Relationships matter. We have relationships with the people in our lives, but there are also the relationships to our vehicles.
We’ve all owned a car that we loved, that we looked forward to driving, and it became an extension of ourselves. Many people have owned a car they disliked or even hated over time. Cars can come and go for different reasons or they can just plain wear out and reach the end of their lifespans.
Leasing a car has become more common, especially with luxury brands. It allows people to drive in a new BMW without the huge up front cost of buying one. Of course there are those pesky lease payments, and the fact that you have to watch your mileage. To me, leasing a car would be like getting married, and then getting a new wife after 3 years, just when you were getting comfortable with her. With vehicle lifespans of 10+ years and 200,000 miles, a 3 year old car is just getting started. It’s a thoroughbred horse, not a cranky old mare.
Whether you bought your car new or used, if it’s something you saved for or yearned for, once you have it, the car becomes part of your experience. It takes you not just to work, but on road trips, on errands, to kids soccer games and whatever else you have going on in your life. You worked hard to buy it, now that you have it you will wash it, wax it, vacuum it and make sure it’s maintained, right? But what of the leased car? If you know you’re dumping something in 36 months, will you treat it the same?
Phase 1: The honeymoon.
She’s all I wanted….
When you first get a car, its like a giddy honeymoon. It’s new. OK, it may be used, but hey, it’s new to you. You’re just learning all the bells and whistles, knobs and controls, reading the owners manual (all 400 pages of it). You’ll think of any excuse to drive it.
“We need milk”
“No, we have milk in the fridge.”
“Yeah but that’s 2% milk, I want 1% milk”
There is no eating or drinking in the car during the honeymoon period. It must stay clean. Kids must take off their dirty shoes and God forbid if they spill a milkshake on the new Italian leather, or worse get bubble gum on the carpet.
Phase 2: Settling in
In the next phase, you’ve settled into the fact that you’ve had her a while and she’s growing on you. You know where all the controls are without having to think about it, the seats and mirrors are all where they need to be and the radio has the right presets. You’ve learned how to use the adaptive cruise control, synch your iPod to the built in infotainment system and what speed the windshield wipers need to be on, based on how hard it’s raining. You’ve explored her limits of speed, acceleration and corning. You’re familiar with the sound of the engine or the nice burst of torque when you want to speed up on the highway. You’re at the point now where a rental car just annoys you, because it’s either not as nice as your baby, or the controls on the rental car are too much effort to learn. We all like the familiar.
Phase 3: This is getting old
After several years of ownership and many miles, now the relationship can start to go sour. It needs new tires. The 60,000 mile service. Things start to break and it’s making a dent in your bank account. Hang on though, you’re not done with her yet. Now you have no problem having a coffee or burger in the front seat, you can park close to the store because you’ve got dings and scratches and your wet, muddy dog may come for a ride. Remember though, she’s gotten you this far.
Phase 4: Parting ways
There are many reasons why we end up getting rid of a car. My first car, a 1973 Fiat Spider, rusted out where the front control arms mounted to the body. Aside from the rust in the floor and wheel wells, and a host of mechanical and electrical problems, the car was no longer safe to be on the road. After the Fiat, I ended up with my dad’s Datsun, which after 5 years was also destroyed by New York state road salt. I had a mid 70s Ford Galaxie XL that burned a quart of oil every 200 miles (bad valve stem seals probably). Never the less it had good heat and I think the AC might even have worked. We would pile 5 or 6 students in that car and drive it from Illinois to New Jersey and it would make the trip, so long as you kept putting oil in it. But I had no loyalty to the Galaxie. It wasn’t a car that I cared about. When something went wrong with the flex plate on the transmission, a gear tooth was broken off and sometimes the starter wouldn’t turn the motor. That was the end of that car. I had a somewhat nice ’67 Cougar XR7 but when I finished school and had to move back east, I didn’t want to take it with me. I sold it and drove a rental truck back east. I am convinced that my 2002 Subaru ruined my lower back because of the marginals seats, but managed to get that car over 200,000 miles. While there was no strong attachment to the Subaru, I didn’t want to subject a new car to the harsh realities of driving all winter long to my kids skiing programs. The winter driving, sand, salt and cold all take their toll on a car.
When the Subaru was close to the end, I found a Mercedes C240 wagon and at that point I said “why did I keep that Subaru for so long?” The Mercedes was a better car in every way. It had a smooth V6 engine with plenty of torque, it was quiet and comfortable. In short, it was a car I could build a new relationship with.
Some owners will get rid of a car not just because of mechanical issues, but just because they don’t like it. I’ve known several people dump their Minis for other models. Maybe your car rides too hard. It’s no longer quiet. It feels cheap. It’s too small. It’s too big or uses too much gas. It has no power. Maybe it has 10 little things wrong with it and you don’t want the nuisance of fixing them. Maybe you drove something else and liked it better. When it is time to get rid of your car and move on you will know it.
Back in 1970 my dad broke ranks (his previous cars were Pontiacs) and got a new Oldsmobile. He ordered it how he wanted it. It was a Cutlass Supreme, red with a white vinyl top and white interior. While it wasn’t a true muscle car like the 442, he did get the rally wheels and dual gate shifter. For the era, it was a stylish, cool car. It had bucket seats, great a/c and V-8 power.
Olds had a winner in the ’70 Cutlass. What happened?
This was a car that we did a lot of family trips in, and my brother and I used to take turns washing and polishing it, each of us hoping that some day it might be ours. I can’t remember exactly how the Olds met its end, but it ended up in a shop needing a lot of repairs and was sold off. So much for having a cool Olds for high school. The car that replaced it was awful- a 1975 Dodge Dart swinger that had a gutless 225-slant 6. By this point horsepower was way down, cars were running on unleaded gas and catalytic converters. A few years later I saw our Cutlass for sale, and almost bought it but didn’t. But I still have fond memories of the Cutlass.
The best cars over the years have been the ones that generated some emotional connection. Maybe it was the car you took on your first date, or the one when you learned to drive a stick. Perhaps it was the one you bought after that promotion or raise, or when you felt that you earned it. Maybe it was the one you wanted for so long and finally found it.