If your long-term relationship hits the skids, but you know leaving isn’t a viable option, most experts will suggest you try counselling, a second clear-eyed look at the situation, or that you consider your partner’s feelings as well as your own.
What if the thing in your life you’re fed up with is your car? What if you believe the loss would feel more like a gain? What if you know you can’t ditch it, but you feel chained to a deal you made years ago, at a different time in your life when you could truly say, “What was I thinking?” What if you’re just bored?
In years gone by, you could point to gaping bogs of rust and holes in the floor of cars to prove it was time to move on, even if you could little afford it. Cranky carburetors that needed rebuilding and weather conditions rendering too many vehicles ornery and unreliable made for a sound case, too. For the most part, our cars are lasting longer, and many problems of yore have become passé. If you’ve done even basic oil changes and paid attention to more obnoxious problems, your car is probably poised take on many more happy kilometres.
If your head is saying yes, but your heart is saying no, go get it detailed. For 100 bucks or so, they will hand you back your car looking – and smelling – almost as good as new. Petrified French fries will be fished from under seats, coins will be chipped free of their Coke and coffee entombments at the bottom of cup holders, all the various receipts will be gathered into a bag, and you will remember that, under the dust, your dash is black, not dull grey.
Go full throttle and get them to shampoo the upholstery and carpeting while you’re at it. If it’s too far gone, get some seat covers and just cover up the spills. Invest in some decent floor mats, including in the back if you frequently have passengers. A car should be cleared the same way a garage should be: take out absolutely everything, then put back what you need, and put it where it belongs. Don’t ask me what to do with that pile of stuff left over. I have no idea.
If you’ve also been neglecting the bits you can’t see, get it to a mechanic. Ongoing maintenance is far cheaper than expensive repairs, and once we’re outside of a warranty, we tend to let things slide. While it’s true you start facing some steeper repairs as your car ages (same as people), you’re probably no longer sticking to a strict schedule enforced by your dealership or manual. Now is not the time to stop. Every relationship needs ongoing attention – show your car your care.
Pay attention to your tires. Yes, it’s boring. But those four small contact patches are the only thing between you and the road and, next to the driver, tires are the most important part of the driving equation. Improve your safety and handling as well as the appearance by investing in some decent rubber.
Those repairs bring us to probably the thorniest question in being a caregiver to an aging car: when does the cost of those repairs outweigh the value of the car? If your car has a book value of $1,000, and you’re being quoted a $2,500 bill, I’d say now. Once you’re beyond scrubbing it up and making it smell good, it is smart to wonder if you’re throwing good money after bad. But having no car payments any more hasn’t freed you from car costs. Even if you’ve tucked aside (literally or figuratively) $100 a month earmarked for the car, $1,200 a year can keep you onside.
Read your manual and warranty carefully, and find out what is about to duck outside of being covered. Like many things in life, the door slides shut just as you get there. Unless you’re Indiana Jones and able to hurl yourself through a six-inch gap under a falling stone wall, you’re going to hear the dreaded, “I’m sorry, that’s out of warranty.” How were you supposed to know those bushings were about to go, 2,000 kilometres outside of the warranty that covered them? Regular maintenance should have caught that (as a friend found out), and nowhere in the warranties I’ve read does the word “benevolent” appear.
If you get it (or keep it) cleaned up, it’s mechanically sound and paid off, you can be like those people who stay married for decades and not keep splitting the family fortune in divorces driven by boredom that might have passed, or someone jumping at something newer and shinier.
The best way to love your car again? Get it ready for someone else.