Monday, 23 January 2017
Buying an Automobile, 1911
"BUYING AN AUTOMOBILE.”
FEBRUARY 1 – 1911
The Busy Man’s Magazine
MR. BLANK, begins Herbert L. Towle, writing in Recreation, has made up his mind to buy an automobile. Can we help him out with some advice? Well, maybe. But first we must ask some questions, doctor fashion, before we can prescrible.
What does he wish to pay for car, equipment and extras complete? What are his ideas as to power, passenger capacity, and speed? Will he use the car for pleasure only, or also for business; that is, to take him to and from the station or office, or from the farm to town and back? Will his wife drive the car? Will he employ a chauffeur? What is he prepared to pay annually for up-keep? Will he use the car throughout the year, or lay it up during cold weather? Does he expect to sell in a year or two, or to keep the car longer? Has he had previous experience with automobiles? Does his territory include bad hills, and are the roads good or otherwise? Will he stable the car on his own premises or in a public garage? On the answers to these questions will depend the selected type of motive power—electric, steam, or gasoline engine; the type of transmission if a gasoline car is chosen; the power, wheel-base, and body style, the tire equipment, and the extras as regards wind shield, top, etc. The question of whether to buy new or second-hand will also be determined by this information.
For restricted town use, such as shopping or making doctors’ calls, and for running from home to business and back where distances are short, there is nothing quite so convenient as an electric vehicle, provided charging facilities are at hand and the necessary skill is available to keep the battery in order. It is frequently profitable to install a charging outfit on the premises, particularly as the skill available in small public garages is often of doubtful merit. The chief drawback to the use of electric vehicles for local purposes is their high price, $1,500 being about the minimum for a small runabout. The cost of current at meter rates per house-power is also quite an item compared with the half-cent or cent per mile paid for the fuel of a small gasoline runabout.
As steam cars are numbered in the small minority and are limited to a few makes, it will suffice to say regarding them that the choice between steam power and a gasoline engine is mainly one of personal preference. The steam engine runs quietly and its power is very elastic. It takes a few minutes to fire up the boiler, but in most cases that is not a serious objection. The principal drawback is that to hold steam and water under a pressure of several hundred pounds necessitates more or less constant attention to pipe joints and couplings, stuffing boxes, packings, etc., of all of which the number about a steam car is rather large. The fuel, also, is in some cars under pressure, and there is the possibility of some pipe or connection springing a leak, and the escaping fuel being ignited by the fire under the boiler. On the other hand, if one lives in a country of steep hills or bad stretches of road, or where deep snow may be expected, one can get more for his money in the way of ability to surmount such obstacles in a steam car than in either of the other types.
Coming to gasoline cars, we find the greater preponderance of choice in four-cylinder engines. The once common one and two-cylinder runabouts have almost disappeared, owing partly to improvements in manufacture which enable a four-cylinder car to be offered for what was once the price of a one-cylinder runabout. Requirements as to power have also increased and to-day the common type of small runabout has a twenty horsepower four-cylinder engine. Such a car does excellent local and suburban service, and it will perform with credit even in long tours if it is cleverly handled. Such cars can be purchased to-day at from $900 up, depending on their workmanship and on the type of transmission they contain. A genuinely high-grade twenty-horse-power car would be worth from $1,500 to $2,000.
If the purse allows, a slightly larger car, developing from 25 to 30 horse-power, and having a motor of 4 to 4 1/4-inch bore, is better for touring. Such a car will negotiate hills and rough roads more easily than a smaller machine, on account of its power, longer wheel base, and greater weight. For equal speeds and mileage it will last longer, also, and for the same reason—i. e., that it does its work more easily. As a matter of fact, its owner is likely to expect a somewhat higher average speed.
The exact speeds reasonably attainable with given cars will depend on the driver and the road. On good level or moderately rolling highways, even a twenty-horse-power car will average twenty miles an hour during a day’s run and have power to spare. With a thirty-horse-power touring car, the average gait might be twenty-five miles per hour, and with a light roadster of that power a thirty-mile average would be possible, though not usual. Such a roadster will easily touch 50 miles an hour for short distances—fast enough for safety.
As for larger cars and higher powers than these, they are desirable only as luxuries. Up to a certain limit, the larger and more powerful the car, the more luxurious is the sensation of riding. Beyond that point, a heavy car rides so steadily that the sense of exhilaration is lost, and one has to exceed speeds of thirty or forty miles an hour to feel that one is going at all. The difference is similar to that between a knockabout and a schooner yacht. In the small boat there is “something doing” every minute, whereas it takes a stiff blow to give one a thrill when abroad the larger craft. A big car is almost necessary for touring, as a small car driven all day on rough roads racks its passengers to the point of exhaustion. But for home use, for marketing, for taking friends to the station, and for short weekend runs, the car of twenty to twenty-five horse-power certainly gives the best return for the money.
Other things being equal, it is advisable for the beginner to take a car of moderate power, certainly not over thirty horse-power, and better somewhat less. If he can afford to hire a chauffeur and pay the bills likely to result, his choice need not be restricted. But the larger his car, the more completely will an inexperienced owner be at the mercy of the chauffeur, and the more difficult it will be for him to master the intricacies of the machine himself. A small car, on the other hand, is easily learned; and when you have learned to look after your car—large or small—in person, your chauffeur is not likely to fool you long.
If a woman is to operate the car, planetary transmission is best, unless she has had previous driving experience. Under other conditions, sliding gear transmission with three or four speeds is preferable, and except perhaps in the smaller cars, four speeds are better than three. An air-cooled motor has an advantage in severe winter weather, but elsewhere water cooling is usually preferred. The ignition system is important; a high-grade high-tension magneto is as good a choice as any.
As already indicated, $1,000 is about the lowest price that one can expect to pay for a four-passenger car intended principally for service. By this is meant regular travel to and from the station or place of business, regular household service in place of a horse, regular calls on patients, if the owner is a doctor, and so on. Indeed, the result is more likely to be more satisfactory if the purchase price is a little higher.
If, on the other hand, one does not purchase with an eye to service, but merely for week-end runs and cooling-off spins after dinner, one may get along quite comfortably with a second-hand car purchased for less than $1,000. This subject will be mentioned in a later paragraph. Meanwhile, the reader is cautioned to bear in mind that, with an old car, a low purchase price is apt to be followed by high repair bills, and that a $3,000 car purchased at the end of six years for $450 is a deal more expensive to keep up than the same car would be if new. The worst possible purchases in the secondhand line are worn-out cars of low first price and worn-out cars of foreign make. The first are certain to go to pieces in one part after another with harrowing regularity. The second, if of good original reputation, will stand up fairly well while they last, but it will be nearly impossible to obtain parts for them, and wholly impossible to get such parts at reasonable cost. If one must spend from $500 to $1,000, it is better to get a small than a large car, since, other things being equal, the former is apt to be in better condition. For the lower figure, indeed, the purchaser will be lucky to get a car of any sort, except the smallest runabout, which will not require an expensive overhauling to put it in shape.
Going to the other end of the price schedule, one finds, as is natural, a much more satisfactory range of choice. Here again, however, the rule holds that high quality combined with high power commands a corresponding price. A high-grade twenty-horse-power car which can be bought second-hand for $1,000 would have cost from $1,500 to $2,000 when new. The best thirty-horse-power cars cost to-day about $3,000, though it is probable that within a year or two $2,500 will be the standard figure without loss of quality.
Assuming decent workmanship and intelligent care, what does it cost to keep a car? Unfortunately, this is a question which can only be answered by citing particular cases, since everything depends on the personal equation and on the extent to which the car is used. If a car is used in moderation—say 2,500 miles per year— and is kept as long as it gives good service, instead of being arbitrarily sold off at the end of the first or second year, both the mileage expenses and the depreciation are kept low. Assuming a car to be purchased either new or second-hand for a total cost of $1,000, driven 2,500 miles per year for six years, and then sold for $250, the yearly expense figures will be about as follows: Interest on car and garage, $75; depreciation, $125; tires, $70; repairs, $60; gasoline, $15; license, $5; sundries, $25; total, $375.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.