Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Big Blue Car

In 201 Melbourne was visited by a freak hailstorm that left my beloved Corolla pock marked all over, and, according to the insurance company, good for nothing but scrap.  I was frustrated at losing my little car, but completely appalled when I realised how many cars were receiving the same treatment.
In order to have our car assessed, we had to take it to an assessment centre on the other side of the city for a 15 minute appointment on a Saturday morning.  It was the only available appointment, as all the closer centres were busy even though all the centres were working seven days.  When we took the car in to be assessed, it was given a cursory exam, then red flagged for removal on a flat bed truck.  In the half hour that we were there, we saw twenty cars removed in this way.
I can only guess at how many thousands of cars were scrapped as a result of this process.  Apparently, under Victorian law, cars that are written off cannot be re-registered unless they are repaired to manufacturer's specifications - in this case, having all the panels restored.  Since the cost of doing so on any one of these cars would be more than the value of the car (by definition, as they were all written off), all these thousands of cars that were otherwise perfectly functional, will never see a public road again.
This profligate waste is astounding to me. Although I'm assured that there may be rational reasons, relating to the potential for structural damage to the cars by the hail stones, I can't help but be appalled and saddened.
Which perhaps influenced our decision on the replacement car.  We went from a lovely, little Corolla Levin hatchback, to a worn out Commodore station wagon with 360,000 km on the clock, worth approximately half as much. There were very practical reasons for doing this - kids getting bigger and a desire to put some money in the mortgage, being chief among them - but more fundamentally, it signalled a shift in the way we see and use our car.  It's now, very simply a big beast of a wagon that is used only when our feet and our pedals can't manage.
I made a commitment, in buying a big old car, to push the kids around in the pram, or pull them around in the bicycle trailer, wherever possible.  And I've surprised myself at how far my legs will carry us.  My personal best is two round trips in a day with the kids in tow, totaling 25 km in all. We now use the car only to do the weekly grocery shop and to take the family somewhere after dark or more than 7km away. I ride to work, walk the kids to daycare and take the train if conditions are unfavourable.
The big blue car contributes by soldiering on despite being over the hill.  Our low usage means that it will continue to meet our needs for several years if we service it regularly, and it's the ideal vehicle for moving the family around on the camping trips we're increasingly taking  as an alternative to expensive (both in money and energy) flying holidays. It's a far better alternative than us upgrading to a new car that would cost more money, be not much more fuel efficient and waste the embodied energy in our older car that might otherwise be not far off scrap itself.
An elegant solution, really, using a very inelegant car.