Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CAR TALK

My godmother, Dora Greenlaw Peacock, once told me that of all the things that enraged her, machines and inanimate objects were the worst offenders. Although she is now deceased, I agree with her completely. I have difficulty with power-driven can openers, computers, vacuum cleaners, and directions for putting together mechanical models of anything. My knowledge about the mechanics of cars tops the list, especially when they don’t live up to the manufacturer’s hyperbole about their mechanical brilliance… and break down.

Today is the second day I’ve been unable to go to the grocery, to the post office; in general, to make the round of errands necessary to maintain a household. My 2005 model Honda Hybrid Civic, with only 30,000 miles calibrated on the dash, has developed an AC/defogger clanking noise, and mechanics are now experiencing difficulty correcting the problem. So far, the tally on costs, including a new condenser, is at about $1550, and the heavy silence of the telephone indicates that there may be more trouble ahead. In the last year, I’ve had three sets of tires (because something is wrong with the suspension), a rack and pinion job, and, now, the AC has up and died. As a long-time Honda driver, (having owned at least six Hondas, beginning in 1978) I’ve become disillusioned with the much-touted “200,000 or more miles” predictions about Honda reliability. And let me add, that I’m a devout follower of regular oil and filter changes, battery upkeep, and all the maintenance required to keep a NORMAL car running.

Of course, readers can’t do anything about this problem, except to avoid buying one of these little models that are capable of causing blood pressure rises, more-than-average maintenance costs, and to top it all, this Hybrid offers the drivers and passengers a rough ride. This morning, I am sitting here, googling sites with 1941 Ford coupes just to assure myself that people in this country once enjoyed traveling in a reliable automobile, sans computer parts. In 1940 and 1941, Ford Motor Company, produced some enduring and endearing automobiles. I’ve often spoken of making the famous Diddy Wah Diddy trek across the western plains to California in a 1941 Ford coupe that was large enough to house two adults, four children (I was 11 at the time), and a cocker spaniel dog – a Ford that climbed mountains, crossed deserts with just a few saddle bags on its hood to keep the motor cool and which was still in its prime when my father traded it in in 1949 after the box-styled Ford came out, and he wanted to own a fashionable model. I can’t remember my father ever taking the old coupe in for repairs or using the kind of language I used this morning when I was primed to go after groceries and the Honda Hybrid remained in the shop.

My Grandfather Paul Greenlaw sold Ford autos from the days of the Tin Lizzie until 1946 when the deluxe Fords appeared after a hiatus in production during WWII. He employed only two mechanics that I know of, and they weren’t terribly busy most of the time. He bought a 1946 Ford for my grandmother, and she drove it 11 years, trading it off for a Chevrolet, not because her Ford had anything wrong with it, but because she wanted an automatic shift (she was the world’s first class bucking bronco when she used her skills shifting the car) and because Ford had snatched the franchise away from my Grandfather Paul when he became seriously ill. A Chevy was her coup de grace!

I really love cars – I like to keep up with all the new models, attend car shows of classic models, admire those that pass me on the road, and appreciate the fact that my grandfather and Great Uncle Ed were pioneers in the field of transportation. Great Uncle Ed designed and put together one of the first recreation vehicles by placing an improvised camping house on the back of a Ford truck. He called it the “Virgi-Dora” after his wife and my godmother Dora, and they enjoyed many camp-outs, using this contraption to travel to camping grounds in Mississippi where the Greenlaw boys were born.

Last year, in my household, we scaled down to one vehicle, thinking that, in the interests of helping the economy, a 2005 model with only 30,000 miles would prove to be a virtuous scale-down, and by using only one vehicle, we’d contribute to the diminishment of air pollution. I chose the Hybrid in 2005 because I wanted to do my part toward reducing gas consumption. Alas, I made an unwise decision because $4,000 a year on car maintenance is not a way of reducing consumer spending.

Yes, I love cars, but I wish I had shopped more carefully before investing in this last one, which I told my children would be my last car (I am now 76). I've now amended that statement to declare that it will be my last Honda. From the articles I’ve been reading, Ford has really cleaned up its act and is now producing some first rate economy cars. I’d buy a re-conditioned ’41 Ford, but the models I’ve seen on the Net are slightly under $50,000! That sky blue Diddy Wah Diddy ’41 coupe was an enduring machine!

P.S. I just read that the Japanese will cease producing Honda Civics in Japan because they don’t sell well there. I wonder why!
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