Saturday, 31 October 2009

Reliable Transport (part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post about motoring, where I wrote about my thoughts on reliability.

If you can stomach the idea, I'd even recommend driving a classic car. I'd recommend a classic VW - they're certainly simple and distinctive, and they have a simply HUGE community, easily larger than that of any other car. Parts are very readily available. But they're also rather over-priced these days - at least in the UK.
Looking around, there are plenty of old Minis (which are certainly fun to drive) and a few old Austin A30s and A35s, and some Morris Minors.There are a surprising number of old Triumphs around and some Ford Cortinas and Capris. There are also a good number of Mercedes and the odd Volvo or Saab. And there are also some 1980s cars too - they may not seem quite so 'classic' - but an 80's Mk1 Golk or Audi might make quite a good cheap and practical classic of the future.

Now you'll realise that a classic is different. Different to drive, different to use. It would probably be less fuel efficient than it's modern equivalent. It'll have lower performance, less safety features, less options and toys. But it can still make sense. An old car has at least already paid it's dues in terms of construction costs, whereas a new one has a huge resource cost just to build it in the first place. And if you don't drive too many miles an old car can come with a clear conscience and it can even be surprisingly cheap to run. (Check out classic insurance, it's surprisingly cheap. Also, some such cars even increase in value rather than depreciate.)

You'll need to consider maintenance of course, and availability of parts. Is there a local specialist garage that can help with such things? Are you going to be doing some work yourself? And if so, have you got somewhere to do such work? But none of these things should put you off the idea - really you ought to be able to find something which will work for you.

So now, I have a 1990 VW Caravelle - powered by a primitive golf-diesel engine. It is absolutely NOT a refined 'drivers' vehicle! But it is immensely practical and spacious, and it has 'community' - a whole bunch of ) And an 1993 Mercedes, which was both cheap (£1200) and over-engineered in the way cars sometimes used to be. (But these days cars are always designed for a market and built down to a price.)
I'd love to own an older bus again, like my old 1970 VW bus. And I'd happily swap my Merc for the previous shape (the W123) - and maybe sometime I shall.

I might also add that I'm quite a fan of walking. I try to walk to work a few times a week. And in theory, I'm keen on the idea of cycling; but personally I get a bit nervous around traffic when I'm on a bike.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Reliable Transport (part 1)

A few people I know have had car problems recently. (Possibly *most* of the readership of this blog actually.) And it gives me cause to think about why I drive what I drive... I drive older cars. If a car is not at least 12 years old, I wouldn't consider driving it...

"But Howard", people say, "all I want is a car that's reliable. One that gets me from A to B." - and there's the rub... Perhaps reliability shouldn't be measured in terms of how infrequently something goes wrong. But in how simple/cheap it is to fix when it does go wrong.

My first car was a VW Beetle. From 1967. And I learnt a lot from that car. I had adventures. I learnt the pain and anguish of rust & corrosion. I learnt how NOT to adjust the valve-train. I learnt how to do an engine swap after the original dropped a valve. (Lot's of expensive noises!) And I learnt all sorts of other interesting lessons.
But mostly I learnt the value of learning how things worked. And what was fixable and what was beyond my capability. And I learnt the value of simplicity.

These days I don't do so much car maintenance. Partly due to lack of facilities. Partly due to lack of time. And maybe I'm just not that good at those kind of skills anyway. But I still appreciate knowing how things work. And I don't tend to trust things which are too 'electronicky' or 'comes as a sealed unit mate' and needs experts or special tools or whatever.

I'm drawn to the "Makers Manifesto" idea. I'd like to live in a world where motor manufacturers were just a bit more altruistic, hacker friendly and less 'controlling' and money-grasping. There was a time when cars (and other things) were engineered with maintenance in mind (even user-maintenance!) Some cars were even designed to a specification rather than a market : VW Beetles, Citroen 2CVs, Land-Rovers certainly fit into that category.

So, what car to own... In the absence of a truly open-source car, I believe it might be best to seek out 'cars with community'. If there's a bunch of enthusiasts who can help you understand your car, warn you of pitfalls, give you advice - then all that might add up to a more reliable, enjoyable, richer experience of motoring. You might even make a few friends along the way. (And you didn't really need that built-in bluetooth/sat-nav/electrickery anyway did you?)