Friday, December 2, 2011

Not for Sale: 20 years, One Owner


My 1991 Subaru Loyale. This was the first new car I ever purchased. It has an old-fashioned family stationwagon design.

I bought my Subaru Loyale in 1991. That makes it an antique this year. I have a little over 177,000 miles on that car. Not that many miles really for a car I’ve owned for 20 years.

It was originally Jennifer’s primary car in the early 90’s until we bought the Lumina we still own in 1995. Then it became a hand-me-down / camping vacation mobile. The Subaru has been an outstanding car. It still gets 33 MPH on the highway and about 29 around town. I usually can drive around for two weeks on one tank of gas. It handles great and has a very smooth ride. It rattles a lot and is a noisy car but, hey, it’s an antique.

My Subaru leaks a little oil and has a small brake fluid leak no one can seem to locate. I add about a half quart of oil to it every two months and some small amount of brake fluid in that time as well. The radio hasn’t worked in it for years. I drive silent wherever I go in it. If alone, I often sing to myself while driving. It is enjoyable. There is a small pop crack where the windshield (my second windshield, the first replaced about ten years back because of a perpetually running crack on it right through the center of the driver's vision) hit some flying gravel about a year or so ago, but it seems stable and is the size of a quarter.


The passenger front headlight is tilted slightly away from the center of the Subaru. In recent years it has been backed in to three times in the exact same spot. The first time I repaired everything. The next two times I left it. Notice the slightly bent front tag of the flag honoring the Cherokee Braves regiment.

Several scrapes and scratches ornament the vehicle. A couple of dents from some near-misses, a slightly bummed out passenger-side front bumper from being hit three times through the years by various vehicles backing into exactly the same spot. Last summer I made my biggest mistake in it by backing in a thick fog into a large SUV, putting a heavy dent near the middle of my hatch. Now, the Loyale’s hatch can’t open and close, though the rear lights and even the rear window wiper still works perfectly.



One of the lowest moments in my driving career was backing into a SUV and putting this dent in the hatch. So what if it no longer opens! I rarely used the trunk anyway. For awhile I thought about buying a used hatch and having it put on but...nah.

Needless to say, I have a lot of personal history with this car. It took Clint, Mark, Jennifer and I on a backpacking trip down to Cumberland Island with all our stuff one year. It has made several trips to Cumberland and to Florida beaches. It took Jennifer and me to the Atlanta airport when we flew to Cancun in 1993. I went to a ton of Braves games in this car.

This was the car in which I drove Jennifer to the hospital when she was having birthing contractions. She was threatening at one point to push and I coached, “No no no! We’re not going to push we’re going to breath!" And we both breathed deeply and rapidly together, me in the front driving on the interstate at over 80 miles per hour, she laid out across the back seat in labor, drifting between pain and ecstasy. My daughter was born 45 minutes after we got to the hospital. An exciting evening.

The Subaru took us to Swain Cabin to meet up with the ‘Dillios the first few times we went there. On roads clearly marked as “not suitable for passenger vehicles.” Of course, it is a perfect vehicle for driving around in the snow and sleet we get on occasion here. Particularly now, since the car itself is not really worth much in terms of resale or trade-in value. If it skids off the road or is hit by someone else driving in rough winter conditions I will probably just junk it. Though it no longer serves as a “family vehicle” for any kind of trips or fun, it has been my primary mode of transportation for the last 15 years. I put about 25 miles a workday on it plus a bit more on the occasional foray when I drive it 20-30 miles to a nearby large town.

Many of my extended family members and most of the people I work with snicker at the Subaru. While they respect its longevity, they think it is silly for me to drive such an old, leaking, rattling car with the painted surfaces starting to oxidize. But, I like the weathered look and the “character traits” of my car.


The oxidized look gives the vehicle a healthy, hippie feel don't you think?

They are also trapped in the American cultural mind-set that old cars are for hobbies and poor people. They consider it odd that we don’t trade our cars in for new ones. But, I am a “free spirit” in the Nietzschean sense about cars. I am not chained to the consumer prejudices that drive most people about cars. I like to buy something new, keep it maintained, and drive it forever. It is pretty much proven that this is the far more practical and inexpensive way to own passenger vehicles. Buying and trading in every few years might create a jolt of excitement and (in my view) twisted entertainment for the consumer but it is a waste of money.

Of course he never wrote about the automobile, but Thoreau cautioned against “a life of quiet desperation” fueled by human beings becoming enslaved to the things they own. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” He advocated living more simply, proclaiming the value to keeping things, of wearing – for example – old clothes. “Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however, ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping wine in old bottles.” (all quotes from Walden, the first chapter “Economy”)

So, here’s my Subaru 20 years later still chugging along. Though I have all the belts and hoses replaced periodically and I have been proactive in its maintenance with things like changing the water pump before the old one gave me any trouble, I do not plan to have it repainted or even have the dent in the hatch fixed. Except for the radio and such, everything works. All that is essential to get me to and from work is operating fine. I am the same person when I arrive somewhere in it as I was before I got there. The car doesn’t make the man, nor does it even entertain me.

Of course, I know how counter cultural all this is. Antique cars evoke a different state of mind than what I am expressing here. They are for fixing up and polishing and showing off. That is the implied nuance of being “antique.” But, strictly speaking, “antique” is a state-of-mind and, being a (mostly) free spirit, my state of mind is my own. Let the world snicker at my antique car. It is more than paid for, costs almost nothing in taxes and insurance, I keep it cleaned and vacuumed on the inside.


True, it requires some degree of major maintenance every 4-5 years but this still works out to be far less than making regular car payments or – even worse (a sin in my book) – going the lease rout where money is traded for nothing because you end up never owning anything. That is the essence of Thoreau’s plea for freedom from enslavement and of Nietzsche’s desire to transcend cultural norms to be your own person. Not part of the TV-driven herd lusting for ever larger vehicles that talk to you and have hemi’s and parallel park all by themselves. That is all kinda cool. But, so is not owing anything on it.

I do need a new set of tires though.

Just to be clear, however, I want to stress that I am not completely immune to the whole automobile in American culture thing. My wife has a 2008 Cadillac SRX and my daughter drives a 2008 Honda Accord. Both are pretty cool vehicles. And I plan to buy a new car sometime in the near future when local dealerships get a little more desperate for consumers. Right now sales have picked up. Not as much reason to give me a real deal on price. But, I still won’t sell either my Subaru or our Lumina. Everything works and they are cheap to own. Besides, when you have to have a car in the shop it is nice having a backup.


I guess it is safe to say I am pleased with my purchase.

1 comment:

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