Contract engineering, vehicles and the price of gas

One of the major differences between working as an employee and working for myself is the use of my car.  When I worked out of a central office, going to work meant driving there, then using the company truck to drive to the outlaying studio or transmitter site locations.  Now that I work for myself, I drive either my personal vehicle or the truck that belongs to my company.

Our radio clients are in several states in the northeast and covering all that territory on a weekly or monthly basis requires a lot of driving.  For example, it is 100 miles exactly, one way from my house to Bridgeport, CT.   Depending on what is going on, I can take the 1997 Jeep Cherokee, which has over 210,000 miles on it and gets about 21 miles per gallon, or the 2004 Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup truck, which has 68,000 miles on it and gets about 16 miles to the gallon.  With gas being about $4.00 per gallon, it’s choice of shooting myself in the leg or shooting myself in the foot.

1997 Jeep Cherokee in early April snowstorm
1997 Jeep Cherokee in an early April snowstorm

The Jeep I paid cash for in 1999 and I have kept it in good working order.  It is, by far, the best snow vehicle I have ever owned.  I don’t know exactly why that is, it has simple four-wheel drive (really two-wheel drive because of the full slip differentials).  I imagine the heavy cast iron inline-six engine over the front wheels has something to do with it.  This is an important distinction, as many off-air emergencies happen in the worst weather.  It is simple and rugged and wearing out.  I keep saying to myself, the first major problem, e.g. transmission or engine, I am having it towed to the junkyard.

Work Truck, Chevy Silverado 1500
Work Truck, Chevy Silverado 1500

The Chevy truck is owned by my company, I purchased it three years ago when I started the solar installation company.  It has the 5.8 L V-8 engine with the tow package and the “pre-snowplow package.”   It has real four-wheel drive with limited slip differentials front and back.  It handles like a tank.  I use this when I need to haul tools, materials, parts,  junk or whatever.  I have portable parts bins and tools that I can move from one vehicle to another, as needed.

The problem with these vehicles is the expense of operating them.  I generally try not to take gas payments from the company I work for, as I am not an employee of that company, I’d rather take the mileage write-off.  Still, there are times, especially at the end of the month, when I am filling up the pickup truck and watching the gas pump turn over the $100.00 mark, that I have to cringe.

Toyota Yaris 5 door hatchback, courtesy of wikimedia commons
Toyota Yaris 5 door hatchback, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the next personal vehicle will be something more fuel efficient, like a Toyota Yaris hatchback.  They look pretty reliable and get good gas mileage.  If I need to take the big truck, I still have it.  I have just three concerns:

  1. I am fairly tall; will I look like a weenie getting in and out of this thing?
  2. I drive a lot of interstate miles; if I get into an accident will I get squashed like a bug?
  3. Will all my stuff fit in the back of this thing?

That being said, it would be awfully nice to get 36 miles per gallon…

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5 thoughts on “Contract engineering, vehicles and the price of gas”

  1. I had been driving a Dodge Minivan in my contract engineering business. However, for the past couple of years, I’ve been driving a 2007 Chevy Impala with a 3.5L V6. 30+ MPG on the highway, and a giant trunk to carry tools and stuff. I intended to go back to a van, but the Impala is saving me lots of money.
    Art Morris

  2. $4 a US gallon is cheap mate. Its over $5 here.

    Don’t fear the small car. I have both and the truck stays at home a lot of the time even though it does 27mpg. Don’t know if you get the yaris diesel over there but at 68mpg (uk gallons) its not looking bad.

  3. Hey Rob, I know you guys pay a lot for gas. The Toyota diesels are not imported into the US because they don’t meet EPA regulations. VW makes a a Jetta and Golf that are diesel and get 58 to 60 mpg. VW also has a somewhat spotty track record when it comes to reliability.

  4. I know back when I was chief at one station and contracting at several others I was able to get away with an economy-style car for 90% of what I did. There was only one time I got caught off guard in needing a bigger vehicle. Now that the few freelance gigs I do involves strictly studio engineering I’ve been able to work within the confines of a small vehicle.

    Back in the day I remember bottoming out my car a few times going up to “the hill” for one station, but being mindful of the dirt and rock driveway kept me from creating any major problems to the vehicle. Unless you have clients willing to offset your travel I would say it’s best to try to optimize whatever vehicle you drive. In changing some base driving habits I was able to get between 4 and 5 miles to the gallon out of my vehicle on a consistent basis.

  5. Ever think of a MB, Dodge, or Freightliner “SPRINTER”??? I have a 2003 Freightliner bought new with the only engine available at the time, a M-B 2.7L Common Rail direct injected Turbo Diesel. Fantastic mileage, 24 mpg during Spring thru Fall, and 20-21 mpg during the winter. If you buy one in Germany (or the EU) you get many choices of power trains and engines. The vehicle has over 100K on it and it has been pretty good, although the EU mentality is against “do-it-yourself” mechanics since it does NOT come with a automatic transmission “dipstick”! You have to buy one for over 60 bucks! When Daimler owned Chrysler, initially the “SPRINTER” was imported as a set of parts and assembled in NC to avoid the import duty. FedEX bought about 3000 units as well as DHL, and UPS. I dislike the computer-controlled auto-transmission, and would want a manual “stick” next time, which would necessitate a trip to Germany to get it! Other than that, mine is the high roof model which has a 3/4 ton rating and plenty of room for service tools and even a workbench. For field service work, the engineering of the vehicle is superb, and the price really wasn’t bad. Dodge lost the deal January first of last year, and they are only now available through M-B dealers.

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