When I bought the car it had been driven 36,000 miles, and usually got around 41 to 42 miles per gallon. Now, a dozen years, 254,000 miles, and some 6 to 8 oil changes later, this little car, battered and bruised by the equivalent of almost twelve trips around the Earth,2 struggles to get more than about 38 mpg. For a bit of perspective, the average fuel efficiency for a mid-sized car, for the mix of highway and city driving I do, would probably be around 24 mpg.
With the exception of one very expensive accident that occurred before I’d even made a payment on the damned thing, the most significant repairs this car has needed are (1) a new driver’s-side chair, (2) a jury-rigged trunk latch,3 (3) a new clutch cable, the loss of which apparently limits you to 10 mph in first gear on the interstate, and (4) several new headlight bulbs, which apparently burn out abnormally often in cars that have been mangled and then not-quite-totally straightened out, and thus tend to rattle a lot at high (and sometimes low) speeds.
If you don’t count gas, oil, seat covers, or the mild-to-moderate repairs listed above—or the rather hefty price tag of straightening out a car almost all the way after t-boning a Chevy Malibu at around 45 miles per hour—I’ve gotten about 22 miles per dollar out of this car so far. To put that in perspective, you’d need to get around 2.7 million miles out of your 2007 Porsche 911 to get the same value out of it.4 That’s not a typo: 2.7 million miles.6
For more than two decades, the brain trust at General Motors (Saturn’s parent company) couldn’t figure out a way to sell a fuel-efficient, dirt-cheap, incredibly durable, low-maintenance, consumer-friendly American car to the millions of Americans7 who were looking to buy fuel-efficient, durable, inexpensive American cars.
This is, as you may know, the same General Motors that, after spending much of the last hundred years as a hugely successful company, recently took the biggest, stinkiest, steamingest financial shit in the history of the auto industry, eventually needing $57.6 billion dollars’ worth of U.S. government intervention merely to continue to exist.
1. And just in case there is, I pulled over to the side of the road and took the picture while revving my engine up to 60 miles per hour. Honest.
2. That’s twelve trips around the Earth at the equator, of course. It’d be just under 46,179 trips around the Earth if I were circling the South Pole from a mile away.
3. Fixed at home by Dr. Brainsmart for the lofty price of one (1) six-pack of tasty beer.
4. Not counting, of course, how many times that Porsche would get you laid, which probably adds something to its value. I don’t have any way of calculating this number, but I’m sure it’s a lot higher than the number of times a Saturn will get you laid.5
6. That’s 430,542 trips around the Earth!
7. Or Canadians. We can’t forget about our lovely and loyal Canadian readers, with their beady little eyes and flapping heads.