I call it the father-in-law test, and it goes like this: If my father-in-law is talking about it, it’s mainstream. It’s a pretty basic test for any given pop culture or technological idea out there, I know, but it works pretty well. My FIL is in his seventies, so he’s definitely a “Boomer”. He’s a bit of an intellectual, too, having served as the dean of a prestigious Catholic school here in Chicago for many years. He is also absolutely, completely, and intentionally not into cars … and, just the other day, he asked me what it would take to put in a DC fast charger in his home.
Keep in mind, this man does not own an EV. He’s not even planning on buying an EV. He’s looking at putting an EV charger in for the potential resale value it would add to the home. (!)
That settles it, then. Electric cars aren’t a niche. They’re just “cars” now. And, I have to admit, it does seem like the conversations I have about cars with “civilians” these days revolve in some way around electric cars. There’s plenty of reasons for that, I suppose – EVs are in the news, the new Ford F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E are genuine contenders aimed at the heart of America’s love affair with pickup trucks and muscle cars, and I’m probably like a lot of enthusiasts in the sense that the non-car people in my circle will usually ask me about a car they’re considering buying every few years.
All of that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, though, are the baffling questions people seem to ask about EVs. Bizarre questions, really, that they’d never ask of the internal combustion cars that have always just sort of “been there” as long as they’ve been paying attention. I mean, what if we asked some of the same questions about gasoline-powered cars that people ask about EVs? Would that kind of pointless thought experiment be even remotely entertaining or thought-provoking?
Let’s find out!
Q: How far can I drive before I have to “fill up” again?
A: In most cases, you’ll be able to go about 250-300 miles before you’ll need to “fill up” again, and that only takes a few minutes, unless there’s a long line at the pump. There are a few cars out there with larger tanks or more efficient motors that can go further, but after five or six hours at highway speeds, most drivers will want to take a break.
Q: How will I be able to find these “fill up” stations?
A: There are plenty of apps out there that will lead you to the nearest filling station, but the reality is that you’ll probably end up going to the same station the majority of the time. You probably already know where you can get fuel in your neighborhood, though, so what you’re really asking is where you’ll be able to buy fuel on the road. In addition to the apps, you’ll be able to see 100’ tall signs for filling stations from quite a ways off, and will probably only start paying attention to those when you’re down to about 25 percent of your driving range.
Q: Are gasoline cars really clean?
A: Compared to horses? Absolutely! Horse-drawn carriages used to leave literal tons of horseshit right in the middle of the street, which – in addition to the stink – spread mess and disease to almost anyone in a given neighborhood. Heavily populated urban areas were the most impacted by the pollution caused by the horses’ “emissions”, and the ability to remove this sort of miasma from urban centers will make a tremendous positive impact on the most vulnerable urban populations.
Q: How long do gasoline cars last?
A: That’s a tough one to answer. If you do your maintenance, keep it clean, and replace parts when they need replacing, you can drive the same gasoline car for years. Take the late Irv Gordon, for example, who put three million miles on his Volvo P1800 over the course of five decades – and, sure, there’s a bit of a Ship of Theseus thing going on here, but you should have no problem getting 100,000 miles out of your gasoline car with “just the basics”, and most people don’t even want to keep their new cars that long!
Q: What about recycling? Can you recycle a gasoline car?
A: Yes! Gas-powered cars are already made from a number of recycled materials and have used sustainable plant-based fibers since the days of Henry Ford, and there are a number of businesses called “salvage yards” where old cars can get parked and picked over for their good, used parts to keep more cars on the road, longer, reducing the need for raw material mining in the future. Eventually, the big parts of those “salvage yard” cars can get melted down as scrap, and get an entirely new lease on life that way, as well.
Q: What about the gasoline engine? What happens if it fails?
A: That’s a great question – an internal combustion engine isn’t like the battery in a cell phone, laptop, or even a car. You can’t just replace it or recondition it by replacing the damaged cells. The good news is that, in most cases, a properly trained mechanic will be able to pull an engine that’s failed due to a faulty head gasket, over-heating, or excessive wear and tear it down into its hundreds (if not thousands) of component parts, then clean those parts and reassemble the engine, replacing a few parts here and there, if necessary. In extreme cases, the main part of the engine (the “block”) may have to be sent out to a specialized machine shop to get its “cylinders” honed or sleeved before the engine can be reassembled. In some cases, that can cost tens of thousands of dollars – but it hardly ever happens, so don’t worry about it. Or, if you just can’t shake that concern, maybe buy the extended warranty.
Q: I read that gasoline cars can catch on fire in an accident. Is that true?
A: Boy, howdy! Gasoline is an extremely flammable liquid, but even so, it’s not as flammable as you’ve probably been led to believe by movies and TV shows. Those fiery explosions with the hero walking slowly away from the burning wreckage are dressed up with oxygenated chemicals that add to the drama of a show at the expense of realism. In real life, a bullet hitting your car’s gas tank would probably just go right through it, causing a potentially dangerous leak but not, in itself, a fire – and that’s a very extreme example of something that might happen. In real life, even the most forceful traffic accidents lead to a raging inferno in a small percentage of cases, with only 560 people dying in gasoline vehicle fires in 2018 (the most recent data I could find). That’s just 560 out of the nearly 12 million reported vehicle accidents specifically because the engineers who design these things understand the risks involved, and design the vehicles to be safe in an impact by protecting the bits that might catch fire. It’s not a perfect science, and tragedies do happen, but the reason they’re on the news is that their rarity makes them newsworthy. These guys know what they’re doing, is what I’m saying.
Q: What if I want to get somewhere in a hurry? Aren’t gasoline cars slow?
A: Slower than what? Sure, there are a few gasoline cars out there with yawn-inducing performance, but most of them are more than capable of getting up highway speeds without drama, and even the slowest gasoline cars can be fun if you play to their strengths, revving them to high RPMs and keeping your foot on the floor. Just keep in mind, that’s going to cut down on your driving range.
Q: Can I fill up my gasoline car at home?
A: No. I mean, you can – but you absolutely should not under any circumstances try to install a commercial-grade gas pump into your home so you can “fill up quickly” or because it will “add to the resale value”.
An ethanol still, on the other hand, has all kinds of practical uses …