There’s rust peeking out along the edge of the bumper and the exhaust needs work.
On the inside, there’s duct tape holding things together, and no navigation system in sight.
Yes, it’s safe. It’s been checked out by a professional and passed inspection.
He paid for it with his own money and is proud of the way he looks when he stands next to it.
Of course, he wishes it was shiny and new. And yes, I could have chipped in, and he could be driving something with a bit more pep and flash.
If you ask me though, having a “beater” is good for kids. I had one myself. Not just as my first car, but also my second and third.
It wasn’t until I graduated college, started working, then landed a promotion after a year of putting the hard work in that I was able to buy a used car I was proud of.
I was almost 23, and it was a big fucking deal. I’d done it myself, and I appreciated that vehicle and took care of it.
I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t jealous when I saw kids at my college with their new Jeeps, BMWs, and Hondas their parents had bought or leased for them. I’m sure my son has the same feelings. He has friends who drive Volvos and Mercedes with personalized plates.
A friend of mine asked me if I really wanted him driving a “heap of trash,” which pissed me off a bit until I remembered where I came from — a place that made me really freaking thankful to have everything I do because I worked and earned it myself.
To each their own.
I can say this: the chances my kids will be driving anything fancy is extremely remote. First, I think it’s important for them to work their way up and buy their own car.
I have three kids who were born really close together and the thought of having car payment for each of them is a non-negotiable. We like to eat and take random vacations. But more importantly, I want them to have something in their life to look forward to.
If they want to save for longer and buy a nicer car, that is up to them. At least I will have peace of mind knowing they appreciate their ride a hell of a lot more than they would if I had shelled out the money for them.
This way, my son has something that he can tinker with. He loves working on cars and knows his way around an engine. He can take a can of spray paint to a section of his vehicle to give it a mini facelift himself if he wants to. It’s all his.
I see how much it heightens his sense of appreciation. It’s made him work hard. He’s already plotting his next vehicle purchase for after he graduates next spring and can work full time. It gives him something to plan for and look forward to.
Who am I to go out and buy him a new car, or chip in and ruin his daydreams of working his way up the car ladder?
I’m not here to live vicariously through my kids and let them drive around in a hot car so it makes them (and me) look better to give the illusion that we’re doing fantastic financially.
I know this is a thing — I’ve heard it around the water cooler in our little town, and I’ve talked to other parents who live in affluent neighborhoods. They fully admit to feeling like they have to break the bank in order to keep up with everyone else.
If I do that for my kids in the name of appearances, what am I teaching them?
If I act as though it’s a shameful thing to drive around in a car that didn’t cost much and clearly has some wear and tear, what kind of message am I sending?
I know my son will appreciate his truck even more after a decade or so has gone by and he looks at pictures of himself next to it. I know he’ll remember how hard he worked and the feeling under him when it reached the on ramp on the highway.
I know he’ll remember only having the radio to listen to, and when he upgrades to a vehicle with air conditioning, he’ll appreciate it a hell of a lot more than he would if he was given a car with some bells and whistles at 16 years old.
Beater cars build character. What you drive and all your other possessions don’t define you. In today’s online world that’s a hard thing to teach our kids. I can only hope by refusing to pitch in and having my kids pay for their own transportation, I am instilling some of that into them.