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DayCreek Journal

November 6, 2004

Gaining Insight @ 70MPG

It was a sad day last winter when Jo's old Subaru went to the big garage in the sky. It was a great "commuter" car for my commutes to and from Illinois averaging 28 to 30 MPG. Unfortunately, it was gnawed to death by those pesky mice and after its untimely death, I continued to use our Dodge Ram (diesel) pickup truck for all of my driving—typically driving over 500 miles per week.

On and off during the year I considered buying another commuter car that would get much better gas mileage than the truck. I just couldn't justify the added expense of maintaining and insuring another vehicle. But due to rising fuel prices and all the added wear and tear on the truck, I finally succumbed to the reality that it made "cents" to purchase a second vehicle.

I considered purchasing a used Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta (TDI) turbo diesel or possibly a hybrid. The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla with manual transmission gets somewhere in the neighborhood of the upper 30's MPG and are quite reliable cars. The Jetta diesel gets mid to upper 40's MPG, but the added up front cost of a diesel and expensive maintenance was a bit too high priced for my blood.

On the hybrid front, I decided to see what used hybrids might be available. They've been on the market since the year 2000, but are somewhat rare. Living in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area has its advantages thanks to Chris Schneider (local hybrid guru) who works at Honda Motorwerks in downtown La Crosse. Chris goes to just about everywhere in the midwest touting the advantages of hybrid vehicles. (I've met him numerous times over the past few years at renewable energy symposiums.)

Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse, Wisconsin sells more pre-owned Honda Insights that any other dealer in the United States.

I gave Chris a call to see what he had on the lot. I was familiar with the Honda Insight having taken a test drive a few years back and my interest was focused on this particular hybrid for a number of reasons: (1) It has the best gas mileage of any car on the market (Manual Transmission: 61 City, 66 Highway), (2) It has an aluminum body so it won't rust and (3) although somewhat pricey, it was the least expensive of any of the three used hybrids on the market (Honda Civic, Honda Insight and Toyota Prius).

The downside to the Insight is the fact that it's only a two-seater with not much cargo space. That's not necessarily bad for my particular needs. The majority of the time, it's just me driving and unless I'm hauling building materials, a two-seater was fine by me If I could get somewhere close to 70 MPG.

While contemplating the Insight, I found what I thought might be a good deal on a used 98 Civic through an ad in the paper, but I wasn't very happy with the owner not being straight with me regarding a dented door and roof!? (He said he had no idea how the dents got there. Yea. Right.) So I gave up on the "beater" approach and set my eyes on a certified, pre-owned Honda Insight.

Chris called to tell me about a 2000 Insight that he had with only 6,700 miles on it. It seemed quite unusual to find a 2000 model with such low mileage. I asked Chris if he had information on who was the original owner of the vehicle. Doing a title search revealed that the vehicle came from Nissan's test facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hmmm...Nissan's test facility? I did a thorough inspection of the vehicle to see if it looked like it had been "dissected" by a bunch of car geeks, but I couldn't find any signs of tampering.

Besides the Insight, Honda currently sells a Civic Hybrid and next year they are introducing a hybrid version of the Accord.

After mulling it over, it sounded like a pretty good vehicle to buy considering that the car still had a decent portion of the original warranty: 8 years/80,000 miles on the hybrid components + 7 years/100,000 miles on the drive train. Less the age and mileage this leaves 4 years/73,000 miles on the hybrid components and 3 years/93,000 miles on the drive train. Considering that I typically put well over 20,000 miles on the vehicle per year, the warranty will probably run out just about the time that the mileage reaches the warranty limit. (Being a pre-owned, certified vehicle the car also comes with a 12 month warranty on all other components.)

I sat down at the computer and using MS Excel I amortized the cost of the vehicle over a seven year time frame. Seven years seems reasonable for this car. I included the potential cost of a new battery pack in the computations, plus the added cost of insurance. It pretty much came out as a wash when compared with the cost of the diesel pickup truck. But that's not a fair comparison. There are the unknowns...how much longer with the truck last me? It's already got 180,000 miles on it. What will the price of fuel be in another year or two?

It just seemed to make sense to keep the truck as a construction/farm vehicle and buy an Insight for most of my long haul driving. Needless to say, I'm the proud owner of a Honda Insight.

Here's a few interesting facts about the Honda Insight:

  • Honda continues to manufacture the Insight but in very small numbers. I'm not sure if it's because of the lack of demand or if it costs too much for Honda to make the vehicles. Alternet.org's article ( December 8, 2003) mentions that when the Honda Insight was introduced, it was sold at $6,500 below cost. So why would Honda make them? Very likely for the investment in new technology and for the publicity. Check out the governments fuel efficiency web site and you'll see the Honda Insight is #1 when it comes to fuel efficiency. Being #1 on the list, puts Honda in the limelight.

  • The power steering on the Insight is controlled by a DC brushless motor that is rated to last the lifetime of the vehicle—no hydraulics.

  • The Battery Module uses nickel metal hydride (NiMH) technology for high energy density and long service life. The battery is manufactured by Panasonic EV Energy and weighs only 48 lbs. or 22 kg. The cells each have a voltage of 1.2v, and are connected in series for a Battery Module terminal voltage of 144V. The Battery Module's rated capacity is 6.5 Ah, resulting in a storage capacity of .936 kWh. The Battery Module is only available as a complete assembly.

  • The all aluminum body will not rust. Aluminum develops a protective film when exposed to corrosive road salt, preventing further corrosion. The car also exceeds all federal safety standards.

  • The aerodynamics of the Insight are the best of any production car at .25. This of course is one of the reasons why the car has such great fuel mileage.

  • Not that I would ever go this fast but...the Insight's top speed is 112 MPH and goes from 0 to 60 MPH in 10.6 seconds. Who says hybrid's are slow?

The Honda Insight is a fascinating and fun car to drive. By watching the instantaneous fuel mileage, you quickly become obsessed with maximizing your fuel efficiency. Every car in the United States should have one of these gauges regardless if it's a hybrid or not. I truly believe it would change people's driving habits.

If you would like to learn more about the Insight, the best web site on the Internet is InsightCentral.net. There's loads of information on the vehicle at this web site along with a very active forum.

After driving the car now for a couple of weeks and making a few long trips, I've been able to exceed over 70 MPG on round-trips to Illinois and since owning the vehicle my average MPG is 68.8. Over time I hope to get that average even higher.

Since owning the vehicle, my LMPG (Lifetime Miles per Gallon) is 68.8.

Also, don't forget to check out my brother Jim's review of the new Toyota Prius right here on Daycreek.