Recently I had to begin once again the melancholy task of looking for a used car, or more accurately a vehicle that has seen happier times.
I went out to test-drive old “beaters” with bent fenders, aged junkers with jinxed transmission – cars that, on an aesthetic scale of one to ten, merit minus two. Why is it that most used cars that have seen better days are green? And the particular shade of green that makes one think of the color of weeds on a compost pile?
But there is also a positive side to shopping for a used auto. When else do you get to use terms like “torque,” “compression,” and “overhaul,” even if you’re not sure what they mean? When else can you just walk up and kick the tires of a stranger’s car without getting reported for vandalism?
These things can make used car shopping fun, even for those of us who are not mechanically minded. For some reason it seems that people who are the least mechanically inclined drive the bombs that require the most fixing.
A friend of mine in Des Moines, for example, drove a car that shook like a vibrating chair when it hit 55. It also made a horrible constant noise. So she told her father, imitating the sound for him.
“What should I do when my car sounds like this?” she asked.
“Turn the radio up louder, ” he replied.
So you see, the radio is an essential piece of equipment in any used car, and especially in a “mature” model. I’ve always taken care to see I’ve got a sound system that works.
Anyway, as I was going out to shop for another used car, I started reflecting on some of the scrap-iron piles I’ve driven.
Somewhere in everyone’s past there seems to be a large old Chevy coupe built like a tank. I drove such a car in South Dakota as a student. There it passed for a decent family car, and in South Dakota it seemed to work just fine, as if in its natural element. But it seemed every time I crossed the state line on my way home to Iowa, something would go wrong.
One time on such a journey I began to hear a strange rhythm. I tried turning up the radio, but I still heard the sound. So I pulled into a service station. The mechanic remarked that something called “the timing mechanism” was off completely, and commented that it was a wonder that I had made it this far.
He refused to touch it, as if it had a disease. Looking at the car, he said, “You’ve got enough problems as it is.”
And so that car bought the farm. One of many used cars that have met a similar end. But this time around I intend to take care of my junker.
In order to improve my car maintenance skills I read the local paper’s “Spring Car Care” section – every word. While it had a good collection of articles, it seemed to be prejudiced towards used cars that are less than 15 years old, as if it were more important to marshal all one’s energies into preserving them before they turn into beaters.
I, on the other hand, would like to offer some advice for those of us who drive vehicles older than most of our aunts and uncles.
Car Care Tips for Junkers.
Ã?Â·Oil checks – Add oil frequently. Check the oil every time you look at the car.
Ã?Â·Air conditioning – You wish. Roll down the window.
Ã?Â·Car alarms and security devises – As if. Leave your keys in the car and pray someone takes it. If you had a car alarm the thieves would steal it and leave the heap you are driving.
Ã?Â·Tighten your alternator belt regularly to keep it from whining. After cars get past a certain age, they start to feel as if they ought to be retired. They begin to whine and moan and make all kinds of unidentifiable noises to remind you how old they are, and to make you feel guilty you will have them on the road.
Ã?Â·Always carry a spare radiator in your trunk.
Follow these car care tips to the letter, and I absolutely guarantee your used car won’t have any problems for the next 5,000 miles, or until the next intersection, whichever comes first