Of Cars and Definitions of Efficiency

Yesterday, I was reading an article at PA Pundits, that highlighted that CAFE mileage standards, which were implemented during the oil crisis during the seventies, have rather severely distorted the market, not to mention killed Americans.

A good example is corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards on vehicles. Originally enacted in 1975 to offset the impacts of the OPEC oil embargo and US oil price controls, and slow the rapid depletion of oil reserves, the mileage standards grew increasingly stringent. During the Obama years, the earlier justifications were replaced with claims that a vastly tougher 54.5 mpg standard would somehow help prevent “dangerous manmade climate change.”

However, EPA’s own analysis showed that the new mileage standard would have brought emission reductions of a barely perceptible 3 billion tons of CO2 over the lifetime of vehicles covered by the new standards – out of an estimated two trillion tons of CO2 emitted worldwide during the same period.

That meaningless 0.15% savings was fraudulent enough. But as Competitive Enterprise Institute general counsel Sam Kazman, other analysts and I have often pointed out, the real impact of these rules has always been on people. CAFÉ standards kill, maim and paralyze drivers and passengers – because they force auto makers to downsize and plasticize cars and light trucks, making them less crashworthy.

Insurance industry and other studies found that the earlier 27.5 mpg standard resulted in 2,200 to 3,900 additional fatalities every year, and hundreds of thousands of additional serious injuries, in collisions with cars, trucks, buses, trees and other objects. Minority and other poor families suffer disproportionate injuries and deaths, because they can least afford the higher priced cars and light trucks with advanced safety features. One can only imagine the extra tolls that would be associated with the 54.5 mpg rule.

I’d say it exacerbated the trend, but he certainly is right, but competition was making American cars lighter already, not to mention shorter lived. An example, someplace around 1968 or so my dad acquired a 1961 Dodge Pioneer, it was supposed to be my high school car when we got it fixed up. We started on the bodywork, the previous owner had apparently been in few accidents with it. Then we made a discovery, the engine was pretty much wrecked, (he also ran it out of oil) it could be fixed, but it was going to take considerable money. It didn’t help that this was the old polysphere 318, good engine but even then uncommon. Eventually, we abandoned the project and pulled it out behind the shed. I wasn’t too sad, the 61 Dodge may have been the ugliest car ever made in America. On the other hand, this one had been my dad’s company car when it was new. I rode in it one winter from Indiana to Dallas, to Tuscon, to the Grand Canyon, and home in two weeks and three days of that was a convention dad had to go to. It was also the last unairconditioned car he had. 🙂

So it sat out there, bare metal and all. Eventually, in the mid-seventies, I ended up with a 1970 Polara, a stupidly practical car for a young man, I didn’t love it exactly, but it sure worked well. Late in the decade, I bought something else, mostly because I was tired of the Polara, and the gas tank was rusting on the inside to the point that it stalled the car, for the second time. It only had about 375,000 miles on it, so it was kind of a shame. It was also starting to rust rather badly. It ended up out back next to the 61, and dad and I both commented that the 61 had less rust than the 70, after standing with bare metal for a decade. They didn’t make them that way anymore.

The thing about both of them was that if you took care of them (and didn’t live in country where they salted the roads) there was little reason you couldn’t drive them a half million miles, or more if you maintained them. Try that with a new car. To start with, the systems are too complex for most technicians to understand, they’ve been turned into part changers directed by a computer. Cars have become disposable, good for just a hair over what the warranty says, boring too, I think.

And that is pretty much the case with a lot of things. They are considerably more efficient, use less energy, steel, whatever. Sadly the tradeoff is that you’ll end up buying a new just a few years down the road, probably before you’ve paid it off. To me, that’s a false efficiency, buy it once and maintain it is my definition of efficiency. I could use a new car, by the way. What am I looking at? A 1960 Dodge, of course. Real American steel and should last the rest of my life. What could be better? Mileage should be about 15-20 mpg, I think, and there are things I can do to make it better if necessary. Looks something like this:

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to Of Cars and Definitions of Efficiency

  1. Nicholas says:

    Leaving aside the fuel angle, I dislike the design aesthetic of a lot of modern cars – no style, no sense that beauty is an important part of life. Same goes for the way the skyline of cities has been vandalised. If you put such things in life, small wonder that people are that bit grumpier, sadder in their daily round; small wonder that graffiti artists will attack the open wound.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      You know I agree from the pictures that accompany this article. 🙂

      And yes, CAFE pretty much killed the American car, per se, those of us that were car guys turned into truck guys – they were mostly not included then, now they are and the trucks are becoming indistinguishable as well. Funny isn’t it, that when I look at houses, mostly a hobby, barring a major change, what attracts me is design (in fairly new houses) and age because design was taken for granted. Many of those older houses were essentially cookie cuttered, but the design was so good, that it really didn’t matter, currently they are different, but nearly unlivable. In engineering we call designing to perform the function without waste, elegance. And that is what those older houses – mostly knockoffs of Georgian houses – are.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        Yeah, I wish things were different. I’d love to see posts from you recommending design choices for current material culture (and for that matter legal and economic reforms for the US and UK).

        Liked by 2 people

        • NEO says:

          Interesting thought. No guarantees, but I’ll see if I can put something together.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          “…recommending design choices for current material culture …” There you got it in the blog car pic. Rachel Maddow grille with bi-focals.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Indeed! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    The 318. Still remembering that number every month. Old ’59 Chevy station wagon I had in college had a 283. When I graduated and bought my new car, the Chrysler 300, it had what I thought was a powerhouse 318.
    Why I remember every month is because for the last 35 years my city water bill has that number in it. …And I lost the car in Camille in ’69. Bad habit I have, lost my Bronco in Katrina too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Ya really ought to quit misplacing cars like that. 🙂

      Yep the old A series was a good engine. We should have fixed it, it can be bored 0.090 oversize, stroker cams from the new ones fit. Intake and exhaust are a problem though, and mine had a one barrel. It’s pretty good, nearly every Dodge truck I’ve had had one, never had a complaint. It’s no 426 Hemi, and weighs more than a stock 440, but it’s plenty tough. 🙂

      Never had a 283, all my Chevys old enough to had 230 stovebolt 6s, usually with powerglides. Solid engine if you didn’t mind 0-60 in two days! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        I never knew much about souping-up engines. Did install stock Chevy V-8 265 I got for $25 in a 2 dr. Ford Falcon. Had to learn to weld to change motor mounts, and construct exhaust manifolds from mild steel to be narrow enough to fit. Also had to use a high school shop to drill the bell housing so that an old Plymouth tranny I was given would bolt up. That was a laugh. Tranny had a clutch to push before shifting into first. Had to have a lever run through the floorboard to activate clutch with foot.
        The “good old days.” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Most of it is pretty straightforward, increase air flow, mostly. Yeah, getting all those bolts to match can be a nightmare though! 🙂

          They were mostly, although the budget limitations hurt sometimes. Probably good for us! 🙂

          Like

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