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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How old is old for a car, anyhow?

- Sure, this car was a great deal ... for the one who sold it!"

This is not my car, but close. This model is slightly newer than mine, and a little bit of an upgrade over mine, if you can believe that. I have the proletarian version of that CRX (without any options). But these old Hondas are pretty durable and even fun to drive, believe it or not.

I think the biggest cosmetic difference between this guy's car and mine is that I'm using a different kind of duct tape (I use transparent packing tape so you don't notice it as much) and I don't need quite as much as he does to hold the car together (well not yet).

Also, I still have the original paint job on mine, well, what's left of it, to be honest.

The engines of these cars can go on "forever," but the bodies are not built to outlast everything, especially when you park them in the street all day and they have to take all kinds of abuse from vandals, or from idiots who barely know how to drive, let alone park their huge-ass cars other than bumping into yours repeatedly to try to make enough room for their tanks to fit into the "compact car" spot next to yours, and they don't even realize that by doing that, they're directly hitting the hood or the side of these smaller cars, not the bumpers!!! But I digress ...

Photograph from www.foundationpc.com/cars
One of my first cars looked almost exactly like this Dodge Dart '66 or '63. I bought it when it was at least 20 years old already, and ran it to the ground. It was built like a tank and gas was cheap, then.

Have you ever owned and operated an old car? Never? Once? More than once?

I've always had old cars.

The one I currently own wasn't always old, in fact it was considered pretty sleek and sexy back in the days when I got it.

Now it's become a little bit like me in some ways, I mean overall it's pretty reliable and it'll get you wherever you want to go in one piece (most of the time), but you have to remember to handle it somewhat politely or else she gets cranky (the car, I mean).

And of course, it helps if you keep up with maintenance, which I definitely had on my To Do List for a very long time but didn't get to ... Water under the bridge now (no pun intended).

A smart thief can pick your lock and get away in seconds, and you'll never know until it's too late. Put your stuff in the truck or better yet, don't leave anything at all in the car, if you can help it.

The good part about owning/operating a car like mine (other than dirt cheap insurance and registration fees) is that you don't really have to worry about someone stealing it.

Hondas like these were on the hot list of most stolen cars years ago and I had my share of brake-ins, at the time, even in Marin County.

But these days, my car tends to works in mysterious ways, and that characteristic alone, I believe, has become its most effective anti-theft protection.

What do I mean by that? Well, it stalls a lot when it's not ready to go, for instance. And what makes it ready to go? Oh, it decides...

Don't worry, it's safe to drive and does not present a danger to anyone else on the road, but it's a little quirky and you have to kinda trick it a little bit to get it going.

I'm used to it by now, but my guess it that any would-be robber would promptly abandon the piece of sh... within blocks after it stalled on them one too many times.

Saddly an unavoidable part of urban life

In the last 2 or 3 years, vandals have destroyed both locks on the driver and passenger sides of my car, and pretty much already stole everything that was worth stealing inside the car. They took the crappy factory-installed radio, the second-hand speakers I had bought at the Ashby fleamarket some years back, and some little odds and ends floating around inside the car, but never the car itself, not yet at least.

I guess if you're a car thief or a dope dealer looking for a free ride, you probably don't want to be seen in a vehicle held together by duct tape, and sound like someone tied a bunch of pans to the tail pipe ...

Not to mention that if you're running away from the Police, it probably won't do you any good if the car keeps stalling on you! :)

I think the neighborhood punks probably know all about my car by now and they usually leave it alone for the most part, but you never know and I always worry when I work late, that I'm going find it with the "broken window treatment" one of these evenings.

What a pain that would be.

Oh, sure, I've been tempted to get something a little better looking, more reliable, more confortable, but why bother? It is a city car, after all, mostly left on its own in the streets all day long and way into the evening, so I guess as long as it runs, I'll put up with it.

- One of these days, this piece of sh... is going to drop you in the middle of the city!
- No, that was its last ride. I just emptied my bank account today and got another one.
(Food for thoughts, uh.)

And put up with it I do.

Ever noticed how old cars tend to fail when you are the most stressed? At least that's my experience.

My old cars usually can tell what neighborhood I'm driving through, and I've noticed they always feel more comfortable melting down somewhere deep in the ghetto, or anywhere far, far, far from public transportation, or on some piece of freeway where everybody else is flying past me at 85MPH, or some other place really inconvenient, like downtown San Francisco, or wherever else it is impossible to stop anywhere without causing major commotion... Never fails.

Old cars also know what time of the year it is more important to break down to really get your attention. When I was going to night school, for instance, they used to break down right around finals. Now I mostly commute using public transportation, but I do take the car to and from public transportation, and I also drive it on those days when I have to cover a number of different locations in the same day and don't want to be spending the best part of the day waiting around for Muni and BART, or Ferries and what not. I also take the car to do my local grocery shopping and stuff. Guess when the car is going to break down, on Saturday morning on a local trip to Trader's Joe, or during the middle of a workday when I'm stressed and running around, 3 counties away from home? They know.

And if you happen have stuff in the back of the car that you could not possibly carry home by yourself if your life depended on it? They know that, too.

- Are you sure this old thing is gonna hold?
- Oh sure, I just paid $29.70 for engine repairs!

(OK, this is obviously an old cartoon!)

So yesterday, my old car's radiator and part of the engine blew up on the Bay Bridge during morning commute hour. I was close enough to the metering lights but not quite. Smoke, steam and stuff came out from under the hood without any warning, then the hissing sound and clunking noises followed, or was it the other way around? I don't know, anymore, I was too freaked out and too focused on trying to get the car somewhat out of the way and not get rear-ended, that I don't really remember the chronology of events before the melt down.

I didn't get rear-ended and I didn't cause a chain accident, and I can thank my lucky stars for that.

By the way, if you got to work late yesterday because you got stuck behind me when Cal-Trans had to close the lane I was in to get my old car out of there, feel free to thank me in the commenting section, I won't mind.

Nothing anyone can say or do to me today is going to make me feel as bad as the way I'm going to feel tomorrow or the next day when the mechanic hands me the bill ... Let's face it, when your car is towed, still smoking, into a garage, they know they can pretty much do whatever they want on the car, and just hand you a bill.

What are you going to do, refuse the repairs and push the car out of there yourself to the next place?

I'm seriously considering a Zip Car service, now. At some point, with an old car, you hit the point of diminishing returns, when it no longer makes any fiscal sense to keep them going, and all other options are cheaper.

* * * *

Cartoons on this post all come from this website

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Anonymous Anthony said...

You mentioned that cars are somewhat “intelligent”, that they know things… I believe you: I had a car (VW Jetta) which knew exactly when the warranty expired! It then decided that it needed expensive repairs every single month! $1000 minimum per month! I got so fed up that I decided to trade it in for a brand new car (a Japanese one). My expenses dropped down to $300 a month (relief).

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Yann said...

It looks like you're using your car quite a lot, so I'm not sure zipcar would be that cheap (especially with their current price model, see rant on my blog).

Have you considered leasing?

long post, I'm sure your car would be proud to know how much you had to say about her (I'm sure it's a she).

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Christophe said...

Hey Tomate, what's up ? I hope you're fine. I'm actually looking for an old CRX to buy (working or not, preferably beaten up) and for $500.00 or below. That's for an old project of mine ;o)

7:39 PM  
Blogger Tomate Farcie said...

Anthony: Hi! I think the warranty thing applies to all objects (computers, washing machines, trucks...) You did the right thing, who needs the headache!

Yann: Yes, you're right, sorry about that, it was a long post. The full moon is not probably not helping matters, you know ;) but I've had this car for so long, I think it's the longer relationship I ever had! ;)

Christophe: That's right, I completely forgot about that! Glad you reminded me. Well, if you end up with the car, you'll be glad to know that a lot of things have been replaced since I last wrote the post, and she just had a tune-up, too. I better hurry up and get it out of the shop, though, before they get the idea that I want it completely rebuilt and repainted ;)! Working or not, you say? You got yourself a deal next time. I can get it towed anywhere within a 100 miles.

(Thank you all for your comments and for putting up with reading such a long post).

8:14 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

Great post about old car ownership, and your tribulation with yours. Hope the tab isn't too high, but the symptoms didn't look too good to me...

I hate cars, and driving even more.

8:22 PM  
Blogger claude said...

Je parle de la première voiture. En France on ne peut pas rouler avec une voiture dans cet état là. Nos chères voitures doivent passer des contrôles techniques. Pas de glace fèlées, pas de phares cassés, rien de tout cela, Nickel chrome elles doivent être. La mienne l'est, Il ne lui manque pas un bouton de guêtre. J'aime beaucoup ton post avec ces petites photos des voitures Disney. Cela me rappelle quand je lisais Mickey.

1:16 AM  
Blogger AphotoAday said...

Wow -- breaking down on the Bay Bridge is NOT a good way to start a day...   Thank God they got you out of there safely...   Bummer having to do the car repair thing...   Hint: Drop by the repair shop a couple times with some of that Bare Escentuals makeup on and they just might lower your bill a bit...

And you know, I drove a plethora of old junkers (mostly VW Bugs) until I bought my first new car in 1990 -- a Nissan Sentra...   How nice to have a car that would actually start up in the morning...   I put 320,000 miles on that car and never had a single problem with it, aside from normal maintenance items...   In 2003 I bought a used Ford Ranger, and these days I drive a 2007 Toyota Prius -- 54mpg if I keep the air-conditioning and heater off... (it's a very heavy car for it's size so tires only last 30K miles)...

But I will never forget my first car -- a '49 Ford... The muffler would fall off every time I a hard left turn, making it sound like a real hot-rod...

And thanks, Tomate Farcie, for the warning about people who break into cars...   I've never had that happen to me, but there's always a first time...   A couple weeks ago I was talking to a guy who had his window smashed out near the Inkwells on the Lagunitas Creek...   That's bad news for everybody...   Seems like there's going to be a lot more crime now with all this unemployment...   Stay safe, T.F., and I'll try to do the same...

5:50 PM  
Blogger Otir said...

I got an old car. Built in 1988, that will let it be twenty-one very soon, and only 249,000 miles and running. I am pretty religeously taking it to service and checking it as much as I can.

I had a lighting alarm on Wednesday, and got it fixed on Thursday before it let me down (I am not a fan of mechanics, but try to learn how to diagnose the issues as much as I can).

The body is also patched on the rusted areas, and I did not really paint it over properly, but it's a good car! Hope this is not going to bring it bad luck. I am fortunate enough to live in a rural area with no vandals and have a garage to shelter it during the rough wintery days of New York state.

Wishing your car good luck too!

5:55 AM  
Blogger Tomate Farcie said...

Claude: nous avons aussi un controle technique ici, surtout pour les emissions, ca s'appelle SMOG.

Pour le reste, si tu peux la conduire sans deranger le traffic, tant que les clignotant, freins, phares, etc. , fonctionnent proprement, l'apparence de la voiture est secondaire (enfin, faut quand meme un minimum). Cependant, si on t'arrete pour une infraction quelconque, la il peuvent t'emm.... un peu plus si ils veulent.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Tomate Farcie said...

Thank you all for the good wishes and comments. I'll update you soon on what happened with the car.


4:49 PM  

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