The cars I drive

I’ve never been much of a car person. I like to have reliable transportation, but I don’t care very much about having the latest model or the most stunning features. There was no sports car to accompany a midlife crisis. There might not have been much of a midlife crisis anyway. I sometimes will walk around a car lot while my car is in the shop for service but I don’t seem to be tempted by the new models. We have, on a couple of occasions, purchased new vehicles, but most often it has made sense for us to purchase used vehicles. We haven’t been early adopters of the latest automotive technology.

Yesterday I was driving the car we refer to as our “new” car. It is only eight years old as opposed to the 20 year old model I usually drive. It is a very nice car with a bunch of features that we don’t have in our other vehicles. But I don’t drive it very often and though it is the same brand as the other car, the controls aren’t quite the same. It was a fairly warm day yesterday with a high of 77 or 78 degrees. I was busy and making quite a few trips from one place to another. As I was driving down the street, I found myself thinking that the air conditioning in the car wasn’t working as well as it does in our other car. Air conditioning in a car has been a topic of conversation in our house. My father never owned a vehicle with air conditioning. He argued that the need for air conditioning occurs only for a few days of a few months in the part of the world where we live. When we lived in North Dakota we didn’t have air conditioning in our car for most of the time. Then we purchased a used car with air conditioning and every car since has been equipped with the feature. Our daughter, who lives in northern Japan where the weather is similar to what we experience here has been driving a car with air conditioning that doesn’t work for a couple of years and it was no problem when we were visiting her during the hottest part of the summer this year.

Anyway, I was driving the car and thinking that it was a shame that the “new” car’s air conditioning doesn’t work as well as the air conditioning in the “old” car. “Oh well,” I thought, “It isn’t hot enough to run the air conditioner anyway.” I rolled down the windows and went on with my trip. When I pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car, I examined the various controls in the car and discovered that my warm sensation had nothing to do with the air conditioner in the car. I had turned the controls so that the air conditioning was directed to the defrost vents. When it was directed through the dashboard vents, it was working perfectly. More importantly, I was hot because the seat heater was turned on to “high.” This is the only vehicle we’ve ever had with seat heaters and I don’t think about them very much. Turning off the seat heater made the car much more comfortable on the next trip.

It wasn’t very long ago when the idea of seat heaters in a car was a very strange idea and a feature that we never would have considered.

There are lots of other things that we take for granted in modern vehicles that I once thought were frivolous. I’ve never experienced any problems with turning a crank to lower or raise a window, but all of our vehicles have electric windows these days. That’s four motors, four actuator assemblies, four switches and a host of wiring that can go wrong in place of simple mechanical devices that rarely failed. It used to be that a car seat adjusted forward and back, but all cars now have adjustable back angles, and most will adjust in a host of other directions as well. That is more mechanism that holds the potential for failure and needs service. The list of features that once were considered luxuries and now have become standard is a long one.

The concept of basic transportation has been replaced by a great deal of complexity and expense. Our first car as a married couple virtually never required servicing in a dealership. I did all of the routine maintenance such as oil changes myself. I made basic repairs, such as replacing the starter, adjusting the carburetor, and performing tune ups by working on the car in the parking lot. I pretty much understood how it worked, what could go wrong with it and how to fix it. I don’t possess the skills to diagnose and repair problems in the complex vehicles we drive these days. I don’t even do my own oil changes, though I don’t think it would be all that hard or require any special tools. On the other hand, I once owned a pickup that I drove about 60,000 miles with the “check engine” light on. That record was nothing compared to the almost 140,000 miles I’ve driven my current set of wheels with the “check engine” light on. Not all of the features of modern vehicles are worth the expense of repairing. In both cases, I have had the codes read periodically and know that the reason for the light is not related to safety or even to the long-term operation of the vehicle. It is just that the warning light could indicate other problems and I don’t have that particular warning device to use because it is constantly on for another reason.

Then again, if I’m not smart enough to turn of the seat heater, I might not be smart enough to discern whether or not a maintenance code is critical.

At any rate, I don’t need any different vehicles to be a happy person. The ones we have provide sufficient entertainment to make me laugh.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!