I just found this article, Why Cars Don’t Get 50mpg, and I love it because it finally answered a lot of questions I have had for a long time about vehicles and gas mileage.

When I moved from California in ’99, I was moving from a very progressive, college town (Davis) with lots of bike paths, good public transportation, and easily rollerblade-able streets and sidewalks. Very few people had trucks (no need), and most drove small cars. Even in Salinas, the only ones who really had large trucks were farmers and ranchers. My brother had a Chevy S10, and my dad had a small Toyota pickup for a while before he started upgrading to Silverados.

So when I moved to New Mexico, I was shocked at the size of everyone’s vehicles. Next to Texas and Wyoming, I’m sure New Mexico could be dubbed “The Land of Big-Ass Trucks and SUVs.” There are a lot of unpaved back roads that a good portion of people live on, and it does snow in the winter, so I kind of understand it. But still. Not so many people “need” these vehicles as much as they “want” the vehicles as status symbols. Brent’s Saab 93 and my 1998 Chevy Prizm were out of place.

Brent has since moved on to a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4WD (the smaller body style) which gets about 23 mpg on a good day. I still have my Prizm, and I reliably get 36 mpg. Our daily commute takes us 44 miles each way, with an up-down-up elevation change from 7200 ft to 5800 ft to 7300 ft. It is literally uphill both ways. Also, the lack of oxygen at this elevation slows my car down (it runs like a dream on AZ highways) and makes me use more gas. In the summer, we take my car to work, and in the winter (mostly when it snows) we take the truck. So we often think about what I would get to replace my car when it starts to show its age.

My problem with the cars on the market right now is that the gas mileage all sucks. Why would I trade my paid-off, 36 mpg commuter for, say, a Toyota Prius that only gets 48 mpg City (lower on Highway because the electric motor doesn’t kick in once it’s over a certain rpm)? Plus, I’m a total chicken when it comes to driving in snow (and around here, all the cars “grow” when it snows, so crappy roads + ginormous trucks all around me = Me stressed out), so I would prefer to replace it with a 4WD/AWD. Something like a Toyota Matrix AWD would be perfect for me — but not at 26mpg. Nothing is quite good enough to convince me to sell my car and take on a car payment again.

Then the argument starts.

Me: Why can’t car makers just build a car that gets 50mpg, is safe, is AWD, and has enough room for a 5-gallon tree?

The Engineer: Because the car would be too heavy.

Me: You engineers are lazy and overpaid. Just figure it out!

The Engineer: The laws of physics only allow for certain things, so the heavier the car, the more power it needs, the more energy it needs to make the power, etc. And safety features and AWD are heavy components. At some point you start hitting diminishing returns.

Me: That’s total crap. They send people up into space, but they can’t figure out how to make a commuter vehicle with everything I want with low mpg and a reasonable price tag.

The Engineer: Yeah. And one space shuttle mission costs over a billion dollars.

…. And so on. So, I refuse to buy a new car until (A) I get everything I want, or (B) my car gets totalled and I’m forced to buy another (probably a Prius). In the meantime, I have decided to spend the cash to get the engine rebuilt if it comes to that, instead of buying a new car that will not ever be quite what I want.

Update, 10 minutes later:

I found this article on “the car of the future.” The cosmos and I must be temporarily in sync. Thought I’d pass it along, too.

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