Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quarter Mil

The first car I ever owned was a '79 Chevette (four-door!) that I bought fresh out of college, when I'd secured my first job.  That plucky little vehicle served me (and Jen, once we were well and properly married a year-and-a-half after I bought it) for seven years and 90,000 miles of mostly worry-free transportation.  As well as serving as overnight lodgings for one night of our honeymoon (how was I supposed to know that every single motel in Munising, Michigan would be booked in mid-August of 1980?  I mean, really?  Munising - pop. 2320??)

We traded in the Chevette for a minivan in '86, when 2F was a year old, and we decided that it would be good to have space in our vehicle for an occasional guest-rider.  Or, you know, any future children as yet known only to God.  We bought the 7-passenger model, which prompted Jen to ask, "Does this mean that we're committing ourselves to only have five children?"  Heh-heh-heh; if she'd only known. . .  The minivan gave us ten years and 130,000 miles, including two (not one, but TWO) round-trips to Florida to meet sundry long-lost relatives (the fact that we met them during spring break was completely incidental).

That minivan was also the first of our family vehicles to receive a name.  It was quite accidental, really.  The poor vehicle was pretty woefully underpowered (which is more-or-less directly correlative to my fondness for high gas-mileage), and when the poor beast struggled to keep its speed on an uphill run in West Virginia, say, I would pound on the steering wheel, and urge it on, saying, "Come on, Bessie Sue!"  So my kids (and who could argue with their logic?) figured that 'Bessie Sue' was the critter's name, and took to calling it such.

In '96, I changed jobs (although, to be perfectly candid, it wasn't my idea at the time), and in '95, 6F was born, thus nominally rendering our minivan 'too small' (although we did 'make do' with one seat too few for as long as we practically could; four narrow tushies could fit into a three-butt seat in a pinch, with 'double-buckling', which, in '95 didn't yet consign parents to The Outer Darkness Where There Is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth).  My new job was nearly an hour's drive from our house, so I thought it expedient to acquire a 'commuter car', so Jen could still make her way around town while I was at work, and also so I could pile up the commuting miles at a somewhat lower rate of fuel consumption than driving an empty minivan an hour each way.  So I got a little Geo Metro that got me 40+ mpg.  Its dark-green color and diminutive size earned it the moniker 'Little Larry', after the 'Veggie Tales' cucumber.

And alas, the minivan (which was already one seat shy of our family size) gave up the ghost that summer.  So, we swallowed hard at the prospect of carrying two car payments, and went out and bought a not-too-used 12-passenger van (by that time, Jen was well past asking if that committed us to only having ten kids) (also, note to would-be used-vehicle salespersons - telling your married-parents-of-six prospective customers that you really need this sale because your girlfriend is pregnant and your divorce isn't final yet, might not engender quite the sympathy you were hoping for. . .)  The van, because of its great size (which was pretty comical, really, when parked in the same driveway as the aforementioned Larry), was dubbed 'Willy', after the famed movie whale.

This was something like the Golden Age of our family vehicles.  Our first three kids all learned to drive in those two very disparate machines.  I almost felt bad for them - they had a choice between the giant van, which always pushed the size and maneuverability limits of wherever it needed to be parked (note to prospective drivers - when the little hanging-down bar in the parking ramp says '6 feet 8 inches', and you bump it with your roof, that's a meaningful bump; and when Dad tells you that the van is 6-9, believe him), or the cute, maneuverable little Metro - which was a stick-shift.  In retrospect, I think it generally worked in our kids' favor; they would never again drive anything of whose far-flung corners they had to be quite so aware, and they knew how to drive a stick.

The little Metro went 208,000 miles in seven years (long commutes will do that to you)  before giving up its ghost, and we replaced it with an '03 Chevy Cavalier (by that time, I was drawing a paycheck from GM, and it was nice to finally get the employee discount).  That Cavalier, weirdly enough, was the first vehicle I'd ever owned that had a trunk.  Seeing the Metro's odometer roll over 200,000 was a bit of an exotic treat.  When I was learning to drive, we never expected to see 100,000; to go beyond double that just felt like getting one over on the Universe.

By '06, gas prices were beginning their inexorable march to their present rarefied levels.  I didn't do too many $75 fills of the big van before I decided that we couldn't keep doing that.  A quick calculation showed me that two vehicles, each getting 30mpg, would use less fuel than the big van getting 12.  So, we decided to sell the big van (which had 195,000 miles on it, by then), and the few times a year when we needed to take the whole family on a long trip, say, to Chicago, we'd just take two cars, and come out ahead.  Which takes us out of the 'Whole Family In One Vehicle' dynamic, but it also creates some fun 'mix-and-match' possibilities for Who Rides With Who.

I bought a Chevy Aveo for myself, and gave Jen the Cavalier, which by that time, had somewhere over 150,000 miles on it.  She was excited to have a car of her own (rather than driving 'the family bus') for the first time in her life.  We have those two vehicles to this very day.  They're showing their age, just a bit - the gages on Jen's instrument panel have been only intermittently functional for a year or more, now (but the Low Fuel warning light still works, so we haven't gotten stranded), and the cost to replace an instrument panel is close to more than the vehicle's re-sale value.  One of her red tail-light lenses got broken a couple years back, and when we found out what it would cost to fix it, we decided that the red tail-light tape would work just fine.  (Which leads to another, somewhat bizarre story, involving getting pulled over by the Campus Cops while driving across my alma mater, and being told by the 19-year-old puke of a cop-wannabe that 'your tail-light tape is the wrong shade of red'; but that's another story for another time).

A couple months ago, the Aveo finally passed the Cavalier in total miles, and a few days ago, it rolled over 250,000.  And, barring something happening in the meantime, Jen's car will join it in a couple months.  A quarter-million miles, on two cars (neither of which, alas, has been given a name) (and sheesh, when I add up all the miles we've driven on all our cars, it's already over a million).  Amazing, ain't it?  I'm still hoping to see either or both of them roll 300k, but it's all gravy at this point.  And sooner or later, we'll be back to two car payments again. . .  It's always something, ain't it?


  1. Wow... taking me back, with talk of Chevettes and such; although, we never had quite such good long-lasting cars, until perhaps (we hope!) the ones we currently drive.

    No, for years, we had the whole "buy a cheapo beater cuz we can afford it and hope it lasts long enough to save until we can afford the next cheapo-beater" deal going.

    On the other hand, we've only had to have car-payments for less than a cumulative total of 3 years, in almost 30 years of marriage... so, maybe that's not a bad thing after all!

  2. Damn. That's a great milestone to hit with a car. My commute is so short, I never expect to hit anything like that with Roddy The Wondercar (my current '98 Pontiac Grand Am.) He has (believe it or not) just a bit over 80,000 as of today.

  3. Wow. That's a lot of mileage! We just gave our car to our public radio station and are officially car-less for the 1st time since 1993 which was the year we bought our 1st ever car to take our 1st born to kindergarten. I really like it!

  4. Sailor - If it weren't for my long commute, I'd be tempted to buy my cars well-used. But at 40k miles/year, I wanna know that the car is 'broken in' to the way I'm gonna drive it. . . (and at that, I'm mainly just hoping the loan is paid off while the car is still running. . .)

    Suldog - Yeah, when 95% of your miles are freeway, the car doesn't wear down as fast as it does in the city. . .

    Schweeney - I'm always impressed when I meet people from those east-coast metropolises where it's actually feasible to live without a car. That would be hard to do here, even if I lived and worked in the same town. . .

  5. It's not anything to be impressed by, it's just practical. Who needs a car when you can walk/cab/bus/metro to almost everything (as long as you are not hauling mewling children)? I am impressed that you got that many miles out of your automobiles. You are to be commended!

  6. Heh heh, our last 4 vehicles we bought with more than 145,000 miles already on 'em .... :-)

    Right now we've got one with 240k that is retiring this month, another with 225k that we've had all of one year, and one with 147k miles that we're in the process of obtaining .... we prefer a more mature vehicle over a fresh out of the womb version.

    Congrats on keeping 'em patched together!

    ("gularyn renteso", words to live by)

  7. Schweeney - I'm not so much impressed by your decision (which, after all, as you say, only makes sense), as I am by the, uh, environment in which it DOES make sense not to have a car. . .

    And you know. . . regular oil changes. Every 3k miles; I never miss one. . .

    Xavier - As I mentioned above, I might be tempted in the same direction meself, but at 40k/year, I'm not sure I want to be quite that close, that often, to needing another one. . .

    But it sounds like you keep 'em running about like we have. . .

  8. Well, when we shopped for 100k cars we usually kept 'em for another 100k or so ..... these more advanced ones we 'only' get about 75k outta but they're a whole lot less expensive and less ornery/problematic. Go figure!

    Besides, Queenie LOVES car shopping. Seriously, go figure ....

  9. Those are some remarkable mileages! It's amazing what living in a larger centre and the commute times will do to the odometer.

  10. Xavier - Sounds like you're blessed, on a couple accounts. . .

    Flutter - And even moreso, when you're driving from one 'urban center' to another, 75min away. . .

    And hey, 250k miles is around 400k kilometers, ain't it? One of my favorite things about driving in Canada is the 'Speed Limit 120' signs on the freeways. . .

  11. I somehow missed this post :(

    My minivan is 12 years old. I'm sort of hoping it gives up the ghost, but it's in such darned good shape, it's not likely. Then again, I don't have 250K on it either. That's probably the total number of miles I've driven in my lifetime!

  12. Bijoux - We tend to drive our cars into the ground, but I understand that, after 12 years, you might kinda enjoy something a tad newer, eh? Something with an iPod jack, instead of an 8-track player?

  13. I knew you wouldn't let me down. . .