I grew up watching my parents buy used cars and then pour money into them as one unexpected disaster followed another. In all honesty, they probably didn’t spend as much on repairs as it seemed, but the random nature of it scared me because it was always unexpected.
Fast forward to when I was graduating college, had secured a decent job, and needed a car to get to it.
I decided I would do the opposite and buy a new car with a warranty so I would know ahead of time exactly what I would need to pay out. Of course it doesn’t really work out that way and I probably wasn’t considering all the standard maintenance costs either, but the principle was a known I could plan for versus an unknown that would surprise me at the worst possible moment.
I did my research, figured out what I could afford and discovered the car I wanted (a hatchback) had gone out of favor that year. I found a Toyota Corolla compact station wagon that was the closest to what I’d wanted and met all my other criteria. If I recall correctly, that was a rear windshield wiper, passenger assist grips, and a good turning radius. She also came with air conditioning I hardly ever use and a sky blue paint job that I never really liked, but changing her color would be changing my financial planning and to prove I’d done the right thing, my car had to last ten years.
Boy did I get grief.
From my family for buying a new car and paying the premium that is lost in the value the moment I drove her off the car lot and from my coworkers at the time for buying a “granny mobile.”
The first didn’t matter to me so much because I had no plans on reselling, and the second? Well, I guess they were right after all. Not about her style, but in car years, she’s definitely a granny.
You might have guessed I love my car.
Gandy (her real name is Gandella and she chose it not me :p) has done everything I’ve asked of her. She’s carried pinball machines for my husband, bookcases for me, helped me move several times, took me to trees for camping and hiking, and just basically been reliable and wonderful.
How reliable? Well, despite 180,000 miles and change, despite teaching four new drivers how to do stick shift, and despite twenty-five years, she’s still on her first clutch. I’m having to replace the CV joints right now, but my husband tells me they usually last 80k, so hers went the extra mile…well, 100k miles that is.
When I bought Gandy she had 14 miles on her odometer, ten of which I’d put on in multiple test drives. I was told she was a NUMMI plant build, which made me happy since it’s a local plant that had been restored to keep the jobs in the Bay Area. (It’s now the Tesla plant.) Sadly, the dealer had written down her numbers wrong, something we discovered when my insurance could not insure her at first. Still, though having a Japanese-built car has had its struggles (certain things are more expensive), she certainly lived up to the ten-year amortization plan I was working under. Every year past ten has been a gift.
I don’t know whether it’s a matter of the car forming to me or me forming to the car, but like a pet and its owner, Gandy is perfectly formed to support my back in the seats while other cars are uncomfortable. I never feel like I can’t see because when I turn to check my blind spots, I get window, not wall. She has a forgiving clutch so was the perfect training vehicle when my boys were old enough. Though the new drivers she taught did manage to stall her once or twice, it was nothing like how often I stalled my parents’ car. And for the longest while, the only non-maintenance repair she’d had was replacing the exhaust because my dear husband decided to take her off-road (she’s not as low to the ground as an RX-7 but not much higher).
Gandy has seen me through moving from college to my first job, marrying my wonderful husband, and having two amazing boys. She’s been there for every significant moment in my adult life, and has never let me down. Every single time she hasn’t started when I needed her to, and the reason I keep a AAA membership, has been my fault with leaving the lights on and draining her battery.
Sure, she doesn’t have the fancy door locks, power windows, rear speakers and prolific airbags of the more modern cars, but you can roll down her windows whenever you like, the cd/mp3 player (a present from my husband) is plenty loud for my ears, and it’s easy enough to push down the little button to lock her. The only enhancement I would have appreciated, or maybe she would have appreciated me having ;), would be a chime to warn when I’d forgotten to turn the lights off.
She consistently gets high thirties in gas mileage and has even gotten forty on a road trip not more than five years ago. She doesn’t get driven as much as she used to because she’s blocked in most of the time and my standard road trips are now with my husband so he wants his car. Even with living a garage life for months on end, though, when I need her, I settle into her comfy seat, tap the accelerator a couple times to give her something to use, stick in the clutch, turn the key, and she might grumble, but she turns over and roars to life.
You might think this is a eulogy, but no, it’s a celebration. Last week, I took my car down to the DMV and chose to recognize her service in the best way possible. She is now a certified classic car. An aging station wagon might not appear to deserve such an honor at first glance, but think again about what I’ve said. Don’t you think she’s earned her fancy plates?
On the other hand, my family’s motivation in this is so they can park this beaut next to the old hot rods in the A&W parking lot during Hot August Nights in Reno, pop the hood and chuckle.
She brings endless joy.
All pictures courtesy of Colin Fisk, nature (and other) photographer.