Home News

Fuelish thinking


According to the American Automobile Association, the total cost of owning a typical car has more than doubled since 1980, from $3,176 to $7,533. Even taking inflation into account, that’s a big hike, from 21.2 cents per mile to 50.2 cents.

But as an analysis posted on MSN Money points out, most of that increase was due to astronomical insurance rates and depreciation. Gas and oil costs didn’t rise at all, in real or adjusted terms. Fuel cost 5.9 cents a mile in 1980 and the exact same amount in 2002. Yes, fuel prices rose, but they were offset by the gain in automotive fuel economy from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. (We’ve been going backwards more recently.) Gasoline has actually gone down as a percentage of your total auto costs since 1980 (27.9 percent then, 11.8 percent now).

It gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective). In 1981, the average cost of a gallon of unleaded regular in the United States was $1.38, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In today’s dollars, that $1.38 equals $2.53, but what do consumers actually pay? The national average for unleaded regular is around $1.50, so gasoline is a relative bargain today, with prices comparable to 1970. Bottled water costs more!

Other costs are definitely up. Maintenance costs rose 5 percent between 1980 and today, tires 4.1 percent. But gas, well, it’s not surprising that people don’t complain too much about how expensive it is.

Despite all this, I’m still going to recommend you buy a fuel-efficient car. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do, not only for your wallet but for the environment as well. Fuel-efficient vehicles lower our dependence on foreign oil (a major factor propelling us into war in the Middle East), and they also tend to be good on emissions.

If you want to buy American, support our troops (by helping to bring them home) and protect our country’s future, do I have the car for you! The 2003 Ford Focus PZEV has achieved California’s strict certification as a partial zero-emissions vehicle, even though, unlike the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius, it is solely powered by a gasoline engine.

The feat was achieved by moving the catalytic converters closer to the exhaust manifold, allowing quicker warm-up times and improved recirculation of exhaust gas to ensure more complete combustion. "It emits fewer smog-causing hydrocarbons per day than a small pine tree," claims Electrifying Times.

The PZEV powertrain, built around a fuel-efficient 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, is standard in all Focus cars sold in California, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts this year, and it will go national in 2004. Focus cars begin at $12,820. Fuel-economy specifications for the PZEV model are not yet available, but the standard car with a 110-horsepower engine can achieve 36 mpg on the highway.

I spent a week in the PZEV recently and it fulfilled all of my automotive needs, even some of my fantasies. Weighing just 2,600 pounds, it’s far more fun to drive than the lumbering Volkswagen Touareg I had the week before, has nifty leather seats and a whompin’ stereo. The Focus is handsome in a very modern way, but it’s also practical: There’s room for four, plus luggage, and great visibility all around.

In seven days of regular use, I used up only a half-tank of fuel. But who cares, right? The Middle East may have two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves, but in America in 2003, we’ve got gas to burn.

Exit mobile version