Friday, August 22, 2008

RIP Plymouth Acclaim

Yesterday I drove my 1993 Plymouth Acclaim (odometer reading 392,540 km, equal to 244,000 miles) to the scrapyard, which gave me a certificate entitling me to a reward from our provincial government's Scrap-It program. The reward is worth more than the car, so I'm ahead. (If you live in British Columbia and are interested in this program, see Your car or light truck must be 1995 or older, licensed in this province for the past year, and still drivable. Rewards range from $1200 to $2250, depending on what you replace your scrapped vehicle with.)

During my Plymouth's lifetime I recorded every expense along with the date and odometer reading (kilometres), and now that the books are closed I've done some analysis. You may be surprised to learn the true cost of operating a vehicle. It's more than fuel; it includes scheduled maintenance, repairs, insurance, and depreciation.

Back in 1994 when the car was new, fuel was cheap (40 cents per litre) and no repairs were needed, but depreciation was high. As the car aged, depreciation decreased but repairs increased, and fuel has risen steadily and is now $1.45 per litre. The net result is that the operating cost began at 10 cents/km and rose 10% every year, reaching 37 cents/km this year - about the same operating cost as a new vehicle. The 15-year average was 18 cents/km.

The annual cost to drive 16,000 km/year averaged $3,600 per year, or $10 per day. Remember, that's a 15-year average; currently (2008) it's $4,800 per year, or $13/day.

Consumer Reports has two pithy sayings about when to replace your car: (1) "The cheapest car you will ever own is the one you own now." (2) "Don't replace your car unless (a) it can't be made safe, or (b) the repairs will cost more than the car is worth." Over the past year, in anticipation of the end, I deferred several repairs that together were worth more than the car itself. With its clunking suspension, clicking CV joints and (recently) its tendency to run hot, I was not sure it would still be "drivable" so I could claim the reward. But it made it.

My replacement car is a 2005 Toyota Echo, the least expensive vehicle on Consumer Reports' list of "reliable cars with good fuel economy". I chose the four-door automatic model, not the even more economical stick-shift hatchback. So far, in mostly city driving it has averaged 8.3 litres per 100 km, which beats my old Plymouth Acclaim by more than 25%. For my readers who use gallons, that's 29 miles per US gallon or 34 miles per Imperial gallon.

[Update, August 2009: I've now had the Echo for a year, including a fierce winter, a hot summer with the air conditioner running constantly, and a 3,000 km trip this month to Edmonton and back on winding mountain roads. Prior to the Edmonton trip,
overall fuel economy for the year was 8.6 L/100km (28 miles per US gallon, 33 miles per Imperial gallon). But the real surprise was the Edmonton trip, which averaged 6.2 L/100km (39 miles per US gallon, 46 miles per Imperial gallon).

[Update, August 2012: The Echo now has almost 100,000 km, and seems just as good as when I bought it. Maintenance has been inexpensive, except that the air conditioner needed a new condenser.

Meanwhile, my wife's 1993 Plymouth Voyager minivan reached 450,000 km and needed repairs worth more than the vehicle, so we replaced it. She still needed a flat loading space with sliding doors to load musical equipment for her concerts, but with our nest almost empty a minivan was too big. She loves her 2010 Mazda5, purchased through Robert Montgomery of Quinella Auto Brokers. I know he found us a great deal, because I've seen the dealer's net cost - it's available through Consumer Reports.]