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Letter Re: Vehicle Selection in Light of Potential Post-Peak Oil Shortages

no one seems to be discussing what kind of cars to buy in light of the Peak Oil [1] situation. My reading so far has been to stay away from hybrid cars. My situation is that I have a 2003 4×4 V8 Toyota 4Runner. I commute about 30 miles each way to work and [the price of] gas kills me now. My car weighs 6,000 pounds and I don’t need a vehicle that big to tow myself around-I am single. I expect the gas prices to go up drastically in the next five years.

I am considering trading in for a V6 4×4 Toyota Rav4 which gets about 10 more miles per gallon than my present vehicle gets, which certainly reduces my burden. This would be my everyday driver and my bug out vehicle.

I was hoping that you could post for readers your perspectives on cars in light of the fact that soon oil will be extremely costly, and scarce. Thanks, – Robert A.

JWR Replies: My general advice is to maximize your flexibility by having a variety of vehicles at your retreat, including at least one that is “flex fuel”–that will burn both gasoline and E85 [2]–, at least one light vehicle that is entirely electric (such as a Bad Boy Buggy [3]), and and at least one diesel engined vehicle. You might also look for an inexpensive used propane-powered 4WD pickup. (These are sometimes sold by utility companoes in fleet rotation auctions.) If the Peak Oil crowd is right, then fuel supplies will be spotty, at best. There conceivably may be times when only diesel fuel or ethanol are available. There may come a day when gas and diesel are both so expensive that they will be unaffordable for regular day-to-day driving. So my counsel is to have the greatest flexibility possible. If you budget allows it, a large photovoltaic power system–with excess capacity that could be used to charge a small electric vehicle–would be ideal.

In your circumstances, switching to a lighter vehicle makes sense, but its cargo and towing capacity will of course be less than your 4Runner. This reduced capacity, BTW, is just one more reason that it is crucial to pre-position the vast majority of your supplies at your intended retreat.

I’m often asked by blog readers and my consulting clients about my opinion of Peak Oil. In a few years, we might very well recognize that May 2005, with production of 74,252,000 barrels of oil per day was the all-time peak, and that it is all downhill from there. That is difficult to say for certain. By the time that we are certain, we may very well be “behind the power curve.” So my advice is, just in case the Peakniks are right, hedge your bets:

1.) Buy large propane, gas, and diesel fuel tanks for your retreat, so you can take advantage of dips in the market and ride out acute shortages.

2.) As previously stated, diversify your assortment of vehicles, to be ready for both chronic shortages and acute interruptions in supply of any particular type of fuel.

3.) Move to a region with plentiful firewood–both so you can heat your home, and hopefully someday benefit from local fuel alcohol production (Either methanol through distillation, or possibly ethanol, through bacterial digesters,as has been recently touted, but not yet proven feasible.)

4.) Be sure that you can live off the land where you live–so that means fertile soil and plentiful of water.

5.) Assume the worst for potential societal disruption. That necessitate living somewhere safe [4]–well-removed from major population centers.