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Save Gas, Buy a Diesel Car!

The price of gas in my hometown is currently $2.32/gal for unleaded. Almost an all time high. Luckily no one in my household has to spend an hour (or more) commuting to and from work each day. I'm fortunate enough to work at home and my wife drives 10 minutes each way.

But we do a fair amount of traveling in our spare time, especially on the weekends. Between traveling North to visit her parents in Sinclair and going south to our camp in Island Falls, the miles do add up. Two years ago we each had gas-guzzling SUVs; she an 1992 Chevy Blazer and me an 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Driving one of these, our weekend forays would easily cost us around $20 per trip. And gas was cheaper a couple years ago! With fuel prices only heading for the moon, we decided it was time for a change. Time to ditch one of the trucks and get a more efficient vehicle!

A more efficient vehicle, of course, means a car. As much as we each liked driving an SUV, they just don't get the milage we were looking for. We decided it was the 92 Blazer we would get rid of and keep the newer Jeep. The Blazer was old enough where we were constantly chasing it with repairs, and you don't need to take a distance learning MBA program to be smart enough to know when to call it quits, after all between gas and repairs it was obvious the smart option would be to get rid of the Blazer.

As we began our search for our new vehicle (and when I say "new vehicle" I mean used vehicle -- we never buy brand new as most new vehicles lose close to 60% of their value in 4 years. How can anyone justify that???) I had two models in mind. The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. I've owned a Civic many years ago and recalled how economical and trouble-free it was. I'd also heard very good things about the Toyota Corolla. They get very good mileage and run forever with just basic maintenance (oil changes, etc).

With these vehicles in mind we set off for some test drives. Our first subject was a 2001 Honda Civic EX. I really liked this car. It was comfortable, rode nice and had all the quality you'd expect from a Honda.

The 2003 Toyota Corolla we tested was their new "S" or Sports edition. This was a basic Corolla with a bunch of fancy sports trim added. Overall, a very nice looking car with a nice ride and built with quality. My only gripe was with the visibility. The windows seemed to be layed out in such a way as to hinder your view while driving. Or at least that's how I felt.

My wife also spotted a Volkswagen Jetta that we tried out. She preferred the look and feel of the Jetta over the Corolla and Civic as well as the performance. The Jetta had a V6 and did have a quite a bit more pep than the 4 cylinder Civic and Corolla. Arguements ensued about how Pep does not equal fuel economy which was our main objective. She wanted performance, I wanted economy. Our car buying decision was on hold. It's too bad you can't have both...

50 Mpg with Performance!

Well, to my amazement, you can! After many hours on-line doing research I came across the Volkswagen Golf TDI. And it's those last three letters that are important. TDI = Turbo Direct Injection [Diesel]. Yup, a Diesel. I'd never thought about owning a diesel. I'd seen plenty of diesel pickups living in N. Maine my whole life. My father-in-law had one. It was noisy and smelly. Not something I really wanted. But all it took was one test drive of the Golf to change my mind!

Sporting a mere 90 horsepower 4 cylinder engine this is the most incredible car we've ever owned! Don't let the specs of the engine fool you, it has all the power it needs with a lot left over. What it lacks in horsepower it makes up for in torque; what diesel engines are famous for. This is most noticeable climbing hills. Generally, a steep incline forces you to either slow down or step on the gas and down-shift. With our Golf TDI, neither is required. In fact, it doesn't even seem to know hills exist (except going down them). Just leave it in fifth and relax. It's espeically fun blowing by gas-guzzling SUVs going up hills. Even with the AC going full-blast! And all this while getting around 50 MPG. We can easily go over 600 miles in between fill-ups.

Disadvantages? Not many...

As for engine noise, it's really a non-issue. Idling, it does sound like a diesel, a very small one, not a big clanky sounding truck. My wife says "It purrrrrrrs". On the road you can barley hear it. There's even less noise than with most gas engines. You do occasionally get a whiff of the typical diesel odor, especially when you first start it, or if you're idling with your windows down, but it's not bad.

Since we bought the car in July of 2003 the price of diesel in our are has shot up signifegantly, even more so than regular unleaded. When we bought it, diesel was cheaper. Now it's about 10 cents more per gallon. Some people claim diesel isn't always as easy to find as regular gas. In my part of the word this isn't true. It's rare to find a station that doesn't have both. And with 600+ miles in between fill-ups it's no big deal, we just wait for the next station to come along.

It's very low to the ground! The older model Golfs appear to have more clearance. Our 2002 model has almost none. I assume VW changed this for looks. It does look nice but don't try to straddle anything or you will be replacing your oil pan!

Maintenance hasn't been bad thus far. We have the oil changed every spring and fall. We use fully synthetic oil for better engine protection. From what I understand, there is a fairly expensive timing belt change required around 70K miles also. Our Golf has just over 50K, so we haven't experienced that yet.

Environmentally, the TDIs aren't as clean as other economy cars. For this reason, you can't currently buy new ones in the state of Maine. Maine has adopted the same emission standards as California for some reason. Of course, being a diesel, you can use BioDiesel fuel if the environmental aspect concerns you. Maybe even go to a local restaurant and get their old cooking oil. Free fuel!

Conclusion:

What a great little car for the money. To get similar mileage from another vehicle you'll probably need to buy a hybrid, ie, Honda Civic Hybrid or Toyota Prius. You'll get the fuel economy but you can kiss the performance goodbye. Diesels also hold their value better and last longer.

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