The MPG Smackdown: The Clunker vs. the Hybrid

Nov 05, 2007

This was sent in recently by a fellow named John Canoose.

My friend Joe lives a few blocks from me. He's a regular working stiff, just like me, though we work at different places. Now, Joe, he likes to do the right thing -- as he sees it -- so he recently bought himself a brand-new Prius.

Joe says, "Wow, it gets great gas mileage, almost 50 mpg around town and about 40 on the highway, even with 5 people in it -- you know, 4 passengers and the driver. That's pretty good."

Anyway, Joe's grandmother for years drove a beat up old Plymouth Voyager. He used to tease her about it getting maybe just a little more than 15 mpg around town. Of course, it did a lot better on the highway with that 5-speed manual transmission and 4-cylinder engine.

Grandma claims she would get something like 28 mpg, maybe a little more, on the highway. Pretty good. But Joe hated that thing; it was underpowered and it was ugly.

So when Grandma died, you guessed it, she willed the Voyager to him. It sat in Joe's driveway for a couple of weeks while he advertised it for sale in the paper. But as you would expect, no takers.

I went on a vacation at about this time. Returning from Sand-in-Your-Shorts-Beach in Florida, I drove by his house on the way home and there was the Voyager in his driveway, but it looked like it had been driven.

Joe was home, so I stopped in. "What's up?" I asked. "Decide to keep that nifty Voyager?"

Joe says, "Well, yeah. You know, I realized that I could get as good mileage as the Prius if I didn't drive it all the time."

So, is Joe flipped out or is there something going on here?

TOM: I know the answer. He got as good gas mileage in the beater Voyager if he drove it downhill all the time.

RAY: No, you knucklehead. He drove it when it was full of people. OK, now think about it. Let's say the Prius gets 40 miles per gallon per 5 people, right?

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: For 5, that's 200 people miles per gallon. The Voyager holds 7 people, so at 28 miles per gallon, or maybe a little bit better, that's 7 times 28, that's 196 people miles per gallon.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Twenty-eight, well it's almost as good as the Prius.

TOM: It is. So if you've got a crowd you can have a heap.

RAY: So who's our winner this week?

TOM: The winner is Jennifer Hendricks from Brookfield, Illinois. And for having her answer selected at random from among the pile of correct answers that we got, Jennifer is going to get a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, with which she can get our CD collection of four classic Car Talk Shows, called Four Perfectly Good Hours.

RAY: And are they four perfectly good hours?

TOM: Well, they're no worse than what you're doing now.

RAY: Oh, that's a powerful selling point. Did you come up with it all by yourself, or was that our crack marketing team at work here?

TOM: That came from the consultants. Anyway, this collection of four classic Car Talk Shows can be yours Jennifer if you want it, for being this week's puzzler winner, and congratulations.

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