Goodbye Dream Car
To most people a car is a way to get around. Being from California, I’m supposed to consider it a statement. But I’m also a rebel. I never could bring myself to go out on a limb to dedicate my life to a car. I have utmost respect for the skill and patience to drive well and restore or maintain a car but I leave the complicated stuff up to others and enjoy it as a spectator sport.
I’ve got a thing I inherited from my dad, admiration for ordinary people. That might be why my first two cars were Volkswagen Beetles, “the people’s car.” For a month that first ’59 had a dead battery and I could push it by the door jam, jump in, and pop the clutch. Oftentimes someone was nearby and would help out. With no mechanical knowledge, I could do anything on that car as long as I had “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive,” by John Muir. Principles in that book influenced me mechanically, for the rest of my life.
Now it is different. Cars, although nearly as dependable as my brother-in-law, cannot be repaired by ordinary people. This industrial revolution thing, specialization, has gone over the top. It has stopped making us wealthier. And it has promoted ignorance.
After driving this amazing Honda CR-V for miles and miles we were ready to upgrade for double the fuel mileage. The timing was perfect. Our dog, Wally, has a bad leg and has trouble jumping in the back. The car didn’t need to be so tall.
Even though the Honda is extremely high quality, the Volkswagen was more so. The new station wagon had a manual transmission, a bigger back seat and most drivers were getting over 50 miles per gallon (seven mpg more than EPA estimates, unlike Ford’s C-Max that couldn’t manage seven mpg less than EPA’s numbers). We were scheduled for a test drive but the beans were ready to combine.
In the meantime some grad students in West Virginia found that VW had used computer software to get good mileage and performance on the road and also change programs to pass emissions tests on a stationary test stand. The car nerd in me was devastated.
I was all ready to go 800 miles on a tank, put it on cruise and not have some idiotic automatic shifting all over when it didn’t need to; a car I could actually drive instead of just guide. It would not have been perfect. VW eliminated the independent rear suspension to make room for the urea tank (the same year Ford finally put IRS under the Mustang). Ordinary people could never work on this, or any other modern car.
Those who know me know my bitterness is exasperated by my hatred for Nixon’s EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Every time we turn around there is some new rule making things more expensive for ordinary people who have no idea where the added expense is coming from. The benefits of the EPA’s meddling are way overblown. Most environmental improvements stem from increased efficiency to meet market demands and settlements in property rights disputes such as pollution seeping across a property line.
While I think VW was wrong to cheat on the tests, there are some facts that need to be considered. Consider who benefits. Volkswagen is ahead in diesel technology, foreign owned, and their workers here rejected a United Auto Workers contract. General Motors was bailed out by you and me in a sweetheart deal for the union. Their ignition key cover-up cost 124 U.S. taxpayers their lives. General Motors is owned by the government that regulates both GM and VW. Volkswagen and Toyota will both be fined more than GM for non-lethal and unproven violations.
I also found these interesting facts about production of Nitrogen Oxides and the particulate matter that violated the EPA tests. An average diesel truck would have to drive 10 miles to emit as much NOx as a charbroiled burger. And a diesel car driven across the country 100 times would still not produce as much NOx as a flash of lightning, of which there are 1.4 billion per year. If diesel cars were as prevalent here as they are in Europe, Americans would save $20 billion per year in fuel costs and oil companies would sell that much less fuel.
I don’t really care about a Volkswagen anymore. Last week a portion of their workers in Chattanooga voted to join the UAW. That, the cheating, and carrying a tank of urine (DEF, diesel exhaust fluid) around all the time, is just not enough to give up the CR-V. We got a ramp for Wally.