Automotive Advice for the Young

At the time of this writing I am fifty-two years old. I do not lay claim to much wisdom, quite the contrary, but I have learned a few things about cars that I feel obligated to pass onto to younger readers. I have raced cars, competed in automobile rally for over a dozen years, officiated at motor sports competitions, and have bought, sold and rented many types of automobiles, both new and used. Although this advice is mainly aimed at young males, it probably applies more generally.

Do not waste much money on cars. You will regret it.

I have owned cheap beaters and nearly new sports cars. I did not have more fun with one than the other. I have spent a lot of money on obsessive maintenance on a few of my cars, and completely ignored the upkeep of others, only repairing what was absolutely necessary. I was not rewarded with worry-free reliability with either strategy. I have detected no correlation between money spent on purchasing or maintaining cars, and owner satisfaction. (If you don’t know what correlation is, enroll in a statistics course.)

Do not fall prey to the consumer culture around you; do not succumb to the peer pressure that results from it. I know that that by lowering your car’s suspension, buying performance kits for it or upgrading its appearance with expensive after market trinkets, you think that you are expressing your unique identify but you’re not. Take a look at the 30 friends around you in the strip mall parking lot. You are all expressing the same identity. How unique is that?

And while we’re on the subject, why do car nuts spend so much time standing around looking at each other’s cars? This is not a new phenomenon because I remember guys in my neighbourhood who did the same thing 35 years ago. Drive somewhere. It’s a car, not a statue.

When you’re young, the temptation is to blow money you don’t have on all kinds of things that seem important. You rationalize this by imagining that very soon you will be swimming in cash because the rest of the world is about to discover how important you really are and start to throw money at you. If you think this way, my advice is to stop watching Hollywood films and rock videos. The entertainment industry is just a marketing arm of the culture that is trying to get your money. The driving force behind modern consumer culture is the fostering of feelings of inadequacy. The people who sell all the crap you buy depend on you feeling bad about yourself in order to convince you that by buying just one more contraption, you will be become a more important human being. Haven’t you noticed that there is always one more thing to buy? Aren’t you suspicious that whatever you own is never good enough?

Whenever you get the urge to buy something for your car, do this. Go home, stand in front of a long mirror, drop your pants and underwear and look down. They are making fun of that. They are trying to convince you that if you buy just one more gadget, it will grow larger and everyone else will notice. In our culture we no longer measure ourselves against others by our ability to kill wild game for food but the marketers have found a way to channel your deep-seated fears of inadequacy by getting you to buy stuff that you don’t actually need. Stop it.

Try to imagine the following scenario. You have just spent $500 per wheel on a set of magnesium alloy rims that perfectly express the man you believe yourself to be. You then had to blow $500 each on four 40 series performance tires that will wear out by September. Then you had to blow another couple of thousand on various anti-theft gizmos that will drain your battery every 3 months because you’re worried sick about all the money you are leaving behind in the parking lot everywhere you go. Since it’s too expensive and risky to drive your car, you instead go to your favourite roadhouse for ribs with your buds, to eat and talk about cars. Halfway through the meal your mouth closes down on an unexpected bone and cracks a molar wide open. Within a few microseconds the searing pain is firing every neuron in your brain. A split second later, the pain reaches down your spine and legs so that you think your big toe is going to explode. At about the 20-second mark, you get the urge to cry for your mommy but catch yourself in time because you don’t want to appear too un-cool while the food is falling out of your mouth. At the 30-second mark your brain gets enough of a breather between stabs of agony to do a quick estimate of the $6000 in dental work that you’re going to need. Suddenly, the alloy wheels and tires don’t seem so important. By the one-minute mark, you cannot remember what your car looks like.

The hyperbole (look it up) in the previous paragraph is just a way of stating what should be obvious, but never is when you are young. What seems important to you today may be utterly worthless tomorrow. To paraphrase a line of Spock’s from the original Star Trek episode The Amok Time, it is not logical but it is so.


At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Whisper said...

ROFL - It’s a car, not a statue.

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Mr. K said...

Couldn't have said it b3etter myself

At 5:36 PM, Blogger JimR said...

Admit it...

...you've got your eye on a Boxster.

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually most fun I've had is somthing underpowered. Years ago I tried a colleagues 300ZX that I had to be absurdly illegal with to get any adrenaline running whatsoever. I had much more fun with my 67 BelAir with a 250 straight 6 where some pedal was always mashed to the floor. As for ego, some pimped out rocket always made me wonder about folks priorities.

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Gregorio said...

Well put.... I would wish differ in one area... If you have a car you like - look after it. I had a 1990 Golf that I owned for 12 years - I really liked driving that car, especially when it got older and developed more "character". It eventually succumbed to rust, I just wish I had spent $100 year on an oil spray - I'd still be driving it now.

At 2:14 AM, Anonymous fajensen said...

Agree entirely, being an old fart myself.

With cars one could go the "Anti-way":

*Deliberately* drive a really crappy car, the kind where one door scrapes the pavement when it opens, there is a large dent on the front, the radio is AM only, some rust is making streaks down the dull paintwork e.t.c. As a fashion statement.

A car that clearly and obviously cost much less than one set of tires on your friends car!

*That* is a party car!

It can be parked anywhere - nobody will steal it or bother with the worthless radio so only third-party insurance is needed. If you dent it - who carez? It's parked on the beach and gets a bit of salt spray - no prob, it's rusty already!

To pull this off you must spend the "performance tire money" on clothes and haircuts - but you are ahead on the alloy wheels.

I.O.W: You will have Money to Spend. The Spending part, *That* is what *do* attract the women - money already spent does not, it only hints at potential ;-)

It's useless advice though: One has to be at least 40, having blown an ocean of cash on crap before one finally learn that: "if something does not produce the desired result, them MORE of the same will not work either"!!

At 1:32 AM, Blogger Ira Crummey said...

I am 55 years oldand I do own a ¨fun¨ car, a 1999 100% stock six cylinder 5 speed Mustang. It isn´t particularly fast but is cheap rear wheel drive fun. Yes I considered all sorts of modifications but the only one I hav actually purchased is a can of wax. A friend has a much faster, far more capable Hyundai Genesis coupe which is actually not as much fun because it is so much faster.

I guess we could rephrase the old line about it being more fun to drive a slow car fast to ¨It is more fun to drive a cheap car fast¨.


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