Will Call: Car troubles
The fact that I didn’t bother getting my driver’s license until I was 21 probably illustrates that I’m not much of a car guy.
I’ll rubberneck for a ’57 Chevy, but a brand new Lamborghini does nothing for me (well, maybe the tractors). I have always regarded automobiles as basically a tool to get you where you want to go, preferably as safely as possible. Since many of those places are at the end of long dirt roads, I’ve generally held off road capability as a priority over horsepower or acceleration. Unfortunately, that comes with trade-offs.
Take my first car, a ’94 Ford Explorer I christened Rocinante. It could tackle Transfer Trail without even heating up, but merging onto the highway was a nightmare and it had a shimmy over 60. After months of honing my driving skills on dirt, I remember taking it on the rarely maintained 800 road from Four Mile to Divide Creek. In Silt after a couple of hours of four wheeling, I decided to tackle Interstate 70 for the first time and experienced fear far beyond the most white knuckle sections of Lead King Loop.
Moreover, I couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite enjoying the outdoors in a vehicle that, on a good day, got 16 miles to the gallon. I suppose that’s true of any vehicle, considering they rely on nonrenewable resources for production and power (even electric cars, indirectly). Still, when the Explorer started needing more repair that it was worth — there’s a reason some folks call them Exploders — I opted for something a little more efficient and highway stable.
There’s a reason Subarus are all but the state car of Colorado. In my ’93 Impreza, I get 30 miles to the gallon and enough off-road ability to get me to most trailheads. As an added bonus, it treats wet or icy roads almost as if they were dry pavement. With less clearance than an Outback, it’s excellent for a trip to Moab and a little exploration while I’m there.
The problem is, spoiled on a true four wheel drive, I never quite accepted the limitations of my later rides. More than once, I’ve had someone pull up to me as I rev and scrape my way up to The Crown and ask if I know what I’m doing or need any help. Most of the time I’m just fine, but sometimes they’re right to be worried.
Just this past weekend I could see concern and amusement in the eyes of a man in a pickup as I prepared to ford Thompson Creek. A few days later I saw him again as I lugged a replacement tire up to my stranded car. I actually got the flat farther up, but couldn’t cross the creek with my dinky donut spare. I imagine he had a similar reaction to the mechanic who undoubtedly noticed the preponderance of mud on my car when he replaced the CV joint the week before.
At this point, I think it’s fair to say that my attempt at a compromise hasn’t worked. There are some newer SUVs that offer similar gas mileage, but they’re out of my price range, and true low range four wheel drives are getting rarer, besides. Continuing to beat up station wagons doesn’t seem like a terribly economic or environmentally friendly option, either, nor does owning two cars, and I’d like something more robust for camping than a dirtbike or ATV.
It looks like someday soon I’ll be investing in an old 4Runner or Tacoma in an effort to match my vehicle to my behavior. At least, unlike many such vehicles in cities around the country, it will be spending a fair amount of its time off road.
I can probably offset the car karma by biking and riding the bus more. With the construction, it can be more relaxing that way. A couple of weeks of car trouble have been an excellent reminder of how much of a pain auto ownership can be, as well as why we’re willing to endure it.
Will Grandbois covets his friend’s ’84 Toyota Tercel. He can be reached at 384-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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