Mazda B2200

I have always driven slow cars. It’s not that I have anything against fast cars, though. It was more or less an accident, aided and abetted by poverty. When I was young and wanting to drive fast, I got my first slow car, an extravagant $1,200 gift from my grandmother, a 1979 Honda Civic. It would go about 80 miles an hour with a tail wind, and I managed to get a few speeding tickets in it before I turned 20. It looked just like this except with a lot less paint:

1979 Honda Civic CVCC Hatchback

I bought my second (and current) slow car at 20, a 1988 Mazda pickup, and got my next and final speeding ticket a few months later. I was on the I-5 just south of Corning, CA. The Highway Patrol officer said, “You were going well over 70 miles per hour.”

I decided at that moment that speeding was not worth it. It was expensive and stressful because of the tickets and because of constantly watching the rear-view. “Oh crap, is that a Mustang? Is is black and white, or is that just sun glinting off of it?”

So why would I want a fast car? If I can get speeding tickets in slow cars, why would I want to tempt myself with all that velocity-headroom? No reason I could think of, until now.

Reanna and I just drove to Joshua Tree from Whistler in a fast car, a 2001 Acura 3.2CL. Borrowed. The owner told us he’d been clocked by radar at just under 150 miles per hour, and then the officer who clocked him (after he was off duty) drove it just over 150.

Still, I was not much tempted to speed. My aversion to paying speeding tickets has only grown over the years. But I realized that velocity is not the real reason to have a fast car. It’s acceleration. Driving is a series of decisions about what is safe to do. Is it safe to pass this slow car? Do I have enough room to change lanes? Make this left turn? Etc. In my Mazda, the answer is very often, “No, I’d better not.” In my decades of driving it, all those “No” decisions became invisible. It’s not a choice if there’s only one choice, right? In the Acura, even with my habitually conservative driving style, the answer is usually “Yes, no problem at all.” A very different experience!

Fast Car, Slow Car

And even though I was still driving the speed limit, I think that all those “Yes” decisions add up to to a faster trip, especially on a long trip like we just made. I continue to think that fast cars are probably not worth the extra money for the purchase price or for the lower gas mileage, but I concede that fast cars probably increase your quality of life.

Left: About to put chains on my B2200, just north of Mt. Shasta. Right: Mazda & Reanna, Indian Cove, CA.

My Mazda B2200 pickup was first sold the year I started driving, 1988. I bought the truck from my girlfriend’s dad in 1992 for $3,800, with about 80,000 miles on it. It was my second vehicle, after a 1979 Honda Civic that went through two engines in three years. It wasn’t a great deal but I thought it was a good vehicle after driving it off and on for six months. Nineteen years later I can say that it was a good buy.

Now it has 254,566 miles on it, total, and is 83,857 miles into its second engine. It just pulled a load that weighed over 4,235 pounds for 1,112 miles – from Eugene to Joshua Tree – including the highest pass on the I-5 and several other passes. I never even had to go into first gear to get up those grades. In fact, it made the entire trip with no problem at all. (I don’t recommend pulling 4,000 pounds with your B2200, by the way. It’s only rated for 1,000 pounds of cargo, passengers included. It’s basically a station wagon in the shape of a pickup. But we did make it!) It was a slow trip, though. We were surprised to pass a tractor-trailer on a hill just south of Eugene, so we started a tally of vehicles passed:

Tally of Moving Vehicles Passed Between October 30 and December 4, 2011. (That driver passed us back as soon as we started downhill.)

My B2200 gets between 15 (around town) and 27 (on the highway, no stops, downhill, with a tail wind) miles per gallon. That’s 350 miles to the tank. I average about 22 mpg over a year of driving – pretty bad, I know. Gas mileage is my main complaint about the truck. It may run pretty clean, though. At its last smog check – in 2001 because Oregon does not require them – it blew 17 parts per million hydrocarbons (of 120 allowable and 30 average), and something less than .01% carbon monoxide (of 1% allowable and .1% average) at an idle, 792 RPM. At 2,453 RMP it blew 35 ppm HCs and still less than .01% CO. We’ll see how it does ten years later, now that I’m back in California.

The truck costs me about $1,500 to own and operate each year. I spent exactly $9,253.21 from the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2010 on everything truck-related, including fuel, registration, parts, labor, insurance etc etc. That was while I was living in Eugene, though, where I didn’t have to drive much. We’ll see how much it costs now that I’m living in driving country again. I should also say that I do most of my own auto repair – anything easy. I’ve done pretty much all of the routine maintenance, things like spark plugs, caps, rotors, fuel, air & oil filters, and tire rotations, plus other parts as they broke or wore out: the power steering pump, alternator, generator, shocks, various hoses and belts. I took it to real mechanics for the harder stuff, like the new engine, a couple mufflers, a vacuum leak, a new bumper and fender.

Whenever I hit a major repair, I have to decide if it’s worth it to keep going with this truck. Each one costs more than I could sell the truck for. So far I’ve always gone with my truck. It always seems like the it’s worth it. The transmission will probably be my next big expense – I’m still on the original transmission. That will cost $1,500 or so.

It definitely looks like a beater. Plenty of primer. I bumped into a few things over the years and always had more pressing things to spend my money on. During the big move, Reanna and I talked about a new paint job to reward the truck for hauling all my worldly possessions over those passes so admirably. We’re thinking yellow, or maybe red. My dad used to be a car painter, so he can show us how.

Moments With My Truck: A reunion, a roadtrip, the recent move. (Collages by Reanna)

Here are some photos from my move with Reanna to California:

Joe, Nathen, and Layer 1 in U-Haul

Layer 2 in U-Haul

Layer 3 in U-Haul

Layer 5 in U-Haul

Reanna on U-Haul at Rest Stop

Just Another Trailer

Lauri & Ev's Apple Cider

Reanna Makes Lunch

Reanna (Tiny), Sign (Huge)

Caswell State Recreation Area

Nathen, Stanislaus River

Nathen, Bedhead, $6 Sunglasses

U-Haul Trailer Tire, Blown Out (Rim Behind Tire is Cracked)

Reanna, Tumbleweed Pom-Poms

Welcome Display by Mom

Reanna Meets Oliver

Reanna Plays With Oliver