A few weekends ago, I was driving next to a big box store when some teenage girl sitting on a bike screamed out, “Your car sucks!” After I realized she was talking to me, I had two thoughts: (1) At least I have a car. And (2) No shit.
Yeah, my car sucks. It’s a 2003 Mazda Protégé, with a rusty hub-less back wheel and a kid-stained interior. It smells like dude, and the steering wheel is perpetually sticky. I haven’t washed it in who knows how long because honestly, what’s the point. Sometimes I honestly wonder if the dirt is what’s holding it together. But what makes it suck the most is that under the hood is this belt that no mechanic alive can keep from squealing. Trust me, I’ve seen multiple mechanics about the problem in three different states because I’ve had the car that long. It’s a super sonic pitch. A wavy, wah-wah, that shakes the car and the ground and the windows of my neighborhood.
Fifty thousand miles ago, it would stop squeaking once it warmed up. Now, at 200,000 miles, it just sounds like the car is asking to die. And nothing impresses my neighbors, the college students I work with, or the teenage girls hanging around town like the death rattle of my sucky car.
So why do I keep it?
Well, that’s a good question, because when I was a teenager, I’d see 30-something-year-olds driving crappy cars and wonder why they kept them. I mean, adults have money, right? They have jobs and insurance. When I was a teen, I thought about all the nice cars I’d have in my late-30s, and trust me, none of them sounded like one of those screaming plants in the Harry Potter movies that can actually kill a person if they don’t wear ear protection.
So here’s the reasoning.
I bought that car 13 years ago, when Mel was pregnant with our oldest child. It was our first major purchase, and it was a big deal and a nice car. I bought it with no money down because I was a waiter in college with a kid on the way. We made every single payment. Every single one for five years. I took all three kids home from the hospital in that car. I drove it to Minnesota for graduate school, and then to Oregon for my first big kid after college job. It is soaked with the memories of a million family vacations, hot dates with my wife, and multiple state line crossings. It is the backdrop of one selfie after another. It was there for all the significant life changes I made in my 20s and 30s. It has never left our family on the side of the road, and it has never refused to start on a cold morning.
But most importantly, it’s paid for!
It runs, and I’m a broke 30-something, father of three, on a budget. I have to pay for soccer, gymnastics, school clothes, groceries, and a million other things.
This is the worst part of adult life. Every time we save up just enough money to buy that shiny new thing we want (car, carpet for the downstairs, a trip to some tropical island…), the washing machine goes out, or the dishwasher breaks, or we visit the orthodontist and find out our kids need braces. Every time.
Life now is all about making ends meet. It’s about keeping my head above financial water. And so, you know what? My priorities have changed. At this stage in life, the last thing I care about is impressing teenagers. I care about making ends meet, and getting to and from work.
Here’s the hard truth, Teenage Girl Yelling At My Car: this crappy car used to be pretty respectable. But now, it’s simply what I’ve got. It’s what I can afford. And soon enough, you will be behind the wheel of some P.O.S. filled with crumbs, kids screaming in the back, windows down because the A/C broke last summer. It will be making some horrible noise that makes you cringe every time you drive it. You’ll be wishing for something a little better, but there will be bills to pay so it’ll do for now. You will drive it right into the grave because the only thing worse than that crappy car is adding one more payment to your financial spreadsheet.
And suddenly, you’ll be driving to your kid’s soccer practice and some teen that has their future all figured out is going to scream, “Your car sucks.”
I hate to break it to you, but this is your future, Teenage Girl Yelling At My Car.
None of it is sexy.
But it is affordable.