(I recently reported this for the New York Times' Fixes Column)
In March 2010, Tammy Trahan’s 1993 Jeep Cherokee broke down on one of the New Hampshire back roads that made up her 90-mile daily commute. “I was in tears,” says Tammy, “I wanted to drive into the river.” As a single mom, the car was her lifeline, taking her to the job that kept her and her family barely afloat. But the car was also dragging her down. Because a bad divorce had left her with terrible credit, she’d paid such high interest rates that the car with a $9000 sticker price when she bought it seven years earlier ended up costing her $20,000 in payments. She’d also paid many thousands of dollars in repair charges. Gasoline for the behemoth cost her as much as $500 a month. Despite the fact that she worked full time and had as many as four side jobs, she had no savings at all, and the latest breakdown meant she’d be late for work again. On that cold morning by the side of the road Trahan despaired: “I was afraid I’d be in the same rut forever.”
Cut to July 2011: Trahan now drives a 2010 Toyota Yaris, spending about $120 a month on gasoline for her commute and $297 for car payments. Her repair bills are near zero. She doesn’t fear losing her job and her kids can depend on her to show up when she says she will. “When you’re not stressing out so much over everything you can see more, too.”
In addition to changing her life, Trahan has also changed her footprint on the planet: Her new car uses less gasoline and emits less carbon than her old one. And now that Trahan’s credit is repaired and she’s saving more than $300 a month, she plans to leave her current apartment to rent one closer to work so she can cut her long commute — and her oil dependence — even further.