Monday, November 24, 2014

Epiphany #70: Long May You Run

We drove that car as far as we could, abandoned it out West.  --  Dylan

Every family has unique benchmarks that define it--first owned home, first family member to attend college, maybe citizenship or travel abroad.  And while some of those are supremely important to a family's self-identity, there are smaller accomplishments that can mean almost as much.

This week, our beloved 2001 Subaru Outback notched 200,000 miles.

For some readers, this fact no doubt earns a derisive "Big deal."  For us, though, this is a big deal.  It's the first time any car in our family, or extended family, has lasted this long.

Growing up in the 60's, my family, especially my father, fell prey to mantra of those times: Everyone needs a new car every four years.  The genius of Detroit was either that people bought that notion or that automakers figured out how to make cars that only lasted that long, or both.  Because consumers in that mindset would rarely get more than about 80,000 miles out of a car.

In fact, one of my father's related beliefs was that everything starts to go wrong on a car at around 80,000 miles.  Which is usually when he sold it to us.

The other outcome of those formative automobile-purchasing years is that my father loves to trade cars.  He likes the thrill of the negotiation, the bitter back and forth, the threat of walking away, and, ultimately, the satisfaction of being able to say "They sold me the car for less than it is worth."

He knows all of the tricks--buy at the end of the month, don't mention a trade-in until after the price has been negotiated, pay in cash (if you can).  Most of all, he likes things that are new and unproblematic.

My wife and I, on the other hand, drive cars into the ground.  Living a complex life that seeks to avoid confrontation and to neglect repair and upkeep of everything but our children, it has always been easier for us to let cars deteriorate until they are undriveable, and then to get a new one, than to keep them in prime shape for maximum trade-in value.  Our cars tend to face ignoble ends--left unrepaired at a gas station until the owner hauls it off, left in a parking space at school for months, if actually traded-in, only for little more than scrap value.  One sits in disrepair at an auto dealership right now, as it has for several weeks.

So, the Subaru.  It is something of a miracle.  It has driven to three of the four corners of America--Washington state, Maine, Key West.  It has been the primary car, at one time or another, for each of the members of our family, surviving two teenagers without incident, as well as several near brushes with no longer being our car.  In 2008, when we bought my older daughter a Subaru of her own, we were satisfied with its eight years of service, had let some things go on it, and had accepted $1500 in trade-in cash toward the new car.

But at almost the last second, I thought, wait a minute, this car has never caused us any major expense; it has to be worth more to us than $1500.  So instead of selling the car back to the dealer, I paid them $3500 to fix everything on it that needed fixing, and within four months, it became my younger daughter's car for all of high school and her first year of college.

It needed to last 8 months (of what would have been equivalent car payments) to justify that expense.  It has lasted six years.  And each time it has needed a repair, I've played that same cost/benefit analysis game of fix it costs vs. car payments.  So far, I've guessed right.

While I'm not a car guy, and while I don't place status on what car I'm driving, and while I don't particularly care what the car I'm driving looks like (as long as the stereo and the A/C work), I am admittedly quite attached to and nostalgic about the Subaru.  If it would run forever, then I would drive it forever.


Anonymous said...

Favorite line of this great post: "Living a complex life that seeks to avoid confrontation and to neglect repair and upkeep of everything but our children..."

I'm reminded of the now-viral essay about parents (OK, moms) and their fretting over messy house issues. I really appreciate those who, like me, have reached some level of comfort in our priorities and in the fact that the upkeep of children has always been more important than the upkeep of our possessions.

troutking said...

Welcome to the 200K club from Trout King. I just feel more comfortable driving a used car...same goes for phones, jackets and most things. If it works, I'm probably not going to replace it, no matter what new features are out there. I guess that goes for underwear too:

G. B. Miller said...

My wife had a Celica like that. If she didn't get into a bad accident with it some years ago, it would be up there with the 250K mile club.

You could pound the crap out of that one and it would be none the worse for wear. Even used it on our honeymoon when the Hyundai got a flat the day before the wedding.

Father Nature's Corner

Diana Hayes said...

Anyone looking to see how to stretch a dollar will benefit from your post. I think you literally pushed that Subaru to the limits and squeezed any ounce of life out of it as long as you could. I too think 200,000 is a huge accomplishment, and I would have fixed her up too and tried for another 100,000 if possible.