For the longest
time I didn't own a car, or at least own one long enough to make
the relationship between man and metal a legal one. Perhaps the
painful memories of previous car relationships had made me reluctant
to commit to anything more long term than a rental. However, that
changed last September when I decided that the time had come for
me to accept my responsibility, settle down, behave like an adult
and get myself a vehicle.
My previous union of man and motor ended one snowy December night
with an extremely loud bang on the A10 just outside of Buntingford
in the South of England. The trauma of waiting for a tow truck to
come and rescue my green Mini and I was perhaps the last straw after
a string or failed relationships with automobiles.
I didn't really need a car back then, so on the odd occasion that
I had to go somewhere out of range of a walk of bike ride, I went
by either bus or train. Thanks to Merseyrail's budget cut backs,
the trains became free of charge due to the fact that they couldn't
afford to pay anyone to check that passengers had valid tickets.
This made the shockingly bad service seem like good value for money.
And on the odd occasion when someone would ask to see your ticket
at the exit to the station, you could always partake in another
well practiced Merseyside tradition and just leg it!
Most of my cars came with stories pre-installed. With one I had
to try and avoid turning right because the battery would fall out
of it's place and the engine would stall. Another was so loud that
I could only drive it in the day. If the police were to stop me,
as often they did, I was always on my way to the garage to get it
fixed. One car had an annoying habit filling with smoke, while another
required me to push start it, and often just push it wherever I
Perhaps one of my most well known cars was the one which required
the assistance of a milk bottle to start, or maybe the Fiat that
resembled a go cart and had a worrying tendency for losing a rear
wheel while going around corners. Then of course there was the Mini
that couldn't go any faster than 40Mph in the rain, the source of
some considerable frustration on Britain's motorways I can tell
These cars and their stories were of course from when I was much
younger. When I was without the responsibilities associated with
being a mature adult. Back then I was still a crazy longhaired hoodlum
with no money, no job and no email address. The years since have
bought with them all of the above with the possible exception of
money! So, with those crazy days behind me, I decided that the time
had come for me to reflect my newfound level of maturity and responsibility
by purchasing a car suitable for the man I now was. This time I
would buy from the forecourt not the small ads!
Two days and one hundred and fifty pounds later I was once more
a car owner. A slightly shabby thirteen year old gold Cavalier with
six months road tax and MOT (Safety Certification) along with insulating
moss growing on the rear window rubber seal. Sure, it wasn't the
prettiest car on the forecourt, but the sales guy told me in his
friendly scouse accent that it would easily get me "from A to B".
Presumably the other 24 letters of the alphabet cannot be purchased
at this price level, but 'A to B' suited me just fine.
My friends, all owners of shiny new cars, were quick to dismiss
it as a "piece of shit." I was still in that honeymoon period though.
Learning about the cars little ways and quirks that made it unique.
Okay, so it whistles in a cross wind, the heater makes a sound like
a dying chicken and yes the radio doesn't work while the engine
is on. It may well be a "piece of shit", but it was my piece of
shit and at least it wasn't pink (sorry, that's Misty Lilac)!
Since September the 'Asian Gold' Cavalier has served me well. I've
driven over 8000 miles in six months in a car that costs less than
a set of four new tyres! What's more, those miles have been mostly
trauma free. All in all, this new found relationship is working
out just fine, the bond between man and machine is there and we
are as familiar with each other as an old married couple. I've even
grown fond of the chicken sound it makes when the heater is on.
The thing about owning a crap car though, is that once a year you
have to go through a deeply stressful and often financially painful
experience. The annual vehicle road safety check, the MOT. For me
today was that day.
I liken this experience to the way I used to feel when waiting for
my Mom and Dad to return home after parents evening at school. It
wasn't a question of whether or not the report would be bad, it
was a question of exactly how bad it would be.
I left the car at the garage all day so as the mechanics could do
the test at their convenience. My thinking here was that if I was
agreeable and easy going, maybe they would have the same attitude
when testing my car.
At 4PM I returned to hear the bad news. As I stepped out of the
cold and into the electric warmth of the garage office I was greeted
by a sun bleached topless babe with a moustache drawn on her paper
face and the sound of local radio blasting Eminem around the workshop,
while the mechanics sang in badly tuned voices claiming that they
were the real Slim Shady.
Clearly no one had seen me enter. I could rob this place blind of
its staked up copies of 'Max Power' magazine and one nasty looking
cup of sugar, or I could ring the oil blackened bell. I shouted
through to the workshop and someone came out to the office wiping
the oil from their hands on an equally oily rag.
"You're the Cavalier aren't you?"
My confidence in this mans ability to recognize a car from a human
being was momentarily shaken. But I knew what he was getting at.
"Yes" I answered.
"Yeah right, well I'll be blunt mate, it ain't the news you were
wanting I don't think." He said while looking at the ominous 'Notification
of Refusal to Issue an MOT Test Certificate'. He stated that the
car had failed on a number of things, but that the engine and sub
frame were not only intact but also in extremely good condition.
We chatted about my 'options' and good scrap yards where I could
pick up some parts I needed that would help drive the price of the
work down. The guy seemed genuinely motivated to help keep me mobile.
I told him that I would be back next week and that in the meantime
I'd see what my friend could help me out with. He gave me his card
which not only had his name on, but now also an oil thumbprint,
perhaps a deliberate sign of personal service. I took it and left
to mull over the price of freedom.
So as I sit here writing this with the folded failure notice next
to me, I am wondering whether a car really is that important. Maybe
public transport has gotten better since last year. Maybe they have
cleaned the Dazzer 4 Shazzer declarations from the walls of the
busses. Perhaps the trains are on time these days. And maybe taxi
drivers don't try to engage you in trite conversations anymore.
Maybe? But could I go back to the 'convenience' of inconvenience?
Could I regress to the days where I didn't need or care about a
car? I'm sure that if need be, I could. But right now, the truth
is that as crap as it might be, I love having a car and for the
time being at least I plan to keep on motoring.
Perhaps a goal for the 'thirty something' years of my life should
be to get a car that won't be interesting enough to bring up in
conversation for any other reason than to comment on how uneventful
it is. Maybe I should consider the benefits of gleaming new car
complete with factory guarantee and free roadside assistance for
one year? Perhaps I should start upping my expectations from a heater
to heated seats? Maybe I could become one of those people that clean
their car routinely every Sunday afternoon at 2pm.
But then again, if I get a shiny new blue Ford something, would
2.4 children and a wife come pre-installed in that package just
as the adventures and stories do on old bangers? How long would
it be before my dream of an gleaming new sports car with a soft
top would be replaced by the reality of gleaming new Minivan with
On reflection, as attractive as rust free metal may be, I think
I'll stick to the old bangers for just a little while longer if
it's all the same with you.