dear old (love, older): oh, my aging car!

I guess we need to have a serious talk about cars next, Katrina, because I keep flashing back to one particular image of your recent visit since you drove off the other day. Both our aging silver-gray cars were pointed down the driveway, you following me, as we headed out to our next destination.  We couldn’t have staged a more symbolic picture if we’d tried.

a series on aging: part 2

THIS IS MY SECOND in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Katrina Kenison, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. She’s Old (just 55) and I’m Older (facing 60 this year). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Listen in. After reading this new letter, read her reply here (or work backwards to the letters that started the conversation starting at this link).

I know there are automobile stereotypes related to life stages—the “male menopause car” (a convertible, perhaps, or even a motorcycle), or the unsettling moment when new parents trade in their beloved wheels for a family-style mini-van.

But you and I are somewhere else on the automotive life-cycle continuum: unwilling to relinquish our old rides; unable to imagine a new four-wheeled mate. Not moving forward at all, despite the many, many miles we each log. We’re stuck with decade-old cars because we simply can’t let them go.

We feel safe in them; we feel familiar. (And familiar feels better with every passing year of life, doesn’t it? Oh, how I love my own bed; my own food made my own way and served at my own time; my own rhythm in the way each day starts and ends and takes shape in between. Familiar is the new deluxe.)

ODD AS IT MAY BE, with cars there’s also the identity thing. When I was growing up, every family on the block had a distinct automotive DNA. We at 52-12 Concord Street were Buick people, at least from the moment some teenagers stole the last Ford station wagon our family owned, and rolled it after a joy ride.

No Buicks (remember them?) or Fords for me, dear. I admit it: I’m comfortable being associated with certain brands, and disdain others. In trucks, I am a Chevy person. I’ve had a few; the latest one, still with me, is about to turn 15.

In cars I am decidedly a Saab. Except that Saab went bankrupt a few years back, so I am driving around on borrowed time.

But oh, how I love my old gray lady, as I loved her four or five predecessors (t first Saab I drove was a 96 like the one in the ad up top; it was vintage then, with a stick on the column, a real peach). My current 9-5 is me a decade younger—but I know it’s totally an illusion, and one I can’t replace, or get much farther in, either, unless I’m willing to pay the inevitable price, when on some rural road alone after darkness falls, the clutch finally goes, or the fuel pump says “no more.”

What comes next simply must have the same qualities, Katrina—I’m still me, after all, aren’t I, despite an increasing number of dings in the hood and non-specific creaky sounds emanating from here and there?

By “me” I mean I want to remain quirky yet sporty (which is probably why I’ve always driven stick shifts, though they are now nearly obsolete). I want to be classy but not show-offy (the reason I never had a BMW, for instance, which seemed too “loud”). And can I please remain smart, going forward? (My old Saab gets close to 30 mpg, and was always way ahead of the curve on safety.)

I think West Springfield, Massachusetts, is about halfway between our houses. Do you want to meet me at the cluster of dealerships near there and start looking squarely together at our futures?  We simply can’t go on like this.



P.S. – Just to be clear: My car might be ahead of yours in the driveway, so to speak, but that doesn’t mean I have any idea where we will end up next (beyond West Springfield).

A writer friend who is half my age and I had lunch the other day. She is teaching English at the moment, so the subject of teaching and mentoring was part of our exchange. Afterward, she emailed this reflection that I think relates to what you and I are talking about, too, though I can’t say exactly how:

“English often translates the word ‘sensei’ from Japanese as ‘teacher,’” she wrote. “Literally it means ‘someone who is farther along on the path,’ which is the translation I prefer.”

Me, too–meaning if you put on your blinker and pass somewhere on a dotted line on a straightaway, that would be just fine on my end.

(Dear Readers: Do you have a car story to share, or for that matter a car to recommend? Do tell–in the comments below. And again: Katrina’s reply to this letter in our occasional series is at this link.)

  1. shiner says:

    I find it rather hilarious that you 2 consider yourselves old and older, wonder what words you will use in the next 10 years? I live in the mountains of NC, at the bottom of a hill. I have had 3 subarus starting when I lived at 9000 feet in CO. I LOVE my Forrester more than any of the others I have owned. No matter the weather I can easily climb that hill as well as come back down safely. My first car was a 62 Volvo, it wasreally sturdy, but alas many problems arose after several years, by then she was pushing 18.

  2. gayle says:

    Fun to know you’re not alone!!!

    I’m not sure if the reason I hang on to cars for so long is because I am so attached to the car or the fact that I hate dealing with car salesmen.

    I had my toyota corrolla for 258,000 miles!!! So of course I got another one!!!

    And then I recently replaced my late husband’s 1996 Chevy truck with a Mini-Van!!! And I LOVE it!!! I can put so much in it!!! I have never had children – so the car dealership thought I was crazy but it is exactly what I wanted.

    So I use my corolla mostly but use the van for hauling and when I’m traveling with my dog.

  3. Mary Patterson says:

    My Honda Pilot is the ideal car for hauling plants. Much better than a pick up. I always wonder how serious Gardeners get along with just a passenger car when it’s time to make an expedition to a choice nursery.

      1. Carol Ann says:

        My favourite vehicle was my Suzuki Samurai…. until I became a gardener. Now I am on my second Subaru Forester. There is nothing like it to climb hills and deal with muddy, rocky roads as I drive to my cottage in the Gatineau HIlls of Quebec, Canada… all the while toting copious numbers of flats of annuals, perennials, trees, mulch, compost… one husband, one dog, and a cooler – if there are not too many plants!

  4. Anne E Hock (annielizzie says:

    Hi from Anne….I have always been in love with “Woodies”. the first was the camp go to church car at Big Bear Lake…a Ford with slots for the windows to slide into the doors. Driven by the camp director’s husband who also drove the Chris Craft so we could water ski. Next was a Plymouth after WW 2…with an all wood interior…for hosing! Then came the pretend
    Woodies. A Chrysler, A Buick and an Olds…and then no more. Best siting of one of our woodies was seeing our car flash in and out of the streets at Newport R. I. during the boat races….driven by our crew out looking for the girls. A mini van is my car now and probably the future….but a convertible would be fun. Oh for two cars!

  5. Mika says:

    I’m with Helen! I also drive a MINI Clubman stick-shift and I love it. I ‘down-sized’ from an SUV, so admittedly it took me a few days to get used to sitting closer to the road, but I have no regrets. The room in that little car is amazing. I’ve hauled plants back from the nursery and even had small trees sticking out the sunroof. It’s also fun to drive. Although the car is lighter than most other vehicles, it drives well in snow and we’ve been through several harsh winters together (yay for heated seats). You do have to watch out for large potholes, and the ride is perhaps not as smooth as with some larger cars, but it is always invigorating! Also check out the new European Diesels….they run forever. Good luck!

    1. Lib Dornbush says:

      Am driving an eleven year old Mini Cooper, stick of course. Even in Northern Ontario I love it as winter car…..no heated seats though. My only problem is that it likes to go fast and attracts the attention of local police forces! I am not only an avid gardener, but also the owner of five large dogs…well. one’s a puppy but will be large, and it is amazing what you can get into a Mini! I have an excellent local mechanic, but parts have to be sent in from several hundred miles away; low cost is not a factor in some car choices! I intend to keep my Mini forever!

  6. Peg says:

    Don’t give up that stick!! I have driven stick shift cars since my very first 1955 Chevy. Now I’m 70 and still prefer that sense of control a stick gives you. And my Subaru Outback gives me lots of room to drag tents and veggies to the farmer’s mkt.

  7. Carole Clarin says:

    So many car stories I hardly know where to begin! My son-how did he think a small Fiat convertible would be the perfect car for a student at the University of Buffalo? Then there’s my almost 92 year old neighbor that has a station wagon , older than your Saab, with a dead battery sitting in his driveway for a year, while a restored Jaguar convertible sits in his garage. We replaced a 2007 Passat wagon with another almost the same, same year, after the tree moved into my path. It cost us more than $1500 to replace a lightbulb! My husband and I and ou 2 adult children have moved away from stick shift cars-my daughter who commutes in Long Island traffic, is the only one to miss it. We have an ongoing list of what features we do and do not want in our next car hoping that is not too soon!

  8. Lee Nora says:

    We had a red convertible Saab in the late 80’s. I loved that car, it introduced me to seat warmers! It was so fun and Zippy, and that was when a Saab looked like a Saab and not like every other car on the road! Still miss that car but my ex was one of those guys you wanted a new car every couple years! Sorry Saab is gone.

  9. Mary Ahern says:

    I finally bit the bullet and bought a new car to replace my 1996 Nissan Pathfinder with 200,010 miles on it. I called her my gardening car since I could pack so many plants in her. She also carried my Art to many, many Art Festivals over the years. By giving her up I felt almost the same sense of mourning as I did when I lost 4 trees in my woodland garden to Hurricane Sandy.

    But it was time. After much searching I finally choose a RAV4 by Toyota. All the new full size Suv’s have three rows of seats which I very clearly have no interest in. So I’ve downsized slightly in order to have a fully flat surface for transporting plants & Art. The back seat is a bench style while most of the larger ones have bucket style seats.

    Oh, and I was able to get it in green. Not a color offered very frequently anymore. One of the things that was a big pleasant surprise since I hadn’t had a new car in decades, was all the new technology built into cars nowadays. The new toys helped with the sorrowful transition I felt on abandoning my old friend.

    1. Dahlink says:

      Mary, my best gardening friend just replaced her car (totaled by her son and a friend during a winter storm) with the RAV4 in green. She says they are not offering that color in the current model year, so for all those who have to have green, run out and buy the 2013 model while you can!

  10. Jo-Ann says:

    Whew! I feel like I have just had therapy. I have a 1992 Mercedes and I got it in 2009, after my 1980
    Benz, had heating issues. I see my mechanic has fixed that problem, and drives the 1980, Buttercup, Benz
    . I still also have a silver flip phone! An absolute dinosaur but I hate those black boxy units, that seem awkward and occupy every minute in people’s life! aaarrrggghhh

    1. Judith says:

      I have a 1991 Mercedes and I’ve had her since she was brand new – 23 years now. She only has 53,000 miles on her so she’ll be around for a long time. She’s small but I can fit a lot of plants in her. I also have a 160 pound Great Dane and he is comfortable in the back seat! My husband drives an Escape so that’s what we use when we need to haul more stuff… and it’s better in the snow.

      I also still have a silver flip phone! It’s smaller and less expensive than a smart phone and I still haven’t found a use for a smart phone. I don’t need to be connected 24/7… especially when I’m in the garden :-)

      My birthday is in a few weeks and I am also turning 60. I don’t consider myself older yet! 60 is the new 40!!!

  11. Suzanne says:

    I also loved my old car. She was a silver gray Saab stick shift station wagon that served my needs for 9+ years. It carried my kids the 800 miles to college multiple times and my big beloved Berner loved to curl up in the back whenever I ran errands. I think its capacity for carrying plants was most impressive – with the back seats lowered I could safely pack 28 flats of annuals in that car and transport them the fifty miles from my grower friend’s hoop house to my house. When it became clear to me that warranties and service for my Saab were expiring, I had to give her up and with a sad heart I sold her to someone who knew how to keep her limping along. And then I felt the vulnerability that a consumer experiences when brand loyalty no longer offers the hand holding that guides decision making but in due time, I found another station wagon, a pre-owned Audi that now carries my 2 Berners when I run errands…but not as many flats of annuals (I’m slowing down on those) and my kids have graduated college – so it’s perfect.

  12. Matriarchy says:

    I’ll be 53 this year. Our 14-year-old Jeep Cherokee sits at the curb, out of commission with a hard-to-diagnose cooling system problem. Probably an expensive repair. Do we fix it or move on? The Jeep did all I wanted to do – weekend youth conferences stuffed with teenagers, barrels of mulch and boxes of plants, setting up at flea markets when I emptied my mother’s house. My partner bought it in the early years of our relationship, and it feels like part of our history together. Shiny newness and lots of rules about not eating in it, relaxing into comfort and companionship. But it gets poor gas mileage, and that is becoming more of an issue.

    I will always need a utility vehicle – I garden. Maybe I will fix the Jeep and continue to haul things locally, where mileage is not my priority.

    But now that my mother is resettled in long-term care and my children are leaving the nest, I want to travel. Day trips, weekends, and more. I am heading into a new life. Ideally, I want a car that will go for the last 20 years.

    I love old houses, old gardens, vintage kitchenware – but I also love technology, computers, and science fiction.

    I am thinking Tesla. Exciting technology, exciting gas mileage. Superstar inventor on his way to Mars. Tesala will be coming out with an edition “for the masses” in the next few years. I plan to get one.

  13. Sharon Faerber says:

    When it’s time to retire you old girl there is a wonderful man in Charlottesville , Virginia who repairs nothing but Saab’s and sells reconditioned ones as well. Being a Saab girl for the past 25 years I feel your pain not only of “thinking” of trading in your old girl but not being able to replace her with a shiny new one. I to am on my 5th and this one is perfect , the convertible I always wanted all decked out in her beautiful color paint. She makes me fell young although I’m years beyond that description and she provides safety for me as I travel the roads filled with crazy people doing crazy things while they drive. Car’s are an extension of our personality and they do become a part of the family, nothing to be ashamed of there. I will use that shiny sticky tape that senior citizens are so fond of if I have to to hold this girl together because she will need to last many many years or until Saab is resurrected from the corporate ashes. My mechanic Ton assures me he can keep her going as long as I can keep going.

  14. Katie C. says:

    I will be 55 this year. My partner retired last June but I can not yet. I have a 19 year old Acura Integra with a stick. It’s still going and gets decent gas mileage AND no car payment! While I love my car, I would not recommend it for any place that has a lot of snow. The front end slides a lot in the ice and snow – even the newer ones, not sure why.

  15. Anne Pounds says:

    Margaret, My beloved car is a 2004 Prius with over 200,000 miles on it; and there is no explanation for the room we find it in. We finally got rid of our 1984 Chevy truck when we realized we used it about once a year to get pebbles and mulch–now we make our own mulch. But we use the Prius to haul all our boat stuff back and forth–everything from an inflatable dinghy to ladders for bottom painting, etc. The entire back of the car converts to cargo area for the massive number of flats of plants in the spring, it comfortably carries 5 people on long journeys, it has a nav system which has not failed us, and of course it gets great milage–up to 50 mph. Great sound system, great ride.
    Besides that, getting old is still hard, especially losing your looks. At 70, I am fit and able, but not as pretty to look at. Love my own bed, for sure.

  16. nancy says:

    It was difficult to let go of my ’99 Honda CRV at 323,000 last year. It was my dependable old friend. Time had come to say how lucky do I feel with another winter coming on and so I roamed around the Net for a used Honda Element that seemed to fit my work needs. Very happy with it. High mileage on both me and my vehicles is a matter of loyalty to a good product and necessary upkeep. I do feel lucky to have come so far, so far..

  17. Dawn says:

    My daughter’s driving a car that has been driven by 3 generations of our family. It is a 1991 Lexus LS 400, the first year Lexus was made. Twenty three years old and over 220,000 miles! My mother-in-law drove it for 6 years, I drove it while our children were young and our children have been driving it for the last 6 years. We can’t believe how many 1991 LS 400 we still see on the road. A few weeks ago my daughter posted a picture on facebook of her car parked next to another 1991 Lexus LS 400 in the parking lot of her college campus. The caption read” I found a friend! Good to know I’m not the only one driving a 23 year old car!” My husband believes we’ll have it another 10 years! I’m currently driving a 2006 Honda Pilot with 180,000 miles. We definitely get attached to our cars.

  18. Cynthia Gillis says:

    Some comments about old things (me) and new things (my life and garden). Last year when I was 73, my architect husband and I (garden designer) moved from Brooklyn NY to Olathe KS. We are building a new house here, and making a new 6-acre garden. This adventure is either going to make me older – right now it feels that way – or help keep me young. I think one of the most difficult things about starting a new garden at this age is that, except in my mind’s eye, I know I will never see it grow up. But the process itself is so wonderful that I don’t mind too much. And by the way some of the planting combinations are stolen (borrowed) from you Margaret: Taxus baccata ‘Repandens Aurea’ plus big root geranium plus cut leaf golden Sumac is one example that comes to mind. For anyone who wants to follow the process of making the garden I started a blog, which I set up all by myself!
    Oh, and by the way, we still drive a 1985 Fiat X1-9, gorgeous, mid-engine with well over 100,000 miles on it. It’s no longer our only car of course, but it is a love.

  19. Lynn says:

    I’m not really a car person, but I LOVED my ’91 midnight blue Saab 900 T, and would probably still be driving it if some idiot in an enormous truck hadn’t destroyed it by rear-ending me at full speed one day. That car saved me from serious injury, if not death. Small comfort that his truck was a write-off. Afterwards, I bought a 2002 Saab 9-3 hatchback, one of the last made, I think. It doesn’t have the distinctive lines of the old classic, but it’s also midnight blue and it’s not a blob, like most cars. And I can pack a ton of stuff in when the back seats are down. 107,000 miles on it so far, and I’m hoping for 107,000 more.

  20. Dottie says:

    Hi Margaret! I am SO with you on the car topic! My 14+ year old Jeep Grand Cherokee is my dream car. It has only 167k miles, but my sons are always at me to consider new models. I tell them my car is a working car, and that we understand each other; it understands the bales of straw, loads of plants and sundry items I call upon it to carry – not to mention humans – and does it all reliably and comfortably. So she gets maybe 14 mpg. Her leather seats are as the day they were born and her siding is unmarred. She has a sunroof and a good stereo system, four operating windows and seat warmers! For what else could I ask?? I am (just) a couple of years older than you, Margaret, but I revel in the familiarity and joy of my old friend. I don’t know why everyone thinks “change” is necessary. My philosophy is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” :-)

  21. Deb says:

    I had to laugh at how appropriate your writing is today. We are on our 3rd and 4th Saab. These two are 20 years old and we have been talking-heatedly-about replacements. I don’t want to give mine up. I have been out driving new cars and none feel safe as my old, worn Saab. But like you I worry about being stranded not on a country road, but on a busy freeway.

    PS. Saab is back in business, but only making 200 cars for the local market in Sweden.

  22. Cristine says:

    I will be 62 this year and am not in the market for a new car. I hold on to my cars forever. In the 60’s thru 80’s I was a VW gal (Bugs, Rabbit diesel), then a Toyota Corolla hatchback for 13 yrs, a VW Golf (lemon) and now a 2003 Subaru Forester, which I hope to keep many more years. All Sticks!

    But, I have already begun agonizing about whether or not I will give up the stick on my next car. I’ve checked with all my gal-pal, diehard stick girls— and they are slowly going the way of automatic transmissions. I am verklempt!


    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cristine. I have almost given in for more than a year now of car shopping, but I refuse. I think I will end up selecting a new car based on its transmission! :)

  23. Frank Allocca says:

    Margaret, I have been an automobile dealer for 40 years and met you at the Morristown Arboretum some months back.. I rallied a 1973 Saab and understand your love of the marque… If you would like some guidance or help finding a replacement vehicle, I would be happy to assist … There are some lower mileage Saab’s being offered for sale on the Clubs web site (Saabclub.com) ,and I would be happy to vet any one you might consider buying.. There is also a shop in Sharon CT who services Saab’s and they might be able to find a replacement for you… Frank

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Frank — and of course I remember you! The Sharon place is where I go — they are great. And thank you for the offer of help.

  24. Judy says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I have a 1997 Honda CR-V that is going on 17 years this year. I bought in brand new back in 97.. and, it’s been a great car throughout the years. I’ve maintained it regularly with oil changes, tune ups, replaced parts that need replacement, because of the mileage. Last year, I put in $3,000.00 to do some major overhauling on parts, and it’s still going strong. I have about 160,000 miles on it now. Considering it’s age, that not too bad. It’s a bit messy inside, as it’s great to haul garden supplies, etc., and it has a few dings on it.. but, it’s a very comfortable car to drive and I like the feel of it. It’s like we are simpatico. :) Being retired, I don’t put in the mileage like when I worked. I hope to have my “friend” around for a few more years. Great post.. I can totally understand.

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