The Car with Nine Lives
There are cars and then there are cars. Some cars
live out their useful lives going from home to work and
back again. Some, start out as rentals and travel the
country, while others become the last to leave the
dealership sales lot. Still, others work in extreme
conditions or in harsh environments, while a few lucky
ones spend their off-driving time being
polished and admired.
They’re the device man has invented to move him and
material across the globe. Their time is limited to the
availability of parts, the mechanic’s ability to keep
them on the road, and of course, Mother Nature.
But, there are cars, very few mind you, which just refuse to be sent to the scrap yard. They hang onto the edge of the pavement with every tire tread, and won’t simply succumb to the ravages of everyday use or turned into next week’s soup cans.
Here’s a story about one particular car that seemed to have more than one chance to be melted down.
The car was originally bought by an older couple who drove it around for several years. They performed the needed maintenance and kept a tidy little record in the glove box. It wasn’t exactly polished to a gleaming shine every weekend, but it was taken through the occasional car wash. The tires were rotated, brake linings checked, and it was vacuumed out once in a while. Still, nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary as far as maintenance.
The old couple were getting up in years and decided to give the car to their son. Their son drove it for a few more years, but didn’t take the same interest in the maintenance as dear old dad did. He neglected the oil changes and didn’t pay much mind to the wobble as he applied the brakes. Then, a few things started to go wrong. First the radiator developed a leak, then a power steering hose, and finally the wobble in the front rotors was so bad he had to get something done about it. Small repairs started adding up to bigger repair bills, but it was “dad’s car” and the sentimental value overshadowed the cost of the repairs.
The paint was beginning to fade, the clear coat was peeling off in spots, and his wife did a number on the mirror one day. She caught it on the garage as she was pulling out. Now a few wraps of duct tape hold it on.
Then, along came junior. Junior just got his license and wanted a car. Dad had the perfect solution. “Let’s give him my dad’s old car,” he says to the wife. Mom was a bit reluctant, she wanted the car checked out by a mechanic first. She didn’t want her baby in an unsafe car, ya know. The car was checked, and wouldn’t ya know it. From a safety standpoint it passed with flying colors. Now, from a teenager’s viewpoint, well… it was a heap of ancient metal with four tires and a lousy stereo. Nobody was concerned about the right rear electric window which hasn’t worked in years, but the stereo, that had to go.
One day the timing belt snapped, and it was assumed it would be the end of it for good. Fortunately, it was a non-interference engine, so no damage was done. The mechanic got a new timing belt installed and took care of few other minor details while it was in the shop.
Junior wasn’t all that thrilled, because it meant he’d have to drive this relic for a bit longer. His driving wasn’t exactly puttering around. He gunned the motor, risking a ticket with every trip in to town, and zoomed around every corner stressing the suspension and shocks. Well, that is he did, until the day he heard a bang that sounded like a cannon going off. (Once you’ve heard the horrendous crack of a ball joint coming apart while speeding around a corner, you’ll never forget it again.) For junior, it was more of a wakeup call to take better interest in his only transportation.
A few more years went by and a few more repairs were made. The car still hadn’t suffered any major wrecks or severe body damage, but it was showing its age. A bit of bailing wire and a little more duct tape on the mirror that mom broke off kept the little problems from being big ones. It always passed the state inspection, and never had too many issues with the check engine light thanks to their mechanic.
By now, Junior was off to college and so was the car. Age and the distance from their mechanic played havoc on the car. It seemed every spring break was a week in the repair shop. It would chug into the service bay and a week later purr like a kitten on the way out. Nothing seemed to keep this car down.
Junior finished college and the car went back to mom and dad’s place. It was then handed down to the next sibling and went through the same neglected care and a few more bruises just like Junior put it through. It was getting harder to find a spot that didn’t have some sort of ding or scrape mark, but as this car with so many lives seemed to do, it still kept trudging along.
These days, the old car has a spot next to the garage where it sits most of the time. Occasionally, dad will go out and start it up just to check on it. He still keeps a fresh battery under the hood just in case he needs the old car for an emergency. (I think he trusts the old car more than his new one.). For the most part it remains steadfast next to the garage, only leaving its spot for an occasional oil change or trip around the block.
At some point there might be another generation of drivers in the family needing a dependable car. I can’t imagine it ever going to the scrap yard, it just seems to have this uncanny ability to stay in one piece. Maybe it’s one of those cars that really does have nine lives, because no matter what it went through it always bounced back.
It still runs, it still gets from point A to B, and Junior’s stereo is still in working order. I think the real reason this old jalopy stayed between the ditches has more to do with the certified mechanics who serviced it over the years.
Somebody really ought to thank those mechanics for all they do. If it wasn’t for their efforts there might not be as many memories of driving that old jalopy by three generations in one family and maybe more. It’s what it takes to have a car with nine lives.