I Think Poor Car Care Might Be Hereditary
My kids have (unfortunately) followed in my footsteps in killing their cars.
I’ll never forget the day I passed my drivers test and was awarded the coveted upgrade from my learner’s permit to the no-adults-needed-fully-independent driver status, courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety. I was extremely fortunate because not only did I have a real drivers license, I also inherited a vehicle that had been in the family for several years. Adding to my good fortune was the fact that the car was a convertible; not a very cool convertible, but a convertible nonetheless. It was a 1963 faded blue Dodge Dart with a push-button transmission. It was not going to impress any of my friends, but it was a set of wheels, and it was all mine.
Unfortunately, I knew very little about auto maintenance, and so I confess that I did not treat my wheels very well. I knew enough to have the oil changed regularly, and once when my brakes went completely out, I replaced the brake fluid and everything was fine after that. I drove the car, bald tires and all, until after my sophomore year in college when I went on a nine-week road trip with my rock band. That was when I left my little car behind.
It was autumn and soon to be winter when my band hopped onto our rickety converted-school-bus to begin our series of out-of-state gigs; I left my ‘63 Dodge in the driveway of my parents’ home. No one else drove it, so there it sat, as the days dragged on and the weather grew colder. One chilly December morning my sister went outside to move the vehicle out of the driveway, but when she started it up, the car made a funny noise, and then the engine stopped cold. When my parents checked to see what the problem was, they saw that the engine block had cracked open. I had kept the radiator filled with water during the summer months, but never thought to add anti-freeze before I left town. My car was history.
Fast-forward to fatherhood. I have taught each of my three children to drive, aided by a driver education course at their school. But driver education teaches little or nothing about auto maintenance, and I was usually too distracted with everyday life to make sure my kids were looking after their vehicles like they should.
In fact, my oldest son went to college out of state, so he was completely on his own with the car he bought, one that generally proved reliable getting him to and from school. But even a trustworthy car gets older, and the older it got, the more oil it used, and my son’s car eventually needed frequent checks to make sure the lubricant level stayed out of the danger zone..
On one of my his trips home from college, he called. “Dad, my car died. It’s leaking oil and won’t start. I’m on the side of the road. Can you come?”
“Sure,” I told him, and drove an hour north to retrieve him from the Interstate. As it turned out, the oil level had reached the critical stage, stalling the engine and, as we later found, completely killing it. Apparently the sins of the father were being visited on his children. For pennies, we sold the murdered vehicle to a guy who wanted nothing more than its air bag.
A couple of years later my other son was driving his car on the highway one night when another vehicle crashed into a concrete median a few hundred yards ahead of him. Unbeknownst to my son, one of the crashed car’s wheels had come loose in the accident, rolling into the middle of the road, right in the path of his. He hit it, destroying the front wheel and fender of his own car, and ruining the car’s steering for life. Another young man’s car struck down in its prime, never to ride again.
My daughter was so proud of her first car. But like her father before her, she sometimes went out of town for long periods of time, leaving her wheels at home. She spent a couple of summers with a drum-and-bugle corps, then later she lived several months in Florida working at Walt Disney World. And like the younger version of me, she never thought about maintaining her car, even after she returned. I remember distinctly the day she called me, phoning from the side of the road sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle that was shuddering, smoke rising from under the hood. History was once again repeating itself with an overheated engine seizing up. I initially thought that we had caught the problem in time to prevent another tragic vehicle death. Unfortunately the black smoke billowing from the tail pipe told a more gruesome story. Her engine was also beyond saving.
Fast forward to the present, and my children are all adults now. Like me, they all have nicer cars than when they were younger, and like me, they all take better care of them. I know that for me, shelling out several thousand dollars of my own money to replace a slaughtered vehicle had a way of making me appreciate the value of car maintenance, and I think it taught my kids a similar truth.
But I still feel bad about my poor 1963 faded blue convertible. It didn’t deserve such an untimely death. May it rest in peace.
© Nick Walker 2019
What about you, did you ever murder a car? Feel free to scroll down and leave a comment.