New Zealanders' comfy relationship with second-hand cars often throws up an unexpected problem: what do we do with them once they've run their course? This query becomes harder when you're trying your best to minimise waste and do right by the environment.
Do our modern, greener lifestyles mean we have to look for a better solution than just shifting responsibility for our higher polluting, older car?
Also, does buying an electric car and committing to reducing emissions count if your old lemon is still spouting our black exhaust in someone else's hands?
After buying a new car a few months ago, and realising recently we were no longer a two-car family, these questions had me thinking. Travel to work by train and a deliberate, lifestyle choice to drive together wherever possible meant our Volkswagen Golf had not moved in months.
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Also, with our second car well past the mythically unsellable 200,000km range, numerous little faults - a chip here, a funny-yet-unsolvable electrics warning light there - the trusty VW Golf had become less desirable to drive. With car costs continuing to mount like calls for action on climate change, the WOF, registration and insurance meant our second car was not sustainable financially, let alone environmentally.
The little Swedish-tinged voice in the back of my mind also wondered if having this older, worn-out car on the roads actually created worse emissions than more contemporary cars. The little old Golf was worth 54 grams more carbon dioxide per kilometre than our other car, according to car-emissions.com.
This car, though, represented the trouble with any significant effort to get greener: it's hard… and few of the options are easy. Recycling a few glass bottles is one thing, but recycling a car is more than just passing it onto the next emitter.
After a little thought and an undeniable desire to be more environmentally conscious, a third option popped up after the auctioneers and TradeMe: local Auto Wreckers. Having never needed a spare part from a wreckers before, I got to wondering: could this be how I recycle my car?
Theoretically, this made sense. You can't just park your old car at a recycling centre and think you're helping.
But this would be a sacrifice. Wreckers probably won't pay as much for a car they will just break down. Then again, I don't know anyone who thinks the TradeMe inquiries or the auctioneers' fees on everything really work out to more value in their pocket.
That's the point though with any effort to be greener, we have to give something up. You can't have all the modern comforts, save money, and make a meaningful contribution. Some people will have to give a bit more to make New Zealand a bit greener.
The local auto-wreckers were amused with the proposition. "What's wrong with it?" was their refrain. Naturally there was an air of confusion at the concept of recycling a vehicle for parts that hadn't been totalled. "It's not really what we do…"
"But you could."
A quick inspection with every flaw happily pointed out made for a change from how you normally sell a second car. Who cares if a reverse light bulb is out, if the point's not getting the highest price? It was liberating to not falsely grin through a potential buyer's inquisition-style questioning.
"It'll only be a few hundred bucks." Given the ease of selling it, that sounded better than paperwork, random online user's cryptically specific emails, or an auctioneer trying to convince me $645 after all their fees was a favour.
So that's where I left the trusty old Golf. After a good long life, he was off to greener pastures, broken down in parts for cars that still had plenty of kilometres to go. Helping reduce the demand for more new vehicles, by repairing the ones we have.
Taking cars off roads in this way may not be a cultural phenomenon, but at least it's an option for people looking to commit to a greener lifestyle. Not everyone lives close enough to work to bicycle, and electric-car ubiquity is still a few years away. In the meantime, taking positive steps like trading up for a more environmentally friendly car is at least moving in the right direction.
It was a funny little experience to recycle a whole car, but as little an impact as it may realistically make, at least I know one less 20-year-old car is out there piping black exhaust into the world.
Just as cars' eventual deterioration is a reality nowadays, one day we'll probably have to figure out largescale car-recycling too.