Last weekend Tom and I traveled to his parents' house near Newark, Ohio, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In honor of the occasion, Tom's dad wanted to drive his restored 1953 Studebaker to the Granville Inn, where the celebratory dinner was being held, since it was the car that he drove to his wedding in 1960. Or, at least, parts of it are the same car. He also has a 1955 Studebaker he's been working on, so Tom's older brother George volunteered to drive it, too, especially since it was International Drive Your Studebaker Day. A nice bit of karma, that.
Now, that's saying a lot, since the Honda is teetering on the brink of officially being a beater. I'm not enough of a motorhead to describe the precise distinction between a "clunker," a "junker," and a "beater," but I'm fairly sure that of the three categories, what we have is a beater: it's still in pretty good shape, both mechanically and cosmetically, but it's not the kind of car you want to put a whole lot of money into anymore. It works, it makes some unhappy noises--though none that are alarming or that wake the neighbors--and no one is ever going to steal it. Beater.
And as you can see, the check engine light is on. The check engine light has probably been on more than off in the history of this car. In fact, the '97 Accord was recalled a number of years ago for its problems with false "check engine" alerts, but whatever they did to it at the dealership didn't solve the problem.
As with the boy who cried wolf one too many times, we no longer pay the slightest attention to the check engine light. Maybe it'll go out on its own eventually, maybe we'll take it to an auto parts store and have them reset it, maybe we'll just ignore it until one day we end up on the side of a lonely road as a plume of steam shoots heavenward from under the hood. Like the aches and pains of middle age, the check engine light may mean nothing or everything. Either way, it's not worth shelling out $80 to the local Honda dealership to get a diagnosis.
Tough love: that's what you give a beater. My brother Phillip, a Honda mechanic, is of the firm belief that you don't need to fix stuff until it's really broken. (But he does preach the importance of routine maintenance, like oil changes, tire rotation, and belt replacements.)
Phillip also says that the greenest car is the one you keep on the road--that junking a perfectly serviceable, low-emission car for a brand-new hybrid is a zero-sum game in terms of the environment. Sure, you may have taken a less fuel-efficient car off the road, but you've also just added to the landfill and acquired a new vehicle that presumably took a lot of energy to manufacture.
These were among my many thoughts as Tom and I drove behind the two Studebakers on Saturday afternoon. Especially as we struggled to keep up with them. Let me tell you, those two nearly sixty-year old cars, with their V8 engines, kicked our Honda's sad little @$$.
The poor Honda really struggles with steep hills these days, which is a hazard when you live in West Virginia. Every time I'm chugging uphill with some giant SUV barreling up behind me, I'm torn between wanting to apologize and wishing I had one of those "Don't laugh--it's paid for!" bumper stickers.
And there's the sad proof that you're driving a beater: when you actually understand why people put those bumper stickers on their cars.
But: we haven't had a car payment in seven or eight years, and I don't relish the idea of having one and being out that three- or four-hundred dollars a month. And we don't have a garage, so the idea of buying a brand-new car just to park it on the street full time seems a little ridiculous.
With thanks to Jane for reminding me of those lyrics.