Go Green: Use Last Year's Model

Here's an Earth Day action I can get behind: Last Year's Model, which encourages you to buy good gear—and then just use it. It reflects my own preferred method of consumption, which is to spend a little extra to get something that is exactly what I want, then try to use it for as long as possible. (I often fail, but I'm better than I used to be.) I've got an HDTV that I bought two years ago that should hold me for years. My Canon Rebel XT DSLR, just back from a cleaning, still has more functionality than I ever use. My Kindle 1 still supports words. My iPhone 3G is doing great until they come out with a new one in June which I will instantly buy. (Moderation!) There's a panic that I feel when something I own doesn't quite perform as I'd like it to, which sets off an escalating and enjoyable process of shopping and comparison, fueling daydreams of how wonderful my life will be with my New Thing. I've been trying to replace "Purchase" with "Projects", though, so that I've always got a few things that are in a state of repair. My turn signals stopped working in my old BMW yesterday while I was driving back from the hardware store. (I was shopping for a reel mower, which I ended up buying from Amazon after comparing prices in-store with my phone, although I'd needed to go out there anyway for more charcoal and fertilizer.) I caught my brain spinning up, spitting a litany of excuses why I should go buy a new car: I need at least one reliable vehicle; it's a good time to buy a car, with interest rates very low; the Nissan 370Z exercises the corpus cavernosum. But I'd bought Ruby in part because I knew she'd break down and I wanted to learn car repair. So I pulled into the garage, ran upstairs to spend 30 minutes reading the BMW 2002 FAQ forum, priced turn signal replacement parts on eBay, and went back to pop open the hood. I took out the #6 fuse, wiped it on my pants, and put it back in. The turn signals work just fine now, and I just saved myself $35,000.
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36 Responses to Go Green: Use Last Year's Model

  1. dalek g says:

    i can only afford last years (and sometimes last years last years) models of stuff. that makes me greener than most, right? got an hdtv second-hand that only has component input (no dvi, no hdmi), my prepaid mobile is 2 years old, the “newest” tech I have is an hp tx1000z (had to replace my dell inspiron 2100 after it broke) and an ipaq 111 (had to replace my dell axim x3i after it broke). when you’re poor, you make do.

  2. nutbastard says:

    im with #14, an ’02 is NOT an ‘old’ car. MY car is a ’94 and i don’t consider that to be ‘old’. furthermore, you bought an 02 BMW because you knew it would break down? that’s weird thinking, and expensive weird thinking at that. a 7 year old car should have NOTHING wrong with it. my car is 15 and there’s still nothing that’s actually stopped working on it – just belts and fluid changes. Ok i lied the windshield squirter pump doesn’t work. but that hardly qualifies, it’s a completely non essential component.

    bottom line: 02’s are not old, and if your car is breaking down already, that’s a real shit car.

  3. nutbastard says:

    *reads comments*
    *realizes I’ve made the “2002” mistake*
    *hangs head in shame*

  4. nutbastard says:

    i snagged a brand new 1st gen 16gb ipod touch – still shrink wrapped in the box – for under $200. and i finally bought an xbox after many years a refurbished elite for $240 shipped : )

  5. Anonymous says:

    You could probably even hold off on the sharpening kit for awhile. (My strategy is always to wait til after the initial craving wears off to see if I really need something.)

    I have a reel lawnmower that still works great after at least 20 years of not being sharpened. Maybe it’s because my roof is pyramid shaped and oriented to magnetic north.

  6. Cefeida says:

    Great point. I can’t say I’m always that green and conscious but in general I only buy things when I really can’t do without them. You should see my Rebel XT, it’s battered, bruised, has lost both the eyeguard and the settings dial…now this would not be a problem if the shutter and sensor weren’t both on the verge of dying. New camera for me this year- but it took a good four years and tens of thousands of photos to get it in this state.

    I couldn’t be called a minimalist. I have hundreds of books and boxes of odds and ends, and old clothes I don’t fit into anymore that should have gone a long time ago. But every now and then I make a tally of the things I would want with me should I need to make a fresh start. So far they are my laptop, my camera, and my bicycle. I’d miss the rest, but as far as basics go, that’s it. And those are the things I’m willing to put money into, to fix while they need fixing, to be replaced when absolutely necessary.

    I was just telling off a friend who wanted to spend several hundred dollars for new handlebars for a bike he almost never rides. Because somehow that would make him ride it more.

  7. strider_mt2k says:

    Awesome idea.
    Goes right along with appreciating what you already have.

    We are RICH!

  8. Agies says:

    Reminds me of the time I spent hours pouring over wiring diagrams and owner’s manuals trying to figure out where the fuse for the instrumentation lights was only to discover that there is a dimmer dial that I invariably mash with my knee when I drive the car. I was all set to take it in for servicing when I found a discussion thread about the exact problem.

  9. phi says:

    I think my thought process is a lot like yours when it comes to daydreaming about the “new thing.” How awesome its going to make my life. Its a personal struggle to convince myself I don’t need new stuff. I think the thing I constantly buy & upgrade and wish I didn’t is a cell phone.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ve used that model of mower for about five years, mowing a medium sized Seattle yard (uphill! both ways!), and I can only give it a lukewarm recommendation. Longer grass tends to get wound around the axle, and the grips rotate on the handles after a few hours of work. The handle is made of two pieces fastened together by two wingnuts, and it’s not as stiff as it might be.

    That said, the blades appear to take an edge reasonably well, and the pushing action is smooth.

  11. megnut says:

    I was just re-reading this post before I got to the comments to see if you’d responded Joel. And as soon as I did I was like, “Uh oh! He meant he has an old 2002 BMW! Doh!” Clearly I was tired this afternoon. Thanks for the mower link!

  12. pork musket says:

    My dryer died, so I’ve been using last generation’s model: the old clothesline in the backyard.

  13. Anonymous says:

    2002s are cool, I want one real bad. I have an 1992 BMW that I wrench on myself, just changed the cabin air filter today and tomorrow I’m going to change the oil. I also have a 1st gen 16GB iPhone and a Powerbook G4 17 incher that works just fine with more RAM of course.

  14. tk421storm says:

    All very laudable – I’ve always tried to live up to this standard myself, and I’ve been getting better.

    My roommates both bought 16gb tiny MP3 players and lost them after a year. They both bought new ones just recently, and at least one of their old ones has turned up again. They say they don’t mind buying a new one every year.

  15. Anonymous says:

    If you’re looking for a reel mower, I also highly recommend checking out your local FreeCycle group. A lot of folks have reel mowers hanging out in the shed, and they are happy to get rid of them. I scored a great old reel mower early last summer via FreeCycle after I posted a “wanted” request.

  16. malthusan says:

    Joel, you might consider Bavarian Autosport for parts.


    Back when I had my ’82 320i, bavauto kept me solvent when it came for repairs. eBay probably had better deals – dunno because I never really used it for that – but bavauto always had everything I needed. Sigh. I miss my 320.

  17. randalll says:

    My girlfriend was helping a friend car shop a few weeks ago. She said she sat in the Nissan 370Z on the showroom floor and had to get out because she was getting physically turned on just from sitting in it.

    I had never experienced jealousy of an inanimate object before.

  18. dculberson says:

    My cars have already self-destructed by the time I get them – most of them were bought on the cheap because they were broken. I usually fix a few things, drive it for a while, and resell it to someone in need of a good car. But this last one was bought two years ago and I can’t give it up. It’s so bourgeois but it’s comfy!

    I’ve got a bit of a “replacing my beer with current models” problem, though. Re-using last years model just doesn’t seem right. Plus, isn’t the alcohol pretty much consumed by the time you pee it out?

    Seriously, though, it’s amazing how long some of the things people consider disposable can last if they’re taken care of well. I have two iPods that, while they have minor problems, still work great for house or garage duty. And 20gb of music is still a hell of a lot of music.

    My wife’s car has 240k miles on it and runs like a top. I swear it has fewer rattles than my car. And a car payment is one of the major financial stressors in people’s lives. Learn to wrench, or learn to diagnose and have a reliable mechanic. It can save you a fortune. $500/year is so much better than $500/month.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wait.. BMW’s have turn signals?

    I never knew that.

  20. TJ S says:


    Looking up my local Nissan dealership now…

    Damn you! I was blissful in my ignorance.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am by no means a wealthy person, so using what we have is a very important to our little family of 3 (we’ll be a family of 4 on June 1).

    With a little patience, and the virtually infinite amount of information available on the web, you can fix just about anything, not just cars.

    Last year, my dryer broke down, and in a few days I had diagnosed the problem (thermostat), and installed repair parts ($35). Just last month my washer quit, too. Again, diagnosed the problem, bought the part, and fixed it ($100).

    My wife is so proud of me when I save us serious money, and to be honest, that alone makes it worth it.

    – dead dryer fix – $35 ($300-$500 for new)
    – dead washer fix – $100 ($400-$1000+ for new)
    – trigger for dead power drill – $35 ($85 new)
    – battery kit for dead iPod mini – $17 ($150 for a Nano)
    – blade lawn edger found at curb – $13 in parts (Score!)

    The list could go on and on! If something is busted, try to fix it, even if you can’t fix it in the end, you probably haven’t really lost anything except some time. Great advice on a great site!
    Thanks again BB!

  22. RN7676 says:

    Any schmuck who can find their way to a BMW dealer with some degree of credit can have a brand new BMW, that’s why I see a dozen of them every day. Only a very unique individual would seek out a 1975 BMW 2002; I haven’t seen one in months. .. I approve!

    For many people, their new BMW is just an appliance. Owning something like a BMW 2002 is more like a relationship and you might be a safer driver because of it. If it has any personal intrinsic value, you are likely to be more cautious with the car as compared to the guy in the brand new leased 330 who made plans to get rid of the car the same day he got it.

    Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with BMWs. I’ve never owned one and probably never will!

  23. Sparrow says:

    My 11 year old car is still getting as good mileage as a similar-sized current model, and as long as I can keep the rust under control, I don’t plan on replacing it.

    My dealer spent hours trying to find out why the headlights on my car wouldn’t turn off, after doing some engine work. Then when I came to pick it up after the shop was closed, I saw the fuse under the bill on the passenger seat, put it back in, and flipped off the switch on top of the steering wheel for the daytime running lights.

    My current MP3 player is three years old, and I’ll probably be able to just use my phone when it wears out. My fridge just died this year. It was made in 1969. Even if the new one is more energy efficient, the environmental cost of manufacturing it and recycling the old one would be enough to offset any efficiency gains to be had by replacing it before its time.

  24. Bugs says:

    Remember the uproar when BBG first published about the new iPod Shuffle? Quite a few posters here and elsewhere were crying out in rage about about Apple “forcing us to buy new versions of our earphones and accesories every year”. At the time I was amazed that none of them seemed to consider the possibility of just sticking with the version they already have and, presumably, are using happily.

    My mp3 player is about four years old, but somehow still manages to be just as small and pleasant to use as when I bought it. Amazing!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Kudos on the 2002 — they really are fun to drive, besides being easy to repair. They can get good mileage too.

    We gave my golfer roommate a good scare once when I was disassembling the cylinder head and was looking for something long and skinny with which to pound out the rocker shafts…

  26. megnut says:

    When you said “old car” I figured you meant something from the 80s, guess 2002 is “old” these days!

    But tell us about this reel mower! I need a small one and have just begun comparing models. What’d ya end up with?

    • Joel Johnson says:

      Oh, Meg, it’s a 1975! The 2002 is just the model number. Confusing, I know. (Confusing for Google, too.)

      This Great States mower was the one I bought. It hasn’t shown up yet, though, so no review, but the designs haven’t changed much for decades. I got that one because it comes with a sharpening kit, which I’ve heard is important.

      Of course as I’m typing this two men showed up and started mowing my lawn. I guess the landlady has a service. Who knew? It’s okay—I really do like mowing, so I’ll probably give it a chop myself in between their visits.

  27. zandar says:

    I’m with #10. I haven’t bought new electronic gear… ever?

    Not entirely true. I do buy new accessories, but the main units have all been used for many years now.

    I did buy one new computer- a Mac, back in ’92. It was a big mistake. Used computers FTW!

    Oh, I did buy one of those DTV settop boxes. But a recycled PIII desktop with a new tuner card stands it its place now.

    Also, as long as Kodak or Fuji spend money making photosensitive films, I will keep and use my Pentax ME Super and Canon AE-1. My stereo amplifier is going on thirty years old, as are my speakers. I wouldn’t want to replace them with anything new anyway.

  28. danilo says:

    I haven’t spent any money to address the fact that there is no way my D50 can automatically, accurately geotag my photos.

    It is an accomplishment of which I am proud.

  29. GuidoDavid says:

    I still find baffling the way that people in developed countries consume stuff. Even if I have spent lots of time there.

  30. josephlrc says:

    But many newer gadgets use much less energy to perform the same service- I am not looking at you Pork Musket, you are the exception… the freezer though, ouch.

  31. KurtMac says:

    Its going to be hard getting over my habit of tossing my car in the dumpster every time a bird craps on it, but whatever needs to be done for the environment!

    Seriously, though, I’m more likely to be put in the “Use Last Decade’s Model” group. You’ll only need to look as far as the 32″ CRT tube television that dominates my living room for confirmation of that. That thing has its own gravitational field, but I’m not going to replace it or my non-progressive-scan DVD player circa 1999 until they self destruct.

  32. heydemann3 says:

    My cars die from old age, I only replace cell phones when they stop selling the batteries, my freezer may have died at last-after over 30 years of service.
    I also realized that I’m still wearing clothes I bought over a decade ago. I tend to want things just as they’re about to go out of production.
    I just hope I balance out my upgrade-mad older brother

  33. Anonymous says:

    Another argument for the iPhone – it uses tech that’s been outdated in real smartphones for three or four years.

  34. Chris Tucker says:

    Three of the telephones in my apartment are Western Electric (manufacturing branch of the former Bell System). ALL of them are at least 20 years old. I expect them to still be working for someone long after I’m dead.

    My keyboard is an Apple Extended. Made in 1986, it works as perfectly today as it did when it came off the assembly line.

    My printer is an Apple 4/600 PS LaserWriter. I have a dedicated Photoshop/Graphics workstation. A Beige G3 Desktop with a 500Ghx G4 CPU upgrade. Plucked off the curb in Cambridge. The monitor is a 17″ ViewSonic. Plucked off the curb in Boston. (As was my 21″ Apple CRT Cinema display.) The G3 Desktop also has an Apple Extended Keyboard, a Wacom ArtzII tablet (US$15.00 from eBay about 3-4 years ago or so) a MacMice black ‘The Mouse’ (again, eBay) and a Kensington four button ADB trackball (found at Goodwill for US$2.00. Complete with short extension ADB cable).

    My stereo is a KLH Compact Model 20. Another bit of curb salvage. My TV, a Samsung LCD is new, but the speakers plugged into it are not. Boston Acoustic computer speakers, US$4.00 at Goodwill. My microwave is nearing 25 years old.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

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