Everything I needed to know about life I learned from my car

America is a nation obsessed with its cars, especially us males. Ever since my Y chromosome muscled out that wimpy second X one, I was pre-destined to fixate on buying my next car. Since college, I have owned eight cars, and every one of them has taught me a valuable life lesson. (Click on the links below to see exact replicas of each car I owned – down to the color.)

My Volvo (1968 model year) taught me a lesson in humility. A guy I knew in college dared me to a drag race on a stretch of highway. He had a Corvette. It did zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds. My six-year old Volvo did zero to sixty, well… eventually. By the time I reached the finish line, the other dude was in a different zip code – mocking me from afar. A humbling experience. Volvo has always had a reputation for building safe cars. After my humiliation, I could only conclude it must be because few Volvo owners ever have enough time on their hands to attain dangerous speeds above 20 mph.

My Chevy Malibu (1973) taught me about Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I received a firsthand education on the complexity of automobiles and just how many different components could break down, including the antenna, the door lock, the radio, the non-electric windows, and the clock – and that was just on my test drive. And I also learned that not all car horns sound the same. When my horn died (who knew car horns died?) the repair shop apparently found a replacement horn by stealing it from a pink Schwinn bicycle previously owned by a six-year old girl.

My Isuzu Impulse (1984) taught me the importance of following your passion, although in hindsight, this might not be exactly what the author of What Color is Your Parachute meant by the statement. When I saw this car, which looked like a poor man’s Porsche, it was love at first sight. I had to have it. It was sexy and sleek, with a dashboard that looked like a cockpit.

There were only four things it lacked: quality, power, durability, and quality – oh, and quality. Yes, that car ran like a dream (as long as you kept it under 45 mph), for the first 7,000 miles. After that, I don’t really remember much, as it spent most of its time in the shop. Apparently this Japanese car came off the same assembly line that built my Chevy Malibu.

My Mazda 929 (1991) taught me that sometimes you need to pamper yourself with the finer things in life. This was my first exposure to heated seats and a car capable of exceeding the speed limit. So what if the trunk was barely large enough to store a laptop. I didn’t own a laptop. My 929 also taught me a lesson about moderation in everything – particularly my speed – thanks to three speeding tickets in ten months.

My Ford Windstar (1996). Now a parent of two toddlers, my luxury car days were fading in the rear view mirror. This was my first minivan. This car taught me the importance of showing my patriotism by Buying American. With my Ford Windstar I made a statement: “I am a patriotic American car-buying suburban soccer dad in my forties with bad knees. I hereby surrender my last vestige of being suave, sophisticated or desirable.” 

I had never bought a Ford before. Now I understood why. While Ford’s motto once had been At Ford, Quality is Job 1, I must have purchased it when their motto had evolved to At Ford, Quality is Job 17, just behind shaving 15% off the cost of manufacturing transmissions. After 50,000 miles, I had to have the car’s engine rebuilt at the bargain cost of just $3,900 (but in fairness, that included a free car wash). My Ford Windstar also taught me how to get over my patriotic Buy American car phase.

My forest green Aston Martin $125,000 exotic luxury sports car (1998) taught me that some people are so gullible they will believe anything they read in a list. I also purchased two F-16 fighter jets (one for the Mrs.) and Canada’s Prince Edward Island (they weren’t using it).

My Toyota Minivan (2000) taught me the lesson of patience. No matter how much the kids would scream in the back seat or shout at me to intervene and “tell Rachel to stop hitting me” during our annual 11-hour pilgrimages to grandma’s, I learned to control my frustration and the resist the temptation to eject the kids from a moving vehicle going 70 mph. I also learned some handy crisis survival tips. Did you know that you can survive for up to six months on Cheerios, granola bars and Juicy Juice cartons if you remember to search every crevice in your minivan?

My Hyundai 350 XG (2005) taught me a lesson in frugality. If you’re a male around 50 years of age, you may be planning your midlife crisis right about now. As I stared down the barrel of college costs, I opted for this Korean knock-off of a Lexus sedan at barely half the price. My days of driving boring, boxy minivans filled with kid crap were behind me. Finally, I could enjoy the driving experience once again. I loved my Hyundai sedan.

Um, not so fast. Turns out my elder daughter needs a car for college. So recently I gave her my Hyundai XG 350 in the hopes that someday soon she can discover the joy of replacing four radial tires and an alternator. My wife bought a brand new Hyundai herself – I guess women are allowed to have midlife crises too. So that leaves me with – you guessed it – the old Toyota minivan again, teaching me yet another life lesson: What goes around comes around. I hate that life lesson.

I have learned everything I ever needed to know about life from the cars I have owned – and I am not even talking about what I learned in the back seat (I’ll save that for a future post). In looking back on all the money I’ve poured into cars, gasoline, and repair bills over the years, for the same money, I could have sent both my kids to four years at an Ivy League college.

Ah, who am I kidding? My kids would never have made it into an Ivy League school. Besides, a college education doesn’t come with a sun roof, heated leather seats or an eight-CD Bose stereo system. So I’m pretty sure I made the right call.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2012

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  • Published On Feb. 09, 2012 by TEJ
  • One Comments


    1. Drew Fisher
      2/10/12

      Ah, Tim, you really knocked something loose inside the old nostalgia factory this time. Your 1973 Chevy Malibu definitely came off the same assembly line that produced my first car, a 1972 Chevy Vega Kammback GT. The GT had an oversized carburetor that, on the recommended unleaded gasoline, burned the engine to a crisp in 20,000 quick miles. At one point, I was getting a thousand miles per gallon — of motor oil. To its credit, General Motors replaced the engine at no cost. I am sure that this was because of GM’s impeccable consumer relations, top-notch quality control, and eventual awareness (it took a year to get the company to pay up) that I was employed as a news reporter at one of New York’s leading radio stations. My only other GM car was a 1978 Olds (remember Oldsmobile?) Cutlass Salon that, among many, many other things, filled up with water when it rained. I should have been tipped off by the fact that it literally ran out of gas as I drove it off the dealer’s lot. The solution to all of its problems was achieved when I totaled it on an icy New Jersey highway.

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