After Clare’s Dad suggests giving Ben driving lessons for his next birthday the whole family end up discussing trading in their four-by-four for an eco-car.
It’s a wet day, and we’re driving into town to go shopping, when Dad mentions Ben’s 17th birthday, which is in November.
“Since you’re going to be 17, how would like driving lessons for your birthday?” Dad asks, still watching the road.
“That would be awesome!” Ben says, grinning.
“I would’ve got you a car, but you know, with the job and everything…” Dad says, a little wistfully.
“It’s okay”, Ben smirks, “I can learn in your car.”
“In the Jag!” Dad cries, “I think not, young man!”
“So if I want to drive into town or something, I’m going to have to drive this hunk of metal?” Ben cries.
I have to agree that I don’t like our 4×4 either, but not because of its speed, or handling, or whatever it is that Ben’s protesting about. We live on the edge of an upmarket town, with really good bus routes, and still Mum insists on driving us about in something that, according to Ben, was built for off-road. We’ve never been off-road, unless you count Mum backing onto the pavement. I really, really, hate this car. I remember reading an old article from 2006 saying that a quarter of Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions comes from transport, and that it was meant to rise. I wonder how much carbon dioxide is being given off now? As I listen to Dad and Ben discussing where the 4×4 is a good car to learn to drive in.
“Dad…” I say, from the backseat, “I know I don’t know a lot about cars…. but couldn’t we sell this car and buy a more eco-friendly car, that would be easier for Ben to learn to drive in?”
There’s a pause, as Ben and Dad seem to think.
“That might, actually, be a good idea”, Dad says slowly, “This thing does guzzle a lot of diesel. Perhaps its time to switch to a car that’s a little cheaper to run.”
“Are you sure?” Mum says, “The reason we bought this car was to make sure the children were kept safe. And if Ben’s going to learn to drive I’d like him to be in the safest car possible.”
“I know”, Dad says, “But Clare has a point about it not being the most eco-friendly car, and honestly, we both know how much this thing costs to run.”
Mum turns in her seat, to glance at me.
“Clare, aren’t there any other ways of driving eco-friendly, without having to replace the car?” She asks, hopefully.
“Well”, I say, “There’s lots of tips about how to save fuel, like avoiding short journeys and planning journeys so you don’t get lost and therefore waste fuel driving round in circles. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam you can switch off the engine, and make sure the tyres are fully inflated, because if they aren’t it can increase fuel consumption and emissions by 3%.”
“See”, Mum nods, “Those are easy things we can do that’ll reduce the amount of fuel we need and the amount of pollution we create.”
“But surely its a bit pointless if other cars are still going to be more efficient and eco-friendly”, I point out.
“And cheaper to run”, chips in Dad.
“And easier to drive”, Ben adds.
“So what are you suggesting”, Mum asks, “That we swap the 4×4 for a hybrid?”
“What is a hybrid car, anyway?” Daisy suddenly pipes up, looking up from her phone.
“Basically”, I explain, “It’s a car with two sources of energy, which are usually a normal engine and an electric motor.”
“Hold on, aren’t diesel cars just as efficient as hybrids?” Ben asks, “Compared to petrol cars.”
“I don’t know”, I admit, “But I do know there are now hybrid diesel cars.”
“Could we even afford a new car?” Daisy asks, “I thought we were meant to be ‘saving’, isn’t that why I’m having to sew a pair of freaking curtains.”
“Daisy!” Mum warns.
“If we sold this car, we’d have some money to buy a new one”, I say.
“That’s a nice idea, but they’d be a shortfall”, Dad sighs, “We’d be selling this car second-hand, and buying a new car…”
“Who says it has to be a new car!” I interrupt, “Surely buying a second-hand car would be better? We wouldn’t be consuming new materials, we’d be re-using something, extending its life.”
“I suppose”, Mum says.
“I think its a good idea”, Dad says affirmatively, “If we want to save money in the long term, and save the planet,” He adds, nodding at me briefly, “Then we need to do something big.”
“You mean it?” I say excitedly.
“If your mother agrees, then yes, I think we should start looking for a new car, and put this hunk of junk up for sale.”
I lean over to see Mum’s face. Mum looks uncertain for a second, then sighs.
“It does make sense”, She concludes, “Alright.”
“Trust me”, Dad smiles, “It’ll cut a load off our household outgoings. I mean, think of the amount we spend filling this car up? Think of the insurance we pay on it. And that’ll go up if we add Ben on as a driver.”
“I’d forgotten that”, Mum says.
“Insurance?” I ask, puzzled. I don’t really understand what insurance is. Only that the cars and house need it.
“Actually, if you think about it”, Mum says suddenly, “Even if we bought a second-hand hybrid car, at 17, Ben’s insurance is going to be very costly. He won’t be able to afford it with just his weekend job and his allowance.”
“Wait, aren’t you and Dad going to pay for my insurance too?” Ben asks.
“No, of course not! You can’t expect us to pay for you forever!” Mum exclaims.
“In which case”, Dad says, “Perhaps we should hold off on the driving lessons, for now…”
“Well, frankly, I think he should learn to drive once he’s a bit more mature anyway”, Mum says, “Like when he’s 21.”
“What?!” cries Ben in disbelief.
“How about a new computer game for your birthday?” Dad says.
Ben just groans. I just smile. We’re going to buy an eco-car!