In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy's fury, some of the most indelible images were those of flooded streets and buildings—and thus, cars—as well as interminable lines for gasoline. The insurance claims are still rolling in, but projections suggest that the number of totaled vehicles may reach the hundreds of thousands. And while petroleum and the power to pump it has been restored in many areas, the question of the next oil shock that creates miles-long lines at fueling stations isn't if, but when.
Since drivers with comprehensive coverage will get the full value of their flooded vehicles, and with the growing efficiency of modern vehicles, it only made sense to put two things together to encourage, post-Sandy, a sort of regional force majeure Cash for Clunkers.
Already, several automakers have stepped in with special offers to owners and shoppers hit by Sandy's wrath, including larger rebates and employee-level prices. Below, please find our high-efficiency replacement suggestions for a variety of common vehicle types. Note that our propositions pertain both to folks who lost a newer car, as well as those who had their beater inundated. In each category, we've also made an unorthodox recommendation, for those who want to take some time to think different:
Family Sedan: If our nation's automotive sales were a jelly donut, mid-sized family sedans would be the goopy, formless filling that holds the center. Everything else is just flour, fat, and sugar. If you drive one of these vehicles, you're likely uninterested in acceleration, handling or other driving dynamics. So why not take advantage of recent advances, and economies of scale, in battery technology, and replace your drowned jam blob with a hybrid jam blob?
New Car Pick: With the new Ford Fusion, has finally built a family sedan that's not hideous or boring, and the Hybrid version is rated at 47 m.p.g. city and highway.
Used Car Pick: Either you've already given up or you don't care what you drive. Just buy some sort of 2003-2009 Toyota Prius.
Out of the Box Pick: Go diesel. Diesel engines deliver nearly the fuel efficiency of hybrids, without all the added price, weight, and complexity. We're fans of pretty much any Mercedes or Volkswagen diesel sedan made in the past thirty years, but the modern VW Passat and Jetta diesels have a growing base of enthusiasts.
Nothing is more emblematic of American individualism and genital insecurity than an enormous, V8-powered pickup. But all that mass and displacement requires a shunted I.V. pipeline drip. So it's time to ask yourself two questions: Do you really need that much engine? And do you really need that much truck?
New Car Pick: Consider a smaller powerplant. Ford's twin-turbo EcoBoost in the Ford F-150s makes V-8 power with V-6 efficiency. Ditto the Ram's 305 h.p. Pentastar V-6, which, when coupled with an eight-speed automatic, achieves up to 25 mpg on the highway.
Used Car Pick: Consider a smaller truck. Once upon a time there was such a thing as a compact pickup. Search for: VW Rabbit Pickup, Chevy Luv, Mazda B2000, or Toyota Hi-Lux. More modern mid-sized pickups can also fit the bill, like the GMC Canyon, Chevy Colorado, Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tundra.
Out of the Box Pick: We have a grotesque affection for old car-based trucks (Crucks) like the ElCamino and Ranchero, but are fully stricken with an affliction for the '80s K-car-based, front wheel-drive Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp. Join our cult!
Large SUV: With the preponderance of weird weather events heightened by global warming, we would like to announce to the few remaining diehards the official end of the trend of full-sized family SUV. Unless you live on a mountain, raise thoroughbreds, or collect armoires, you do not need the size and capability of a truck-based seven-seater. Some alternatives:
Used Car Pick: We are constantly asked for used family vehicle recommendations by size-obsessed parents who claim allergies to minivans. The only logical choices are a 2005-2010 Mazda5, a 2009-10 Ford Flex or a 2006-10 Mercedes R-Class Diesel.
Out of the Box Pick: Perhaps Sandy is an opportunity to fake your death and vanish. Dump the sport-ute and the family, buy a new Miata and drive it to Nicaragua.
Crossover: We've already told you how we feel about crossovers. Sure, they're more efficient than SUVs. But because they're tall and ride so high, you're still pushing around a six-inch wide perimeter band of extraneous metal. If you never took physics, all this extra metal adds weight, and additional weight diminishes fuel economy.
New Car Pick: Get a wagon. Any wagon. We love the VW Jetta SportWagen, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon, the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, the Subaru Outback, and the Mercedes E350 Wagon. If you simply can't bring yourself to buy a wagon, at least downsize from a seven-passenger crossover to a five-passenger one. We know you think you need all that space, but try this exercise: calculate what percentage of your actual drive time that six or more seats were filled. Still feeling necessary?
Used Car Pick: See New Car Pick, but substitute used wagon/5-passenger crossover.
Out of the Box Pick: Downsizing is the new upscale. You can get all-wheel drive, room for five, bounteous cargo space, and 36 m.p.g. in a $22,000 Subaru Impreza
Convertible: You live in the Northeast. There are about five weeks each year when going topless makes sense: two in spring, three in fall. Plus, given the new and varied types of precipitation that are going to be falling out of the greenhouse gas-enriched atmosphere —abominable snowflakes, grapefruit-sized hail, tornadoed bungalows — you want as much protection up top as possible.
New Car Pick: You obviously like to drive. What you need is a dose of reality and practicality. This means a hot, compact hatchback or coupe. We adore the VW GTI and the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S. And the new Ford Focus ST looks enviably slick. Plus, all of these get better than 30 m.p.g. on the highway -- some much better.
Used Car Pick: If you're committed and/or crazy enough to own an aging convertible in the Northeast, we honestly think: more power to you. Please immediately begin searching Craigslist for another car exactly like the one you lost.
Out of the Box Pick: You just received a big check, the economy is improving but still unpredictable and the Northeast has the best public transportation infrastructure in the country. Maybe it's time to ditch the car, bank the insurance settlement and take the train or bus or ride-share. No car is more fuel-efficient than no car at all.