I Bought A Prius (8 months ago)

I find it curious the different reactions I get while driving a “cool” car vs. driving a Prius. Am I not the same person regardless of what I’m driving? – Axel Hoogland

One thing that has bothered me about sports cars is that for most of it’s life you are unable to use the performance of your vehicle. It is not accomplishing the task it was created for. – Axel Hoogland

Most times when I tell someone I have bought a Prius it is met with a disgusted sound and some complaining about how stupid a Prius is. That is understandable as at one time I probably would have done the same thing. Because of that I feel obligated to finally go through what drove me to this decision.

Those of you who know me probably know me as a guy who likes fast and cool cars. That was the persona I embraced and curated from a young age. I enjoyed many hours reading Hot Rod, Car Craft, Popular Hot Rodding, Truckin’ and many other car modification magazines. In college I worked on the FSAE race car. Since I graduated college I bought both a 2008 GSXR 600, a 1981 Honda CM400C, a 2007 Mustang GT/CS and have continued to maintain my 1987 Monte Carlo SS.

So how, with that background, did I come to purchase a Prius?

I read some books which started me on a path to think about what is really important to both the world in general and myself in particular. I began to ask myself probing questions to try to understand the real nature of things. I started to appreciate efficiency more.

Here are a few of those books.
Deep Economy – Bill McKibben
Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth – Buckminster Fuller
Financial Happine$$ – Finley

Blogs – Mr. Money Mustache
Top 10 Cars for Smart People
Curing your Clown-Like Car Habit
What Does Your Work Truck Say About You?

What is the purpose of a daily driver? To get you from point A to point B as efficiently as possible (at least that’s my purpose for it now). You will see that many race car drivers drive rather boring vehicles (of course many also have many fast cars). The reason many  race car drivers drive rather boring vehicles is because they recognize they can’t reach anywhere near the limits of the performance of the vehicle on the street. When your race car is purpose built to go fast, would you enjoy a vehicle that is compromised for street driving? Looking at it objectively, the Prius does exactly what a vehicle is intended to do. I am working on getting over seeing vehicles as some symbol of status. The facts are, a fancy vehicle is just a way of showing off how much you can afford (or borrow). If we want people to know we make a lot of money or have a lot wouldn’t it be easier to just walk around with our net worth statement floating above our heads (perhaps our salary also). That’d sure be a lot more efficient than burning an extra $1,000 a year driving a vehicle that is doing it’s job (transporting you efficiently) inefficiently. For more on that you can listen to my YouTube videos about saving for retirement (freedom), posts about it,  or about one of my New Year’s Resolutions to have $100,000 in my retirement by the end of the year (on track with the good returns the market has had in the last month).

I’ve had my 1987 Monte Carlo SS, which is admittedly not the pinnacle of performance vehicles, since I was 15 years old. I was always thinking about upgrading it to go faster. Why, because that’s what I was influenced to think was good by people around me as well as magazines (Hot Rod, Car Craft). Once I had the funds to make it an option to spend thousands of dollars to make it a lot faster I did a little more thinking about the time and money that it’d cost to upgrade the Monte and I figured it was cheaper and more efficient to buy a newer sports car if my goal was to go fast. This lead to the purchase of a 02007 Mustang GT. It was a faster vehicle, and due to 20 years of technology it also got better gas mileage up to 25 mpg’s, going 55mph. I realized that although it was faster, I couldn’t really utilize that extra performance most of the time. Now I was continually thinking about buying an even faster vehicle or modifying the Mustang. What stopped me was the realization that the money I would invest would really only lead to reduced general performance, mileage, while not really gaining me any actual useful performance. Perhaps a few seconds faster in an autocross that I participate in once a year or a second faster drag racing, also 1x a year. So my car would basically be good at nothing. It’d get a bit worse mileage and go a tiny bit faster, which I’d never get to utilize.

So to the Prius. The beauty of the Prius is it accomplishes its task with highest efficiency. It’s goal is to move people efficiently (less gas) and it accomplishes that in spades! I have driven it through an Iowa winter and over 10,000 miles.

A side effect of the increased mileage is saving you money and depending on what you are transferring from, a significant amount! You can see that if you drive a Prius (45mpg) instead of a truck (20mpg), even at $2.00 gas is a could be a savings of over $1000 a year (if you drive 20,000 miles a year).  This is in addition to having lower insurance since it’s a cheaper vehicle.

prius mileage

One of the main questions I get is “What about the battery?” It is a fair question. People are generally afraid of things they don’t understand. Being as huge batteries is still (sort of) new technology (we’ve had Prius’ for 18 years now, people still haven’t had a ton of exposure to them. The short story I can tell them is, look on the internet for the history people have had with the Prius and other hybrids. If there were massive problems, people wouldn’t keep buying the car for over 18 years. A battery replacement is about as common as an engine replacement and costs about the same, probably a bit less. A battery sure has less moving parts than an engine or transmission!
From having the opportunity to drive various “cool” vehicles (1987 Monte Carlo SS, 2008 GSXR 600, 1981 Honda Bobber, 1957 Chevy (dad’s) and various “average” vehicles, minivans, 2001 Silverado, 2007 Prius, Ford Focus, I have had the opportunity to see people’s reactions to various different vehicles. It is always cool to drive a neat car and have people interested in it. I can’t tell you how many people asked about or commented on the 1957 Chevy when I drove it for a week. It was a lot. I also get rather regular comments on the 1987 Monte Carlo SS. I find it funny that driving the Prius family and friends go out of their way to make negative comments about it. Am I not the same person driving the Prius as I was driving the “cool” car? Maybe I’m not, but I like the new me. It’s just an improved version of the old me. I can continue to drive the “cool” vehicles occasionally while driving the Prius most of the time for its efficiency.

Bugatti Veyron, Elio And My Wheel Life

I read an interesting article today about the Bugatti Veyron, the most expensive production car, that had any significant volume. Don’t tell me about the $4 million Lambo they made 3 of, they’ve made hundreds of Veyrons. That a lot for a hypercar. It ended with this sentence. “The Bentley customer on average owns 8 cars. The average Bugatti customer has about 84 cars, 3 jets and one yacht.” Along with a book I’ve been reading, this sentence got me thinking.

Bugatti Veyron Thanks to Axion23 (Flickr Creative Commons)

Bugatti Veyron
Thanks to Axion23 (Flickr Creative Commons)

What is the purpose of a supercar (or 84). I’ve lusted after supercars, muscle cars, dirt bikes, Harley’s, rat rods and muscle cars since I was young. My father was a “car guy”, and really he was a race car driver, which is a special kind of car guy who loves to spend even more of his his money than the average car guy on his car and a car guy who actually drives his car hard 99% of the time (except when idling around the pits.)

Dad racing picture

Anyway, between that and the time I saw a guy who was about 5 years older than me driving his Firebird around with some attractive girls, I’ve always been attracted to cars (and girls).

I am pretty lucky and blessed as peoples lives go. I currently own a total of 5 licensed vehicles, including a Honda bobber I built mostly myself and a GSXR 600, a Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, a Mustang a winter beater truck, and a dirt bike, just for fun, and even some projects sitting at my parents home to be completed…. sometime. I recently had a realization of sorts that it just might be financially feasible for me to purchase some of the vehicles I had lusted after as a child. 2012 Boss Mustang? Dodge Viper? Corvette? Ferrari?

I ran into a few problems once I started down this line of thinking. One problem was the insurance, registration and maintenance on the cars I had already was a pretty significant annual cost. Another was, as I’m a big fan of “giving back” I started to contemplate if it was reasonable for me to have so much while some has so little.

Which brings me back to the question, why do we keep building more and more vehicles for ourselves? Are we trying to buy happiness? This has lead me to ask myself “What will really make me happy?” A sentence from “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben states “volunteer work of all kinds generated ‘high levels of joy, exceeded only by dancing’. Why? The most common answers included ‘I meet people and make friends through it.’”

So are we really getting all this satisfaction from more and more cars? My personal answer seems to be a no. Which is a difficult thing to say. I have loved cars since I can remember. I even went school to design them (I’m working on diesel engines, a bit of a compromise, but still designing and engines, I’ll count it as a win).

I’ve been attending a financial club which has been telling me some things that are not novel by any means but might sound that way just because of the stories we’re fed by the media. One is “Don’t buy a car with a loan, pay cash.” What a crazy idea? I’ve bought 3 vehicles with loans since I graduated college, granted they have each been under $10000 so total, they are about equal to one $20,000 car a “normal” person would have bought, but being a car guy, I have had the urge for quantity over quality at times.

Recently I reevaluated my finances. I determined my recurring monthly and told a friend about it. After she told me my monthly recurring expenses was greater than her salary, I thought I could make a change. I’ve been living in a single apartment for 2 years. I’m hoping to move in with a roommate and cut some that expense about in half (I have already talked to a few people and believe I have plans made, but it’s not been executed yet so I have to count it as in progress still). I have also had to re-evaluate my eating habits. No doubt, the normal person would take one look at my eating habits and say “WTF”. I often eat out for lunch 5x a week and usually 2+ times a  week for diner, and not counting weekends in that even, those are free right? Wrongo-Bongo. I’ve tried to be a bit more reasonable in that and purchase food at the beginning of the week and make a lunch. That cuts the expenses in half at least. Couple that with eating out less overall and I feel I’m on a good path.

I have had a hard time giving up the cars. I still have them all, although I have threatened to sell the Mustang (to myself) a few times. I just haven’t pulled the trigger yet. It sounds nice and makes me smile. I’m not advocating for complete immaterialism, although minimalism has made a lot of folks happy. I’ve been considering a quote from a priest friend “I live simply so others can simply live.” That really makes you stop and think.

So to bring it back to cars, what car is living simply? What is the complete opposite of a Bugatti Veryron? How about an Elio? This is a car that’s not designed to be a “look at me car”. It’s built on practicality. On preserving the earth. On getting 84 MPG instead of 2.3MPG for the Veyron (at 253 mph). To be fair, it likely won’t be driven that fast, or likely at all, considering the 84 other cars, and 3 jets and a yacht it’s average owner has to spend time driving. Lets be honest, if you make that much money, you likely don’t need to drive yourself around, and probably you don’t! Your body guards probably won’t let you. What if instead of measuring our success by the number of cars we have we measured it by the number of people we’ve helped? Or what if businesses didn’t measure success by how much money they made but by how much they let the people buying their products keep? Crazy?


Here’s my proposal (because I still like cars, a LOT!). Someone who’s rocking one of these 84 cars (Jay Leno maybe?), please let me borrow one, just for a year (and pay my insurance please 🙂  (or maybe about 8 months) and let me use it to find myself and influence people in a positive way. That’s My Wheel Life today. Hope you enjoyed it. And if you know someone who’s own 84 cars, please forward this to them.

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What idea most affected you out of this article?

How do you measure your own success?


2. My Wheel Life – My Monte

My Wheel Life – My Monte

Monte with flames

Monte with flames

Quartermile: The quick story
What I hope you gather from this story is that this car has been a lot of fun for me. I have driven it a lot, all over of the country. I have also fixed a lot of things, many not mentioned in this post. You become closer to your car when you work on it. You also gain confidence that you can drive it anywhere because you can fix it if something does break!

The rest of the story:
I have a lot of posts that I’d like to write but a lot of them are works in progress. I wanted to start with one that showcased my true passion for cars. I will share with you my the story of my first car. Buckle up the racing seat belt and hold on because this will be a bit of a long one!

My first car ever was a 1987 Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe. My uncle found it in the for sale section of http://www.montecarloss.com when I was 15 and a half years old. At the time the plan was for me to buy the car and my father or uncle would pay me back, or something to that effect? Who knows how true stories like these actually are? Anyway long story short we purchased this car from a man in Arkansas (Arr-can-sauce?), or Tennessee, or Kentucky? I can’t remember, that was 10 years ago! All the main bearings were spun on the original 305 but the body was in great shape. Growing up in northern Wisconsin I was used to copious amounts of rust on every vehicle I’d ever seen.

I purchased two used Chevrolet 350 small blocks from The Trading Post, newspaper for $400 and my dad helped me install the “new” engine in the car. Our test drive was the 2005 Hot Rod Power Tour. It started in Milwaukee, WI. We made it approximately to Tennessee before we had to go home for a funeral. The car performed flawlessly though and I loved every minute of it.

The car was my daily driver through my junior and senior years of high school. My first “real” “street race” was the summer after high school. I was on a back road and a buddy from high school was driving by with his 1971 Dodge Challenger, basically the only other muscle car in my school. In all honesty neither of us was really a fast car but hey we were 17 years old! I figured I had him since I had the 350. We both mashed the gas from a rolling start with our slush boxes and he blew me away. I was dumbfounded when I looked at my instrument panel and my heat gauge was pegged! It had never even worked before? I putted to my buddies house and we determined pretty quickly my water pump had fallen off? All 4 bolts fell out? What the heck?

While deciding what to do with my life, during the summer of 2006,my father and I took a trip to Wyo tech in Laramie, Wyoming in the Monte. On the way back I smoked a tiny antelope. Surprisingly the Monte sustained very little damage but some paint was knocked off the front. I decided now was the time to paint flames on the car rather than try to match the white. I laid out the (not quite symmetrical) flames using a car from Car Craft magazine as a reference, and went to town. I thought this was awesome!

In September 2007 it was off to college. Living in dorms and houses with 3 other guys and no garage is not conducive to working on cars, never mind the being strapped for cash part of college. I drove the Monte in spring, summer and fall and parked it for half the year during Wisconsin winters. After my sophomore year of college I took the opportunity to reward myself for all my hard work at college with a set of emissions legal headers and y pipe! I was so excited.

One great story of the Monte during college happened during the summer of 2008. I was heading back from the Iola old car show, or maybe it was the Jefferson car show? Eitherway, I ended up going east instead of west and ended in Oshkosh,WI.  This was before I had a GPS, or anything more than a trac phone. I thought I could backtrack on mapquest directions.My destination was supposed to be Platteville, WI where I was attending summer school. I finally found my heading and was going through Madison, WI when my car died and i muscled it to the right and into a parking lot as it died. I called my mother’s cousin who happened to live there at the time. We left it in the parking lot Saturday night and Sunday morning we diagnosed a failed fuel pump. $17 later and we replaced it in the parking lot and I finished my journey back to Platteville. Aren’t old cars great!

During one trip home, April 13, 2010 to be exact, I parked my car in the one spot in the yard I shouldn’t have and of course it was the one time it wouldn’t start and it was milkman day on the farm. The milkman backed into the front of my car. Luckily it was all perfectly laid out that the ONLY thing that happened was my hood folded in half like cardboard? I couldn’t think of any good analogies there. Luckily my father, being the man he was, had three Monte Carlo SS’s sitting around the yard. I “borrowed” the hood of the least likely to run car and drove my car back to college. At this point the Monte was getting pretty “trashy” looking. The flames, the rusty grey hood and the roof paint was peeling off.

Monte bent hood

Monte after being backed into by milkman

January 2012 I took that 2 weeks of my winter break and painted the Monte single stage white It looked WAY cleaner.

Gray hood

Gray hood





In May 2012 I graduate from college with a mechanical engineering degree. I was able to push off starting work until after the 2012 Power Tour from Detroit, MI to Austin, TX. I was a long hauler and my oldest sister (4 years younger than me?), went with me. We had a great time.

By this time friends who didn’t understand old cars began to give me a hard time that my interior was looking “rough”. This was true but in my defense the car was 25 years old at this point. In the last year (2013) I had started to do some minor “pretty” maintenance. I repainted my faded door panels. I found the nice black covers for the interior door straps. I replaced the shattered and acid rain etched side mirrors and repainted a few of the more faded exterior components. (Door handles, plastic around the gas cap which on Monte Carlo’s is hidden behind the rear license plate, Slick!). It’s pretty incredible what the small things like this do to actually make your car appear a lot more “finished”.

The last maintenance on my Monte was replacing a starter that had a huge draw and wouldn’t turn the car over at times. I also recently “borrowed” some black rims from the same uncle who found the car for me originally (he has a few Montes himself) and changed the look of the car up a little. I have put over 60k miles on the car since I bought it and I have loved every one.

Monte with black rims

Monte with black rims

Monte with chrome lug nuts, center caps and white wall wash.

Monte with chrome lug nuts, center caps and white wall wash.

I recently purchased a 2nd car, to be discussed in a future post, so perhaps the monte can be put out of commission, for a while, and made faster! I have great plans, heads and cam swap, rear gears, LS engine? Who knows.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Please share any stories of your favorite, or not so favorite car. Have you had it forever? Did you just buy it?

As always, I hope you enjoy the ride.

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