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Globe Drive

Auto Therapy

Don't let the kids junk your ride Add to ...

Dear Joanne,

I'm a successful realtor, and a dad. I've got it all - wife, kids, dog, and a beautiful Lincoln Navigator. I use it to take clients around, and share it with my teenage sons when I'm not working. The problem? When I need the car for business, it's filled with their junk -- not to mention the gas light is usually on and it hasn't been washed. How do I teach them to respect my car?

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Domestic Dispute

Well, it sounds like they're too big to spank. But I'm not going to come at you with child-rearing advice -- it's a little late for that. In the realty business, your vehicle is a reflection of you, and an extension of your office. Petrified French fries and pop cans are not what your clients want to see, or what you want to be cleaning up.

You didn't become a success by letting people trample you. Are you going to allow a couple of teenagers to kick sand in your face? The Navigator comes with a Captain's chair, and maybe you should start acting like one. Grow a backbone, and stand up to them. Remind them that driving your car is a privilege, not a right.

Your luxury SUV is leading a double life. When you bought insurance, you declared business as the primary use for the vehicle, but your sons are treating it like their personal limousine. While the problem is somewhat due to your sons, it's your fault too. The boys may think they're busy and important, but you're the one bringing home their bacon.

Functional families have divisions of labour. Who cuts the grass at your place? Who shovels the driveway? Who takes out the trash? If the answer to all of the above is Dad, the kids better be cleaning the car.

Maybe it's time to teach them some lessons. When you know they have a hot date, leave the tank completely empty, have your wife fill the glove box and centre console with feminine hygiene products, and pre-load the CD changer with lame music from your generation.

As a realtor, I doubt you'd enter into the sale of a home without an agreement. Why not make one with your sons, regarding use of the car? Heaven forbid they continue to live with you after high school, and carry this behaviour well into the future. When will they learn? And when do you plan to teach them? Lay down the conditions. Maybe you prefer to wash your own vehicle, and have them fill the tank. Or maybe they need to start chipping in for insurance every month.

You could get another vehicle. This solution seems like a no-brainer for a successful realtor. Your second car doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, the cheaper the better. It will be character-building for the boys to spend some time in a Lada Sputnik or Pontiac Firefly before returning to your luxury Lincoln.

Maybe you don't have a second car because you don't want to spoil your boys. I've got news: letting them take the Navigator to meet their friends at 7-11 qualifies as spoiling. Really, who allows their teenage sons to drive around in such luxury, and complains when they have the audacity to abuse it?

If your boys are old enough to drive, they're old enough to work. They can walk until they've earned enough money to buy a transit pass. Then they can ride the bus until they can afford their own cars, or one to share. It might be out of their price range, but they could use a hose-down Honda Element. The SC model has carpet, but the EX and LX versions have easy-to-clean plastic flooring.

Perhaps it's time to embrace the filth, and turn to a car artist, like Scott Wade of Texas. His canvas is dirty vehicles. Want a Boticelli on your back window? Wade says it takes just a couple of weeks to build up enough dirt to create a masterpiece, which will last until the next car wash. Or in your case -- the next rainfall. Who knows? Maybe being known as the dirty realtor will increase business.

Need some Auto Therapy? E-mail Joanne at GlobeDrive@globeandmail.com

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