By G. E. Shuman
My wife and I buy new cars. Actually, we lease them, we don’t buy them. For our purposes, leasing works better than buying. The payment is reasonable, and, even though there is that payment, there are no thousand-dollar surprises like there used to be so many times when we owned VERY used, un-warranted vehicles. I like that idea of no surprises, and the fact that if they break down, it’s someone else’s problem. For me, long gone (hopefully) are the days when it was an adventure to climb into, on top of, or, most stressfully, UNDER a car, to solve one problem or another. I am an English teacher, writer, editor, husband, father, grandfather, son, grandson…etc. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a mechanic. I can still change your brake pads or oil, but don’t tell me about your bad coolant pump or rotting exhaust system, please. So, as I said, in my family we buy or lease new cars, or purchase gently used ones, even if we have to scrimp somewhere else in the budget. I love warranties, guarantees, promises and roadside assistance, and don’t care who knows it.
Lately, though, I have been wondering about cars in general, and don’t like what I am wondering about. You see, it seems to me that today’s cars, even though they are highly advanced in comparison to the ones I grew up with, are getting to be pretty boring. They just aren’t fun anymore. The cheapest of them will get you, especially if nearly new, simply, anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, the great quality of today’s cars is a wonderful thing. And…I know, I just told you that I hate fixing cars, but today’s cars are not a challenge. A mechanic recently told me that if you keep your oil changed, today’s cars just go on forever. His opinion was that there isn’t a nickel’s worth of difference in quality between the brands anymore. To him, gone are the days when being a ‘Ford’ man, or a ‘Chevy’ man, or a ‘Chrysler’ man has any real meaning. You can get into any of them and drive to Canada, Mexico, California, or Florida from here in Vermont, and never have to worry about whether or not you will make it. I drive a Kia, and you can do it in my car, too. That is a good thing… I guess. See how confused I am?
My mixed feelings about this subject could just be because of the generation I hail from, and the cars we grew up with. I am aged (I hate that word.) enough to not want to be out there changing a tie rod or solving some other mechanical problem, but the wonderful reliability of today’s cars, to me, really has taken some of the adventure out of owning one. When I was a teenager, getting a set of new spark plugs for your car was a special event. Getting ignition wires to go with them was something to celebrate. I remember turning that ignition key, wondering if I had set the gap correctly on those new plugs, (Most people today probably think a gap is just that space between their front teeth.) and listening for the purr of that engine, freshly supplied with new, tuned-up power. Today, none of that seems to mean anything.
Before I finish whining, let me say this. Cars today are all about features. The truth is, they always have been. Have you noticed that? It’s just that today, most of those features have nothing to do with the performance of the car at all. They are all just electronic stuff, and have become more addicting to adults than a play station to a pre-teen. No one wants to buy a car that has one less option than the last one they owned. I know I don’t. Do you? My car has outside mirrors that fold in when you lock the car. I think they’re cool, but have no idea what the value of that dumb feature is, other than letting me tease my wife that her car doesn’t have them. Yes, power ‘everything’ used to be what was looked for, and now power has little to do with it. Cramming the newest electronic gadget into the dash is what it’s about now, while half the car buyers out there probably don’t know if their car has four, six, or eight cylinders, and most of those couldn’t tell you what a cylinder is, anyway. “Yup, I think I’ve got a two liter engine under that hood-thingy, and two liters of Diet Coke in the fridge.” Okay, so now I’ll stop whining. I do feel much better. Thank you. You folks out there really are my therapy.
I don’t know. Having a great sound system, a rear view camera, satellite radio, a navigation system, electronic traction control, and electronic everything else available in a car today might be important to some people, and I guess that’s okay, not that anyone has asked for my permission. To my generation a fresh oil change, a new air filter, clean spark plugs, a Turtle Wax shine, and the open road were way, way cooler.