Although I am an ignoramus

… who knows nothing about cars, when I read the slip from the mechanic, listing the things that needed to be fixed for the car to pass her WOF, even I could tell that we were looking at a Significant Amount of Money.

Now our car is an old bird, but when we bought her four years ago, she was the mythical unicorn of the used car trade, one careful lady owner, garaged for years, impeccably cared for with an up to date maintenance log, under 100,000 kms on her clock, putty coloured, hand-knitted blanket on the back seat, all that and the seller only wanted $600 for her. She was the most bargain-like of bargains. I’ve never admitted this to Ciaran, but my winter boots that year cost more than the car did. Still, in all fairness, the boots are still going and the car is not.

So she’s been a sweetheart, comfortable and economical to run, and reasonable to maintain, until now. I believe the old dear has caught a bad case of crap-out-itis, an inevitable condition of her advanced years. Ciaran is an optimistic soul; I tend more towards the negative interpretation of the facts, so holding the WOF slip in my hand I was thinking, “this is the beginning of the end for the old girl, even if we fix up these things and keep her legal, who’s to say that six months later, there won’t be a whole other raft of problems to contend with?” Sure enough, when Ciaran called the mechanic the next day to ask for his advice, he concurred that he didn’t think it was worth doing the work on the car.

It was time for a new car. We gritted our teeth, leapt on our trusty steed Trade Me (think eBay if you’re outside of NZ) and galloped off into the murky depths of the used car section. We’d talked about buying a Toyota Prius for our next car, but we’d talked about this in a nebulous, four or five years down the track kinda way, and hadn’t yet started saving for it. It quickly became apparent that even the cheaper, older models of Prius were beyond our current resources.

So then we asked ourselves how much we wanted to spend. We counted our pennies. Just a week ago, we got back from a five week trip to Scotland. We are officially not very solvent. We did some sums. The results were depressing. It wasn’t going to buy us a lot of car. Maybe half a 1970s Toyota Starlet.

We considered loans, both from established financial institutions, which makes no sense financially, as any fool knows, and from the Imperial Bank of Kind Relations, which we are both a bit uncomfortable with, even though we are blessed to be surrounded by these kind and generous folk.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that through a combination of the paltry funds we did have, a small, short term loan from Nice People and a bit of nefarious black market activity, we could probably scrape together $2,000. Back to Trade Me. It was about this point in the evening’s proceedings that I lost the will to live, got grumpy and went off to eat chocolate cake.

I can’t actually remember which of us came up with the truly radical idea that maybe we could consider living without a car for a while.

A quick note here; obviously we are both well aware that living without a car is not actually a fate worse than death, that several squillion of the world’s inhabitants do not have a 4WD parked in their garage, and that it’s only spoilt bastards like us in the decadent West that get so dependent on the automobile that the prospects of living without one causes us to gasp, and pale and beat our breasts. This, when you think about it, is as good a reason as any of the other many good reasons to get rid of your wheels.

But to put this tale briefly in its local context, we live in New Zealand, which has a population of just over 4.3 million people* and over 4 million vehicles registered for use on New Zealand roads**. Recent statistical studies quibble over whether NZ has the 2nd or 3rd highest per capita car ownership figures in the world. Either way, those figures paint a picture of a country that is deeply reliant on the car. We plan to explore the reasons for this here over the next months, so I won’t expand on this point here and now, other than to note that we’re planning to do something which is culturally unusual here.

*Statistics New Zealand, Tatauranga Aotearoa

**NZ Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi. This includes all types of vehicles registered for use on the roads in NZ.

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