My Car

Riding home last week I decided to use the time to plan my column. It was raining a little and the 5:30 traffic was pretty heavy. Naturally my mind centered on cars as a topic. Once again my changing priorities became the obvious theme.

In the past I’ve always tried to have new or nearly new vehicles for several reasons. First, because affording a car payment and repairs has been difficult. Second, because my choice of older, used cars just seems to create mechanical problems—I specialize in lemons. Third, because dependability has always been important and fourth, because they look so pretty! So I own Toyotas and, usually, not very old Toyotas.

Much has been made of the American love affair with automobiles and I am no different than most. A sparkling new car says I am mainstream America, that I, though not affluent, own a piece of that American dream. To be able to drive off the car lot with a new car with my name on the license plate (such is the cost of vanity at $25 per year)… I think some of my happiest moments have been just that.

Oh, and that new car smell! We Americans are really stuck on deodorizing our lives. My sojourn in Germany back in the eighties made me realize how very stuck on smells and or the lack of smells we Americans are. The Germans are some of the most civilized folks on earth. The countryside was so clean and they had no obvious ghettos back then. They, however, like so many Europeans just aren’t so deodorant dependent as we Americans are.

One of the reasons why that new car smell is so treasured by us car-crazy Americans is obvious during muggy weather like we’ve had recently. If you drive an older vehicle, then every spill, every dog passenger, every mold spore carried on one’s shoes, every bit of odor history is obvious to the nose. It’s no longer antiseptic; it doesn’t seem clean no matter how much effort I put into interior cleaning which I admit isn’t much effort at all!

And that new car smell also has such good memories attached to it. I’ll bet you remember that first new car and the overwhelming excitement and pride of that first day. I sure do. Every new car smell brings back that first one, in my case the year was 1974 and the car was—now don’t laugh—a Gremlin, a golden-colored, weird-looking mechanical contraption with the most uncomfortable backseat known to man (or woman).

I was so proud. That was such an exciting year. A move across country. A new baby. And that new car. What great memories to be triggered by only a smell!

One of the other great things about owning a new car is brought home to me every time I wash my present car. Now you must understand this is something I don’t do very often. I live on a dirt road and car washing has never been a priority for me. But, it’s gotten so bad, that a visit to my son’s home always gets an announcement from the two-year-old grandson. He makes horrible noises and points to my filthy car. “Ooooo, Nana, ooooo.” My son and his brother are always after me to wash it and they actually will do that for me occasionally!

But if you wash it, you reveal that great metallic black paint job with every ding and scratch that normally hides under the mud. It’s just not so pretty any more.

So my priorities have changed since my move to the country. I now own an aging Corolla that due to costs cannot be traded in any time soon. I keep checking every 6 months or so but the ever increasing mileage keeps depreciating that poor old car faster than I could ever pay for it.

I’ve finally had to accept the fact that I may keep this dependable, black (I didn’t want a black or white car!) old thing. After all, I now live on a dirt road. As fast as a new car depreciates, driving a brand new car out here doesn’t make sense unless it’s a big pickup or something similar, and I leave the truck stuff to my husband.

I can just see it now. Driving along and a big piece of gravel gets thrown into the shiny paint job or meeting a logging truck and getting so close to the edge that branches scrape the sides. Not to mention those commuting miles. It just wouldn’t be so practical to get a new car, right?

Not only that, but I am remembering those lemons I have owned and I am grateful for my trusty, aging Toyota. It may not be as pretty as a new car but it is mechanically sound and very trustworthy.

So there I was, moving with traffic, thinking all these practical thoughts, feeling pretty good about how I had talked myself into accepting ownership of an older model car and accepting the fact that I can’t trade it in. I’m bouncing to the music and moving with the traffic. The road was wet but I was several car lengths behind a Jeep SUV when someone hit their brakes unexpectedly in front of the Jeep. I ended up getting intimately acquainted with the granddaughter of a Maxeys’ friend and her step-dad. Nice folks who felt very badly that the Jeep wasn’t even scratched.

That was last week. This week I’m driving a rental (new, pretty, good-smelling) waiting on the body shop to fix my crunched front end. I’m enjoying the attractive, clean car. I keep noticing how much better it accelerates and how much lower the hood is so this short person can see better.

But, this week I am grateful for car insurance and looking forward to getting my washed, scratch-free front-ended car back. It is truly amazing how sometimes life hands you what you wish for and for a lot less money!