Today I bought a car, and tomorrow I am petrified of going all the way to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and being told of some past infraction I wasn’t aware of. Government offices kick my paranoia nerve into overdrive. I just realized that the address on my driver’s license has been out of date for years…maybe they’ve been trying to contact me with some important announcement (or punishment) and I missed it!
The gears of the world are sharper these days, and there are more of them. To put it another way: there is more than enough rope out there for all of us to hang ourselves. And we need to be careful to know where all our important papers are, at all times. I would like to scan all of mine and put them on a digital device--perhaps the new Windows Tablet!--and have the thing short out from a lightning strike during a thunderstorm. Everything gone. And when the goons come knocking, tell them I’ve got nothing left. I went and shredded the originals, to save room in my office. Now what are you going to do, lock me up? You have free health care in prison, right?”
And all the while they’re laughing inside, because the NSA has copies of my documents and has had them for years. But they don’t need to tell me that. The real infraction is not knowing where my own copies are.
A Honda Accord, 16 years old, old enough to drive itself. We test-drove four cars before that, including a 2003 Civic hybrid and a 2002 Volvo Station Wagon. None of them felt as snappy and responsive as this old beater. If it continues to drive as well for the next several years as it did today, I'll be a happy man, even without a CD player or air conditioning. It was the first car we looked at all day that didn't have a check engine light flashing or a dead battery, and it cost a third of the others.
I'll be grateful for the low price again tomorrow, when we pay the sales tax.
I've already ordered the Haynes service manual, thinking maybe this will be my tinker car. I always wanted to learn more about the Honda Civic I used to drive; maybe if I'd been more proactive with it I could have learned to switch out the engine myself, instead of selling it to a ruffian.
Seems a little weird to be stepping into an even older car, but the mileage is low: 145,000, compared to the 190,000+ of everything else we tested. Despite some rust on the muffler, it's amazingly quiet--so quiet that at idle, we thought it had stalled.
The modern cars I've been in lately always feel tinny and cheap. The Chevy Malibu we took to Maine was comfortable, but always felt it was one bump away from rust and ruin. The Nissan Versa I rented for a drive into the city sounded like an asthmatic wheezing into a tin can, and it got pushed around the road by the slightest gusts. As I white-knuckled it home, I thought, at least I'll get some good mileage from this lightweight. Then I filled up the tank and did the math: 22 mpg. Might as well have taken an SUV! My co-worker's big Ford gets better mileage than that. But it, too, has an engine that sounds like it's wheezing away at RPMs inappropriate for its speed.
Is that just the way of it, now? Little tinny motors in all size cars being pushed towards the red-line to make up for their diminutive size? Each time we test drove another car we went back to our disintegrating Volvo and thought, gosh, this still feels nicer.
And then we found the Accord, with its welded aftermarket gearshift handle and its AM/FM radio, and it just felt healthy.
I don't know, maybe it's because I'm used to ancient cars, so that anything post millennium feels off (lightweight, chintzy, plastic, disposable) to me. The Wife describes the feeling these new cars provide as "sitting in a marshmallow." Overstuffed upholstery envelops you and holds you in place; meanwhile a tidal wave of plastic in the dashboard, center console, and side-panels encroaches on your legs, and overwhelms you with childish buttons and needless distraction. And when you actually drive these things, they twitch and judder, hesitating and then surging with each switch of the automatic transmission. It’s style over substance. And what makes it worse is that the style is so tacky.
It seems strange to me that the nineties should be the last bastion of decent car-quality. But even one of the dealers told us, "Yeah, we'll give you something on trade for your old Volvo. People are always looking for parts for those, because they don't want to let them go."
In the end we decided to keep it.