When I first started to drive, the general expectation was that I would 1) have an older, hand-me-down car and 2) I would maintain it for a long time, without the real expectation of a brand, spanking new car anywhere in my dizzy head. The first car I had was a Ford Falcon which I inherited from my parents’ divorce somehow…I’m still not sure how that transaction worked but I tend to think unexpressed guilt was at work in there somewhere.
I didn’t love the car, it had absolutely no cool factor at all, but it got me around and liberated my life at a crucial time. I don’t even remember at this point what happened to the car, though there’s a vague recollection of a tow truck and a purchase for parts.
My next car was beloved, even though it too, was the product of a divorce. A friend of my mother’s had a VW bug, yellow, that she used for zipping around; after her divorce, she felt she needed something more substantial and besides the car reminded her of her ex, so she wanted to dump it. I picked it up for One Buck, the minimum you have to pay for a car to avoid some kind of taxes or something. I loved this car and drove it all over, to Wisconsin for Grad School, to Florida for vacation, and on and on. My old cat Mo grew up riding around in the passenger seat, and thought nothing of 3 day road trips.
My next 2 cars were VW bugs as well, the last one being an older model that I adored, a 1965 turquoise sweet thing that caused boomers to stop me in plarking lots to tell me their youthful VW stories.
My current car is also a VW, a Jetta that I bought during the dot com bubble for cash–my First New Car Ever. I adored it also: heated leather seats, fabulous sound system, zippy engine and a compact cool look. I was exceptionally proud of my brand new car, purchased on a whim with stock money. It was more than a car, it was a marker in time.
But now my car is old, certainly old by current standards, and it doesn’t have the je ne sais quois of before. It gets me around just fine, but doesn’t flatter my ego at all. So, where am I now with regard to my old zippy car? Well, I’m starting to notice older cars–people who are still driving their 1990 whatever, keeping it in good shape, not asking it to be more than it is, and counting on it to be all that it still is.
I notice older cars that are washed and polished, clean machines, and that still look good, and presumably function well. And of course, in contrast, I think of all the new cars out there–the thrill of them, the status and such. I wonder if anyone coming out of high school shares the expectations I had around cars anymore: nothing new, but something that will get you from point A to point B, which was really all I cared about.
And I think of the huge mountains of cars that we go through in search of that new-car-high, which is admittedly pretty intoxicating.
I came across this article in MSN about the upside of keeping your old car. Some good ways of thinking about your older car are, it turns out, pretty quantifiable. For example, keeping the thing running might cost you $1500 in repairs–every year. But that still falls short of buying a new car, a new car which will be old very soon, and within a few years you’ll find yourself choosing between repairs and a new car–and endless cycle. Your insurance will be the lowest around, your taxes even lower and in fact, even if you have a major repair every year, you’ll likely still come out ahead.
But here’s something subtle to think about: new cars are like guns in Hollywood films. If a gun appears in a scene–over the mantle, in the drawer, on the shelf–it’s a guarantee that gun will get some use in the course of the film. Same with a new car–if you have a new car, you will use it. There’s no earthly way you will choose to ride your bike, walk or take the bus, it’s just a given you will drive that car everywhere.
So, today I want to sing the praises of older cars. Not the old-old-old cars, that are poorly maintained and spew clouds of smoke as they go–those are a dying breed. Cars with pollution controls have been around for a long time so even a 17 year old car does a pretty good job of minimizing pollution. I’m talking about older cars that are maintained and loved for what they are: reliable transportation tools. Appliances, even. You take care of them, they take care of you, and that odometer is a badge of courage. Recall Seth Godin’s idea that in the future, the best made cars will have their LED odometers on the outside so people can oooh-and-ahhh about how well made this car is.
Daily Stats: (Sat, Sun)
Car: 8 miles
Ped: 3 miles