Car Trouble

Although I didn’t have a photo of the Mustang Leana and I drove, the one above is a good representation–all it needs is the snarl on the front end. Although I didn’t have a photo of the Mustang Leana and I drove, the one above is a good representation–all it needs is the snarl on the front end.

Something that you may not know about me is that when I buy a car it is a long-term commitment. I will drive it into the dirt before I buy a new one. In July of 2022, I was driving a 2016 Mazda CX-5 that I absolutely loved and had no intention of replacing. I bought it right before my oldest son turned 16 and got his driver’s license. Once I got the Mazda, I gave him my 2008 Nissan Altima. The Nissan was a good car and being nearly 10 years old made it a perfect first car.

By the time Kendrick started college, the Nissan was a bit beaten up. The back side panel was dented, the trunk bore the scars of having the garage door close on it, and the driver’s side mirror had been knocked off half a dozen times. Kendrick didn’t really need a car at college, and so the Nissan stayed home with his brother. When Keaton left for Auburn two years later, he took the Nissan with him. By then the car had more than 150K miles on it, and I crossed my fingers hoping it would last until he graduated.

It did not.

This past summer when my car was in the shop, I had to drive the Nissan. It was a bit terrifying because sometimes the transmission would hesitate. You know how sometimes you need to accelerate quickly to pull out into traffic? Well, the Nissan frequently just said, “No. I’m not doing that.” I asked Keaton how long the car had been hesitating. He just shrugged and said, “A while.”

I took the car to the mechanic who had worked on it previously. He said the transmission was on its last leg but didn’t think the car was worth enough to replace it. I couldn’t send my child back to school in a car with such a lackadaisical attitude, so I started looking at used cars. Unfortunately, my knowledge of cars is fairly limited. I know to change the oil and rotate the tires, but do I feel confident that I can pick out a gem of a used car? No. So I did exactly what Dave Ramsey tells us not to do—I bought a new CX-5 and gave Keaton the old one.

I knew Keaton wasn’t thrilled to be driving the Mazda. When I bought it years before, both the boys called it a “Mom car.” However, when I handed over the keys, Keaton wisely chose to just be grateful. Not cool is better than no car, right? And it was a good car. Not only did the transmission work, but everything worked, unlike the car my sister and I took to college. Our hand-me-down was a 1967 fastback Mustang. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

For starters, it was puke green. Although I am reasonably certain that wasn’t how the Ford brochure described the color, “puke green” was an accurate description. By 1976 when my sister and I inherited the car from our parents, it already had a few eccentricities. It leaked oil so much that anytime we put gas in it, we also had to top off the oil. The A/C didn’t work in the summer, and the heat didn’t work in the winter. As an added bonus, the driver’s side door would freeze shut in the winter, and we had to climb in from the opposite side.

By the time we took the car to college, the car had also acquired a few dents and dings. The most significant of which was the result of Leana driving into a basketball goal. After that, the green machine always looked like it was snarling, and occasionally the hood would fly open while we were driving.

Perhaps the most annoying of the car’s idiosyncrasies was that somewhere along the line it stopped being able to drive in reverse. Not being able to back up made parking a real challenge.

Eventually we got rid of that car. My sister graduated from college, got a job, and bought her first new car. I was given another hand-me-down. It was big and ugly, and I referred to it as “the tank.” Since it had a bench front seat, the passenger side didn’t adjust on its own. I’m on the short side and had to keep the seat shoved close to the steering wheel. Unfortunately, all my college friends were tall. Anytime someone rode with me, they sat in the back and I sat up front by myself. But I never complained. The car was reliable, had both heat and air conditioning, AND could even be driven in reverse.

I’m glad I was able to give my children better cars than what Leana and I had in our early driving days. I am also glad my parents never gave me a new car. They gave me the privilege of buying my first new car myself. And it was a privilege. It was the most adult thing I had ever done in my life. It was both exciting and terrifying, and I wouldn’t want to deny my boys that experience.