A Valentine's Day Wish For The Family Sedan

February 11, 2011

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." I doubt that Elizabeth Barrett Browning had automobiles in mind when she wrote those words, especially since she died in 1861. But you would have to attribute the staying power of the car to nothing less than love, when you consider the relationship owners have with their vehicles.

First, a disclaimer. I tend to be jaded about cars, a condition that I attribute to getting in a dozen or so cars a day for nearly forty years. This doesn't mean that I don't marvel at their styling and technology or that I don't appreciate the feelings others have towards their cars.

I asked someone today how he liked his 2005 Honda Element and he had a laundry list of great things to say about it: how he moved from Connecticut to the Mid-Atlantic region and stacked the boxes to the ceiling; how its utility outstripped a pickup truck's because he considered the truck bed wasted space. These are just a couple.

The other day a fellow engaged me in a conversation about auto restoration. I had to do a double take or I would swear we were talking about an addiction. I asked him if he had made any money on any of his projects and it was like asking someone if they knew who the president is. "Money, you never make any money restoring cars," he said. "It's a labor of love."

I got a call today from Marty who had wrecked his car on I-95. He was with a state trooper and needed somewhere to tow the car. I knew that our place was not where it should be brought because we don't do body work and I tried to encourage him to take it to where it could be repaired. Marty insisted that we might be able to fix his 1995 Toyota and showed up with it on the back of a flatbed. The front end was smashed, a tire was blown and coolant was leaking out of the radiator. I told him that the car was totaled but he wasn't listening. He didn't want to hear that he had lost something close to him.

Love could be the only explanation for persevering through all the things that get in the way of car ownership, which is a sort of "for better or worse" contract we agree to when we buy a car. We will absorb depreciation and recalls as well as the chance that someone will diminish the value of our investment by colliding with us. We will take our chances on someone stealing our catalytic converter at the park and ride or removing our tires and wheels when we are at the theater.

There is no balance sheet when it comes to a car we love, which makes it difficult to give up on a vehicle. Marty's Toyota is an example. As much as we know that the mass of metal and plastic that gets us to work every day is an inanimate object and will someday be reduced to scrap, if it is a car we love, we hate to say goodbye. 
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