Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Reflections of Who We Are

Intentional or not, our cars tell the world about the types of person we are. Our social and financial status, our need for outward validation, our security in our gender roles and even the transitional stages of our lives are broadcast to the world by the four wheels we choose to drive. Emotional needs filled by the purchase of an auto range from validation of sexuality to pure power. But while car-as-indicator-of-personality can border on cliché -- sports cars for age-defying middle-aged men, minivans for soccer moms, trucks for construction workers, etc. -- the desire to buck or ignore these classifications can be just as revealing.

Hubby and I buck the trends. We realized with the last new car purchase we made in 1990 that we did not find enough value in an automobile to spend more ten grand on one. Our values haven’t changed as car prices have inflated.

How did we settle on $10,000? In 1973 we bought our home for $17,900. We have lived in that house for 33 years and it has more than tripled in value. Why would we pay more for a car that would depreciate the moment we handed over cash?

So we’ve driven old cars, cars others have discarded, sometimes for very valid reasons. Our best purchase was a 1989 Cadillac Seville hubby bought for $3000. Honey of a car, it never stranded me and I always felt snazzy driving it. During the Seville’s life, I was managing my own communications company and that car made me feel like I had "arrived." It wasn’t too big, it was really pretty, and it ran beautifully. We drove it until we had to replace the engine and then we drove it until that engine gave up the ghost.

Right after I quit teaching and while I was building my business, I drive cars that cost less $1000 – combined. The first was a simple brown Dodge we bought for $400 – no frills, no toys, not even a working a radio. The second was a more sporty Mercury that was miserably uncomfortable but only cost $700. Each car lasted me at least 18 months or pretty hard driving.

The worst car we ever owned I named The Tank, a 1993 Cadillac De Ville which hated me with a passion unheard of in an inanimate object. That car never gave me a day’s worth of peace. It was pretty and it was big and it was spawned by the Devil herself. Somehow the gas flow system was screwed up and if the tank reached half full, the damn car thought it was out of gas and quite running. It never had heat when it was cold and it never cooled when it was hot. At stop lights it would quit running and not start again for upwards of 50 minutes, or longer. It stranded us all over town – and Hubby, who had found and decided it was a good purchase, wouldn’t give up on it. He had paid more for The Tank than any car since we quit buying new ones and he was determined he could tame the evil beast. We still own The Tank because Hubby can’t find anyone who will even consider buying it but we quit driving it during the spring of 2005. It sits, hulking, in our driveway with a rotting For Sale sign in the window, defying anyone to try and make it run.

Once we gave up on The Terrible Tank, we bought a beautiful midnight blue 1994 Cadillac De Ville with a North Star engine which proved way too costly to repair when things went wrong with it. That car caught fire in our driveway, melting the dashboard and half the engine. The fire, unfortunately, did not spread to The Tank. That's me on your left with Midnight right after we bought her.

Meanwhile Hubby has owned a succession of odd work vehicles – the kind of car you can dump opened cans of paint into or hook long ladders to the roofs. He’s had old vans, old pick-ups, and is currently driving an old SBC (phone company) industrial van with over 300,000 miles on it. Darned van is so tall I have to have stepping stool to heft me into it. Keeps running though when everything else poops out.

My latest vehicle was purchased after much serious investigation on Hubby’s part. He wanted a one owner, American made, big car, built before 1994 – when nearly all the engines on cars became so computerized that the driveway mechanic has no hope of tinkering on them. After a long search he eventually found a 1993 Lincoln Towncar that met his requirements.

If a car broadcasts your social and economic status to the world, then in that Towncar screams that I’m a blue haired, little old lady on my way to the bingo parlor with a bucket of makers and a carton of menthol cigarettes. Actually, the can’s image isn’t so far off from my own, darn it. Hubby and I like the luxury of the full-sized auto. We like comfy seats where two doggies can snuggle next to us while we cruise down the highway. We want to be able to stretch out our legs, and wallow around when the arthritis pain kicks in. The Lincoln serves those needs admirably.
Also the car has been very stable to drive. I travel over 300 miles a week to work so I need a car that won’t break down, that doesn’t have a flashing instrument panel of red and amber warning lights, and that can withstand travel on gravel roads. Because the Lincoln is well worn it doesn’t need washing every other rainstorm. Because it has been adequately maintained during its long life, it doesn’t need fluid injections every second day. It does, however, need a little push to provide the extra comforts, so today the air conditioning system is being reworked so I can (hopefully) drive in cool during the rest of the summer. We had the same problem at the close of last season when we had to overhaul the heating system.

If the bottom line in car ownership is "how does the car make you FEEL?" then Hubby and I feel like rebels. We won’t subscribe to the philosophy of buying a new car every two/four at a cost of $30,000 and more just to promote our image. We are a couple of old fogies who still remember the glory years of the 1960’s and we drove the "protest" cars and vans of those years to prove it. We aren’t going to drive around in a status symbol because we don’t really care how others see us. We can find better ways to spend (or save) money than on a hunk of metal. Conversely we aren’t going toddle around in a little tin box of an economy car when our arthritic knees no longer bend properly. We are driving "your grandfather’s car" but then again, we’re both old enough to be your grandfather. Rebel or fuddy-duddy, we now pay cash for our vehicles which will never cost more than our home. That's just NOT right. Also, car payments are so depressing!


patsy said...

I rose in a model T when I was A girl and all the cars I owned over my working life were 2nd hand. the car i own now is 1993 chey. white with paint coming off in large spots showing gray primer. when i worked i said i liked the color because i could alway find it the parking lot.i think the best car we ever owned was a cad. it was 15 years old in 1963 when my husband bought it but the finish was emirald green and shined like a diamond. the only requirement i have for a car is for it to always start. i also wont good tires, i hate flats.

Bev Sykes said...

I never really notice cars, believe it or not. We drive a Honda--I don't even remember what year it is, but 1980s, I believe. Breaking in a new car is always painful for me. I'm too comfortable in the old one!

Thanks for validating my "don't ask, don't tell" entry. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. "If you can guess what I'm feeling, I'll let you check it out."

Anonymous said...

WOW! What a really great **car** blog! I am bookmarking it right now so I can come back later when I have more time to look it over better.
I too have a **car** and **opportunity** news blog. It gives people the opportunity to find out how they can **drive** a **free** **car**. I hope you'll take a moment and take a look at it. Thanks!