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road sage

It was an average Monday morning in St. Catharines, Ont. A cop was handing out tickets for distracted driving when he saw a vehicle that looked like something plucked from a nightmare inspired by the reality show Hoarders; a vision at once horrific and banal.

It was a green 2000 Dodge Caravan (disturbing enough), but that was not all. The minivan was unplated, it had no side doors, the rear windows were missing and it was crammed full of what appeared to be fishing rods, plastic tubs and broken Ikea furniture. A wooden stool was strapped to the roof like a crown. As if to signal that the minivan's owner was not without a sense of irony, stuck to the tailgate was a "slow moving vehicle" sign.

It turned out the 66-year-old driver had – surprise! – a suspended licence, no vehicle insurance and had been stopped two weeks earlier driving the same Mad Max reject minivan. He is facing seven charges. Police no doubt look forward to stopping him again in two weeks, perhaps riding a Honda Civic that has no doors, no trunk, no windshield and is crammed with radioactive waste.

The incident got me thinking about our beloved beaters, cars that lack aesthetics and the frills associated with luxury vehicles. Some drive beaters out of financial necessity. In the 1990s, I drove a 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit that fit the description (and there's not a day that goes by that I don't miss that car). Others keep a beater as a way of sparing their lux rides from damage. What's one more dent on a beater?

The above-mentioned Yellow King's minivan was not only an obvious beater – it was a deathtrap. But what about those of us who are driving a beater and don't even know it? For instance, my "ride" (a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan) is a vehicle some car enthusiasts would place in the beater category. Am I a member of the Beat generation? Are you?

Take the "Are You Driving a Beater?" quiz to find out. Choose the correct answer.

1.) Your car runs on…

a) Unleaded premium.

b) Unleaded.

c) Leaded.

d) Double leaded.

2.) What phrase best describes your car's rust?

a) Minimal.

b) Proactively engaged with my car's exterior.

c) Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (Number 30).

3.) Does your car have an ashtray?

a) No. Smoking is bad.

b) Yes.

c) No. It has a hole in the floor beside the stick shift that I use as an ashtray.

4.) Compete the following: "My car…" Award yourself a point for each yes.

Has a CD player with a Nine Inch Nails CD stuck in it.

Has power windows that go halfway down.

Has a lighter but I've lost the lighter part.

Is a van.

Is an eighth-generation Pontiac Bonneville.

Was owned by someone I am related to but no longer speaking to.

Can remember where it was the day Kennedy was shot.

Comes fully loaded with wheels, an engine, brakes and a steering wheel.

5.) "When someone dings my car I…"

a) Scream.

b) Exchange information and make an insurance claim.

c) Laugh.

d) Admire the handiwork.

Answers: 1. d; 2. c; 3. c; 4. a point for each matching statement; 5. d)

Score

1-5: You're a classy motorist.

6-9: The rust is starting to show.

10-11: Your vintage ride is a hunk of junk.

12: If you can't beat 'em, drive one.

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