection take place but what my friend and I exchanged was the shiniest looney I had. Definitely a good price! And it underlines why I love the friends I have.

But let’s backtrack here and just talk cars. As I mentioned yesterday, we have a 2007 Prius. It is the best car I have ever owned and really hasn’t cost us much. It’s taken us to west coast and to the east. The west coast was the big one for me, back in 2008, when gas prices were high. One of my best friend’s weddings was going to take place in Victoria. We priced out plane flights. And then looked at each other and said, let’s drive! It cost us a fraction of the price and I got to see some amazing parts of my country I’d never have seen otherwise. It also was a good choice environmentally. In Jonathan Porritt’s (2011) video The Trap of Materialism, Pooran Desai notes that one flight to Australia equalled eight years of saved carbon expenses from living in the BedZED eco-village in Sutton, Surrey, England (2011, timestamp 28:00). We definitely won there. And we had a great time: our choice of not flying increased our happiness. This is something pychologist Tim Kasser reflects on in his 2018 video The High Price of Materialism.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Our Prius is getting old. My husband has done a number home repairs. As I mentioned yesterday, the hood release is now a wire tucked into the grill that hooks up to a modified latch system because the latch he ordered didn’t quite match up. The trunk release has also seen the tender care of my husband. The lights have been changed. And we might have to replace the starter battery sometime as it doesn’t hold a charge for long: don’t hold your foot on the brake if the car is off (unnecessary habit anyway), turn off the internal lights if you are working on the car with the door open and, under no circumstances, start the accessories without starting the engine and leaving it running for awhile. We’d like to keep the Prius on the road as long as we can for as little money as possible. Its little aging issues sometimes mean it’s off the road for a little bit while we fix whatever it is that needs fixing.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

That’s actually why the Cube originally made it into our driveway! Last winter our friend’s wife suddenly and tragically died, and we while were ferrying him back from the bus the starter battery on the Prius gave out! That was my leaning on the brake habit there. He had two cars, so he lent us the 2010 Cube while we got it fixed. It took some time to sort out the fact that we didn’t really want to afford the $300+ battery when I could change my habit of leaning on the brake when the car was off.

In the meantime, it made our winter! Having two cars made it much easier for my husband and son to take advantage of a great homeschool ski-school (out of town) while I could continue to teach my course. The Cube also had a higher seat, so my Dad, who lives with us, has an easier time getting in and out. The Prius requires deep knee bends which are a bit difficult for my 87 year old father who has significant ambulatory challenges. My husband’s mother is also lives alone in a different town. My sister-in-law doesn’t drive. So, we’re the ones on call when she needs extra body around.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

I have expanded my work at the Environment Centre, though am likely pulling back due to being over scheduled. My husband does the shopping and the cooking right now, so he ends up doing short haul shops. And to be honest, my husband’s mood has significantly increased with access to a car. He’s had a number of health issues that have kept him from working all but the most minimal amounts. Having the Cube to run errands on his time rather than mine has had a significant psychological benefit and gets him out of the house.

I also consider the lovely gift our friend has given us. He was happy to just shift ownership as he had no need of the money. This keeps the car out of the wreckers yard and retires it to low-moderate usage. This also means that we can afford to bolster our other aging car along, prolonging our need for a new car. Furthermore, should one of our friends need a car for awhile, we have the opportunity to lend them one of ours. This reciprocal economy ends up looking more like shared resources, than the exchange and purchase of vehicles.

But, why not bike? Both my husband and I love biking! And the cars are really about town vehicles for the most part. And Peterborough is not a large town and it’s recently invested in some snazzy new bike lanes. We have the panniers and the bike gear from before my son was born when we both used to bike a fair amount. I truly think my bike commute to and from the university contributed to my love of teaching and my ability to reach out to students.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

Here’s the rub! My husband’s neck/ear injuries keep him from biking, his number one love when it comes to exercise. Reflecting on the difference this car has made in getting him out of the house, into the community and doing more, I realize that it’s not a black and white problem for us. There have been years when he used to walk to work and didn’t drive. We gave up my car because of that. Now… there are more factors.

Copyright Leigh Symonds
Copyright Leigh Symonds

My Dad can’t walk more than about 20 meters at most and is often in a wheelchair when we go out. We need a car for him. And my work, while on university grounds, always includes my son. My son is an avid cyclist! And he bikes at a leisurely 10km/hr. A year ago we went up to Lakefield and back, a round trip of over 30km. It took us the entire day, including stops for ice cream and fries. I start work at 8-9AM snd leave about 5pm. Adding two hour bike commute with my son just isn’t in the cards. As for my husband, bending his neck at the angle needed for biking causes his tinnitus to truly excruciating levels. We’re considering a recumbent but those are pricey! More about what the Cube would have cost if we had bought it from a dealer.

So, we are now a family with two cars again, aging beasts that they are. We will treat them gently and try to use alternate transportation when possible. As with many things, this purchase had practical advantages for our family and was an opportunity hard to pass up because of that. Was it the most sustainable? Possibly not. But it’s where we are right now.

This reflection is certainly helping to clarify for me that I need to return to my own love of biking and to keep on biking with my son. Perhaps, too, we should really consider that recumbent!

References

Bioregional (n.d.) BedZED: the uk’s first large-scale eco-village. Bioregional.com. https://www.bioregional.com/projects-and-services/case-studies/bedzed-the-uks-first-large-scale-eco-village.

Kasser, Tim (January 2018). The high price of materialism – how our culture of consumerism undermines our well-being New Dream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwXryPNciM.

Porritt, Jonathan (December 2011). The trap of materialism. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwXryPNciM.

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