Sunday, 28 July 2013

Meg - the first decade gone by

Some two weeks ago I was scoffed at, by my somewhat older female workmates, for sticking to my almost six-years-old, always reliable, Nokia 3110 Classic and not upgrading to an all-the-rage smartphone / iPhone or whatever else a modern corpo-lemming needs to swank. I refuted their half-jocose, half-serious remarks with a question how long their previous devices worked before packing up. Unsurprisingly, one said her previous smartphone had cracked after hitting table surface after being dropped from the height of 20 centimetres, the other’s iPhone had broken down after a few months from purchase, helpless technicians hadn’t known how to fix it and eventually she’d had it replaced under warranty with another shitty iPhone which even doesn’t have a removable battery. Since early 2008 when I purchased my Nokia, it has never let me down. A few times over that time it crashed and I had to turn it off and on, a few times it lost signal and needed a restart, but except for those minor incidents, the handset worked like a clockwork and nothing seems to indicate its end is near. Of course given its age it can conk out any time, but if it happens, I’ll have a justification to buy a better device, probably a low-end smartphone.

The other story is that they also asked me how I can live without access to internet in my mobile phone. Well, the real life is offline and may it stay so. I don’t keep track of the ever-accelerating world and don’t follow my friends on facebook incessantly and don’t miss it. It’s simply healthier not to be in a debilitating state of continuous partial attention… Is it something worth missing out on?

How I’ve used my phone and why I’ve not upgraded to a state-of-the-art device is the essence of my policy towards consumer durables. I generally:
- buy only brand new stuff,
- choose items of good quality, with as many features as I need to have (why paying for gadgets I won’t use?),
- take care of the stuff so that they serve me longer than their built-in obsolescence,
- get rid of them and replace with new when their wear and tear justifies it.

Such should be also the way of handling probably the most expensive consumer durable – a car…

As a matter of principle I wouldn’t buy a used car. Supply of used cars in Poland is limited by low number of sold new cars (many of which serve as company cars which doesn’t bring a good testimony of their condition after a few years of use), so used cars come to Poland from its western neighbours. Given how much I heard and read of crooks trading in used cars, I’d never buy one. Well-maintained used cars are:
- either not for sale, because due to price homogeneity market values them almost at the par with their rickety counterparts, hence owners to well-maintained cars have no motivation to sell them,
- if they are sold, the new owner will be someone from family or friends of an old car owner or a car trader, which brings about negative selection…

With a brand new car you get the producer’s warranty, new technologies and clean history of the vehicle. It does depreciate over the first years rapidly, but why should you care if you plan to keep that car going for 10 – 15 years? You use the car properly, have it serviced at regular intervals, parts which wear out and engine oil are changed when due and the car should serve you for 10 – 15 years. Then comes the moment when each, even the best car, becomes less reliable or simply requires more money sunk to keep it going. Even if repairs are not expensive, you need to take the trouble to find a cheaper spare part, pick it up and have it replaced. So after all there comes the moment to part company with the old car without regrets and buy a brand new car that should serve you years. Provided in the era of built-on obsolescence the newly produced car are that durable... Time will tell…

The reason why I write it all is that today is the 10th anniversary of the day when my car was purchased. As a young driver I’ve been in the luck of having my first car neither purely brand-new (not recommendable for beginners behind the wheel), nor purely used. My parents signed it over to me two years ago when my father decided he wanted a new car. Probably hadn’t it been for my need (a proper word, maybe I should write ‘whim’) to have a car, he would’ve driven it for some time more, but given the circumstances, the choice was obvious…

After 10 years the car still looks well and holds up well. Engine and transmission are in superb condition, bodywork and some of auxiliary elements signify their wear and tear (although there is no trace of rust!). To the right – snapped on 18 June 2013 after a wash and some polishing ;) Maybe not like driven out of showroom, but as for a decade-old vehicle, looks splendidly.

The car:
- has never had a collision on the road, although has scratches and one repaired dent after too close meeting with objects other than other vehicles,
- has never broken down on the road to the extent it had to be towed away to a garage on a trailer and never has it failed to start,
- has always been serviced by Renault dealership’s garage (a bit more expensive, but as long as you prove you know the onions and keep tabs on mechanics, they won’t rip you off) and most of the time parked in a garage,
- when I was behind the wheel endured temperatures (thermometer readings) from –24C (cold start, not just driving out of garage into such temperature) to +36C and tomorrow the latter record stands a chance of being tomorrow, when heat wave that has come over Poland is about to reach its zenith),
- over 10 years had 6 breakdowns of auxiliary elements (in a French car inevitable), out of which 3 over the 3rd year of usage and 2 over the last year (total cost of unplanned repairs over the last year: slightly less than 500 PLN) and 2 minor breakdowns of engine / transmission – related elements (cost of repair below 1,000 PLN each time),
- at the moment has a mileage of 59,693 kilometres.

The odometer reading is the effect of simply using the car only when necessary. As I counted, the car had 13 longer trips (> 100 kilometres to a destination) which contributed to some 10,000 kilometres of mileage, the rest driven near Warsaw. My general principles are:
- if the distance to cover is too short to let the engine heat up, there’s no point in starting it – engine and other elements wear out most before working temperatures is reached (for the same reason I don’t understand why people cherish low-mileage car from someone who used it only on short distances – what’s the percentage of mileage driven with warm engine?),
- in Warsaw, unless justified, the car should be left by the nearest underground station and then public transport should be taken,
- when weather permits and I don’t go to work, I use a bicycle…

The plan now is to use the car as long as it is reliable. Given its age, frequent breakdowns may begin to plague before long, but I hope to enjoy at least two years of problem-free usage. And then – option one is another car for years, but preferable is the second option – a company car. Even if I had to pay for petrol from my own pocket, it would spare me depreciation, servicing, repairs, insurance and other car-related expenses, which at the end of the day are… money down the drain.


DC said...

Amen to that! My Saab turns 10 this year, and after their sad demise, as long as I can continue to get parts, I am aiming for another 10. Even if it's a little banged up, it's still great fun to drive on long road trips.

I held out on the phone until this year, when my 7 key started to stick. As much as I love OS X, I am no fan of being tied to the Apple store for all media purchases, so no iphone for me. Plus, they are too expensive (no reduced-price phones on contract for me). Android is problematic, at least in the US, because OS releases have to go through the phone manufacturer, then the network operator before being released to the end user. This can take eons, or maybe it doesn't come out at all because some marketing idiot doesn't feel like it. BS. So I bought a Nexus 4 directly from Google and couldn't be happier. Less than half the price of an iphone, OS updates direct from Google, great specs and lots of flexibility.

If you eventually decide to get a new phone, here's where you could see some value. I recently took a trip to Istanbul and Tbilisi and was so glad to have the new phone. 1) The Lonely Planet book that covers Georgia apparently is not popular enough to stand on it's own yet, so it's combined with Azerbaijan and Armenia. It's a brick. Unlike the Istanbul city guide, it would never fit in my pocket. But the pdf version on my phone was a life saver. It was my first e book purchase, was a bit cumbersome, but far better than a book left in the hotel room because it was too big. 2) I'm kind of a lazy photographer. A DLSR will never be for me simply because it's too much to carry. After looking at pics from the first few days of my trip, I also stopped carrying my separate compact camera. The quality of the pictures on the phone was that good. Sure there was no optical zoom, but since the quality was so good, I got the effect I wanted by cropping after the fact. Occasionally I did take the camera along, like when I wanted to use the megazoom for detail shots inside the Hagia Sophia. But most days, I was very happy to have one less thing to carry. 3) Being able, while wifi was available, to download specific google map excerpts for the next day's plans and store them offline on the phone was a fantastic help, especially since it showed where bus stops were located.

So I agree with you that facebook on mobiles is a poor use of time and one's awareness. But there are quite a few features and apps that are quite worthwhile these days, especially when one travels.

Bob said...

Good posts. We still drive the 1999 Toyota Corolla I purchased for my wife while I was SVP for an international company (and had a company car). It has 180,000km on it, uses nary a drop of oil (which I change every 9,000 km). A great vehicle.

Also have not 'upgraded' or 'degraded' to a smart phone. I see the phone as just that, a phone. If I need GPS I use a GPS device. Being on-line 24/7 IMHO detracts from the experience of life around.