Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective
07.10.2008

In the first week of June, we had the first of what could be many heat waves of the summer. A Saturday afternoon errand run resulted in a horrific discovery: the air conditioning in my 2001 Jetta was not working — at all. There had never been a problem with getting cool air out of the vents in the past. “Oh great!” I thought, “how much is this going to cost us?”

Since the Jetta for the most part is my daily driver (primarily because it gets better fuel economy and I drive further on any given day than ScrapperMom) I put the lack of A/C out of my mind and lived with it. Mornings are cool enough, and opening the sunroof was enough to keep things comfortable. In the afternoons on the way home, the hottest part of the day was behind us, and windows down, sunroof open, and 40-50 miles per hour is enough to keep me cool for all of my 20 minute commute. In fact, some days it was nice to “thaw out” after a whole day spent in the air conditioning of my office.

One day recently, however, ScrapperMom and I had to trade vehicles for the day. On that day in particular she had to drive with our two nieces and our daughter — and it was hot that day. When I got home I got the directive: “You’ve got one week to get that air conditioning fixed, or I’m not trading cars until it is.” Fair enough. It one thing to suffer through something of your own choosing, but it’s quite another to subject your daughter and nieces to the excessive heat.

As it happened, I had to get my yearly inspection sticker for the Jetta, so while I was getting that done, I asked the technician if the garage next door did air conditioning repairs. The tech said that it did, and so I went over and made an appointment for the next day. The next day I dropped the car off at 8am and 7 hours later got the call: it’s all set, come pick it up.

I didn’t dare ask on the phone how much the repair cost, but when I arrived to retrieve the car I got the bill for $117. I was expecting more, especially considering that labor rates alone today can be $50-$100 per hour. The bad news is that they didn’t actually fix anything: they pulled a vacuum on the system twice and it held steady for over an hour each time. The good news is that apparently nothing is broken or leaking. So they recharged the system and added some dye to it that will show up under a UV light should the system stop working again.

ScrapperMom and I are happy that the air conditioning is working again. However over the last week I’ve found that I got used to not having the air conditioning. On the way home from work I’ve been putting the windows down and opening the sunroof — even though it’s been 90 degrees for the last 3 days.

The whole point of this post is that the misfortune of being without A/C quickly taught me that I didn’t need A/C (most of the time). This should save me some small percentage in fuel costs this summer. But it also makes me wonder what other “recalibrations” that I or we could undergo to save money and energy, live more simply, or all three. For starters, we could probably set the A/C in our house a couple of degrees higher this summer — or forgo using it altogether whenever possible and use fans or natural cooling instead.

Have you “recalibrated” lately? Are you driving less or shopping differently? Let’s hear about it!

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2 Responses to “Recalibration Saves Money”


  1. Rick Says:

    Considering that the wife has to nearly threaten me with divorce before I bring up the old AC unit perhaps I’m not the most sympathetic ear on AC, however, I am curious as to the economy of driving with the windows down for cooling and increasing the drag on the vehicle rather than using AC.


  2. MITBeta Says:

    The drag on the vehicle is a function of velocity squared, so at low speeds (less than 40 or 50 miles per hour) the effect of drag due to open windows is less than the effect that the A/C would have at that speed. At higher speeds, it’s less energy intensive to use the A/C.


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