Old Car, New Label: Design, Mobile, EPA and the DOT

What with the two kids, the dog and all the stuff–theirs and ours–that typically accompanies us when we head out on the road, our 2005 Toyota Matrix sure has shrunk quite a bit since we bought it as “the biggest family car we could ever possibly want/need.”

So at times Catherine and I have played the “What’s our next family car?” game. Honda Element? Toyota CRV? Flat out, bona-fide minivan? See the trend? My erstwhile dreams about that Vespa or a sprightly little Mini Cooper are simply out of the question.

We’re not actually looking for a new car. But if we were, the new fuel economy labels the US Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency launched this summer are supposed to have made our purchasing decisions more informed.

EPA-DOT-car-labelGone are the mpg-only labels. Now from the car lot we’ll also be able to look at pollutant output and better gauge fuel savings. Most intriguing, as described further in this article from USA Today, is a QR Code.

The code in the sample above takes you to the mobile site where the US government provides detailed information about fuel economy. Specifically, it links over to a detailed summary of the new car fuel economy labels and what the different sections mean. But were we to have scanned the code from the car lot, off of an actual car, we would have been taken to a calculator that would have let us calculate exact mileage costs for the specific car model in question based on personalized commute information we would have been able to input with our phones.

Nice use of design to update the labels. Nice use of QR codes that actually offer a functional benefit.

Nice way to get me dreaming again about that Element. Or maybe a Nissan Cube?

The One Where Mandle Gets A Prius

Day One of car sharing for work is complete. “My” car was there in the car port when I arrived at the LRT station this morning. My key fob worked. The interior was clean–so much so that there was even that new car smell. The gas tank was full.

But I’m not going to lie about my inaugural experience with HourCar: It stressed me out.

I was nervous this morning about not getting to the car in time for the start to me reservation. (Impact of late arrival is nothing but the cost of the reservation start time. No biggie. But hey, I’m a miser…).

I was nervous about the meeting going over and not making it back in time before the reservation was over. (See above re: being a miser. And note that I DID make it back in time.)

But most of the stress wasn’t from nerves exactly. It was me sitting in the driver’s seat trying to figure out how to turn the car on. Everything you’ve ever heard about the Prius driving quiet is true. So true that I couldn’t figure out which mode of “on” was the one I needed, and then how to move the car from park into drive. No key, no ignition, no traditional shift changer. Sounds futuristic and cool. Except when there’s no time to explore.

Everything worked out in the end and I drove to where I needed to be, in more or less the time I needed to be there. But the stress of the Prius electronics and start-up makes me slightly tempted to drive the Honda Fit next time, although that vehicle is not as conveniently located for early morning pickup with mass transit, bike, etc. Stay tuned.

Application Is Approved

Last week I blogged about my family’s decision to launch in to the local car-sharing program in the Twin Cities, hourcar. Tomorrow morning I’ll be ready to roll off to my first client meeting courtesy of four wheels that are mine, and not. Wheels that are rented, and not [really].

First major surprise of the experience? My application was approved in under a week. To be clear: I’m not entirely surprised about the acceptance. It’s the speed of acceptance that has me floored.

Second surprise? Along with my membership key fob, the friendly folks at hourcar also sent me an hourcar member T-shirt. I will wear it with pride!

Stay tuned for more from the first day out on the road with my new wheels.

Have Car, Will Travel

For something like three years my wife and I have been part of a one car family. We had purchased a new family car in 2005 as part of our “nesting” phase before Jackson was born–it replaced Catherine’s old Honda. The car I’d brought in to our marriage ended up being our emergency vehicle, but was rarely used because: A) The new car drove like a charm, B) I commuted to work downtown via bus, and C) Catherine prefers to drive automatic.

So one spring we decided that someone else would appreciate the old car more than our neighbors would, having to see it parked out in front of the house all the time. And away the car went.

Life in a one-car family has been great for us financially, given the costs of insurance and vehicle depreciation. Plus the lure of a second gas-guzzling mode of transit. And although MetroTransit isn’t exactly a dream of a mass transit system (i.e., it could do with more frequent buses and more dependable schedules especially on weekends), it works perfectly for weekday commutes. Especially our shiny new–not really but it is still the only rails I’ve ridden for my commutes–LRT line.

Since the spring this year, though, our one-car system has started to present some difficulty. My new position at Colle+McVoy meant I was predominantly working with clients who are based here in the Twin Cities–but out beyond Minneapolis City Limits. Jackson’s school schedule–and our plans for things to do with Amelia during school–meant we needed more flexibility.

A second car was out of the question for the same reasons that drove us to sell #2 back in 2007. While I would have LOVED to get a little Vespa to bring back some personal travel flexibility, it would not have worked for us come the winter months. And so this morning I signed up for hourcar.

I’ll be blogging on the experience as it unfolds further.