Our first car, bought in 1967 for £10, was a second-hand black Ford Popular 103E, similar to the above.
Creative Commons, CY BY 2.0
My wife and I have a policy of buying a reasonable family car—one that is two to three years old and in good condition—and then running it almost into the ground until the need to replace it becomes obvious. At 6,000-ish miles per year, our annual mileage is slightly below the UK’s national average and in late 2007, we bought a BMW X3 diesel SUV which has done us proud for almost 14 years but which recently was beginning to show its age and in need of more than just new tyres, a new battery, and regular servicing. So, I took the plunge and researched a possible replacement. My aim was first to identify the car type and model to suit our pedestrianised driving, and then to locate and buy the replacement. Boy oh boy, did I enter a jungle, or what? The advances in car technology over the last fourteen years have been enormous. Fourteen years ago, it was a simple decision: diesel or petrol? Now it’s diesel, petrol, hybrid plug-in electric vehicle (which I understand to mean a petrol engine but with a larger battery that could propel the vehicle a further 30 miles or so on battery power alone), or fully electric, all with an overlay of other considerations: climate change policies; the long-term availability of fossil fuels; the availability of electric-vehicle charge points, home or local; the cost of electric charge versus a tank full of petrol; and major price differentials between fossil-fuel and battery-driven car prices, including second-hand vehicles.
Servicing and repair costs also became a factor. A fully-electric car has a rather large battery pack and such packs are not cheap to replace once the charge capacity starts to reduce—£1,000-ish per cell and £5,000-ish per battery for a Toyota Prius, for example. These prices may reduce in the future depending on advances in battery technology and a reduction in the costs of raw materials but, even so, these are hefty replacement costs.
Similarly, there’s the question of repair. The primary difference between an electric car and a petrol/diesel car lies in the engine. The electric car engine is simpler in that it contains just three major components—an energy store (the battery), a controller, and a propulsion unit (electric motor). There is less to go wrong but the question arises—who can fix it if it does go wrong and at what cost? Good questions; no simple answers.
Road tax became a consideration. Every year, our ancient X3 was attracting more and more road tax simply because it was diesel-fuelled and thus deemed to create harmful exhaust CO2 emissions—a climate-change tax. Cars registered after 1 April 2017 do not incur this penalty and are taxed considerably lower with electric cars (but not hybrids) currently road-tax free: an attraction which I’ve no doubt will be very short-lived. Look at what happened to the price of diesel fuel once the government had persuaded UK car purchasers to switch to the lower priced diesel pump price.
Insurance was not such a game changer. Hybrid and electric cars do not accrue any special benefits when it comes to insurance. I guess insurance companies do not consider that a switch from fossil fuel to electric will create better drivers! Just quieter ones.
Finally came comfort and cosmetics. We are both approaching 80 years old, me leading, and I have physical difficulty getting into a car with low seating and not much headroom. Hence, entering and leaving becomes my prime concern. Carol is more agile and always drives when we are both in the car (we argue otherwise!) and so she is more concerned about engine vroom-vroom, road holding, ease of parking, and an in-situ navigation system.
Then, once we had found a car model that matched our specification and a seller who offered a decent trade-in for the BMW X3, there arose the question of how to pay for the replacement car. Fourteen years ago, it was either outright payment—asking price minus trade-in price with a bit of haggling—or hire purchase. Now it’s outright payment, lease, personal contract purchase (PCP), or hire purchase. I never did figure out what PCP was or how it differed from hire purchase. We decided to pay outright from our dwindling savings. I’m old fashioned about debt.
We eventually settled for 3-year-old BMW MINI Countryman Cooper Auto with a petrol engine. Maybe not climate-change friendly but adequate for what we need assuming there is now a limit to how much longer we will keep on driving—another five years, ten years max? It took fifteen minutes for the sales guy to explain all the bells and whistles and, even now, we may not have figured out where everything is and how to control it but it’s a comfortable car, handles nicely, and will suit our needs. But what an experience. If there’s ever a next time, I will look seriously at self-drive scooters, electric segways, and hoverboards with four wheels (not two), all with a built-in GPS navigation system!