My little Echo at 13

Almost thirteen years ago, I bought a little white two-door car called an Echo, which was made by Toyota for a very short time. I got one of them in the first model years. The Echo was basically the all-gas version of the then-new Prius hybrid. What sold me on the Echo over the Prius was that there was only 10-MPG difference between the two cars, yet the price difference was $14,000; the Echo retailed for around $11,000, and the Prius was just under $25,000. Back in 2000, when gas only $1.00 per gallon, there was no way I would make up that $14,000 in gas savings on that MPG difference.

Yet, even though the sticker on the Echo’s window said that it got 41 MPG, the car’s gas mileage has been even better than that. For example, when some friends of ours used to live in Charleston, South Carolina, we would drive over from Montgomery to visit them. Google Maps said that the distance was 497 miles driveway to driveway, and I could almost get there on a 10-gallon tank. We usually had to stop in Charleston when the idiot-light came on. That would mean the car was getting closer to about 48 – 49 MPG when a trip was all highway.

Back when I bought my little Echo, people said I was crazy because I bought it without air-conditioning, which in the South might be a little crazy. But nevertheless, that’s what I have— or don’t have. Yes, some 90+ degree days have been pretty uncomfortable. But more realistically, for more than nine months out of the year, having A/C isn’t an issue at all. And frankly, the first five years I had it, I didn’t have any kids, so even in the middle of summer I’d just roll down the windows and go on about my business.

After thirteen years now, my little car is about to reach 90,000 miles on the odometer, and I’ve begun thinking about when I might need to buy a new one. But there are two sticking points: first, the Echo is still in great shape and drives really well, and second, I’m totally spoiled by how little gas I use. If I estimate that I’ve had an average of 40 MPG over the life of the car – even though I know it gets better than that – then I have used approximately 2,250 gallons of gas to go that 90,000 miles. By comparison, if I had purchased a mid-sized sedan or small pickup truck (with A/C) back then, one that got about 25 MPG, I would have used 3,600 gallons to go that same 90,000 miles— a difference of about 1,350 gallons. Considering the increases from the $1.00-per-gallon gas we were buying back in 2000 to the nearly $4.00-per-gallon gas we have bought in recent years, all I can know is that I’ve saved thousands of dollars.

But money isn’t the issue to me when it comes to gas usage, or any other environmental issue. I like to think about the total long-term savings made from small changes by ordinary people. I believe, for instance, that if everyone did little things to improve the environment, then we might not have to make the drastic changes we hear being proposed for the future. For example, what if every car, truck and SUV in the US would use 1,000 gallons less gasoline over the course of the next decade? That would be billions of barrels of oil that we wouldn’t have to import and that wouldn’t become pollution. Frankly, by the very nature of supply-and-demand, the price would probably drop if we did that, and then we would save by using less and by paying lower prices for what we do use.

Back when I bought my Echo, people use to laugh or say ugly things about my choice in car, especially my choice not to have A/C. I’ve noticed over the years that there has been a distinct drop in snide comments that has been directly proportionate to rise in gasoline prices. As my little car’s paint chips, as my bumper stickers wither, as the interior carpet shreds, I just stick with it. One of the TV ads in the marketing campaign for the Echo used to show a young man in an Echo stop across the street from a gas station and taunt the middle-aged people filling up their big station wagons and SUVs, then drive off saying, “That was cool . . .” That ad kind of made me want to get one, and the fact that it ended up being true has made me want to keep mine.

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