Since passing my driving test in 1996 I have had over a dozen different cars, starting with my first car – an A-Reg Talbot Samba with a mouldy steering wheel, nowhere near and lovely and new looking as the one in the picture – through to my current car, a hand-me-down Peugeot 206 that used to belong to my mum and that smells slightly of feet.
Along the way I’ve had an interesting mix of cars, and I always follow a simple pattern – buy something cheap, drive it until it collapses, buy a new one. Very similar in fact to the relationship I have with shoes. While I was at university, I had an old VW Golf that I loved, and which I drove almost literally into the ground, travelling over 100 miles a day to lectures and back.
It was in the year I had that car that I discovered that AA membership doesn’t actually allow you an unlimited number of call outs – by the seventh in the year I was being charged. I remember one particular motorway journey in the dark where my radio suddenly went quiet, and my lights started to dim, and things started to stop working, until I had to pull over and be rescued.
One of my favourite ever cars was a very old automatic metro that I bought on ebay for £87. It is the only automatic I have ever owned, and I loved it. Automatics are so handy aren’t they for eating sandwiches and such like? The downside was the damp on the back seats, no back seatbelts for car seats, and the fact that you couldn’t do over 50mph in it. The irony of course being that I actually got a speeding ticket in that car.
When the metro, which we fondly called Little Mo, inevitably failed its MOT after 11 months of otherwise unfaltering service, I swapped it along with £400 in cash with a man wearing a single diamond earing, behind a pub, for a Citroen Xantia. I hated that car as much as I loved Little Mo. Completely lacking in any kind of suspension, driving it was back-breaking, and it was so big that I was constantly misjudging parking spaces and driving it into wall and bollards.
The Citroen brought out the very worst in me when it comes to car maintenance. I’ve never liked spending money on cars – servicing to me just makes no sense – if there is nothing obviously wrong, why would you voluntarily want to take it to a garage and spend money on it? Worrying noises are usually easy to cure by turning up the radio, and is it really necessary to top up the water in your windscreen washer? Surely that’s what rain is for?
As a rule, I don’t like being told what to do, and I particularly don’t like being told what to do by a car, so when a big red light shouting STOP came on on the Citroen’s dashboard, I opted not to stop, but simply to put a satsuma in front of the light. This car is just bossy, I thought, who does it think it is?
Of course after a couple of months of satsuma maintenance, the car could tolerate my neglect no longer, and one day when I went to turn a corner, it refused. No, it said, I have had enough, I am only going to drive in straight lines from now on. Rude. Just rude.
It’s my irresponsible attitude to cars that makes me wonder if I will ever feel grown-up enough to buy my own house. I can picture it now… hole in the roof? Nothing to worry about, a bit of blutac should sort that out. Cracks in the wall? A strategically placed bowl of fruit is surely all you need? It’s one thing to run a car into the ground and buy a new one, but I’m not sure how financially sound it is to let a house crumble around you and then pop out and get another one on ebay.
Are regular services really important do you think, or is it all a conspiracy, with mechanics and garages across the country convening in secret, plotting to convince us that servicing is crucial? I’m not even sure I believe they do anything at a service. I think perhaps they just drive your car up onto a ramp, sit in the office for half an hour looking at porn, then spread some paper over the seats and place one strategic muddy footprint in the driver’s footwell.
I would be much more inclined to get a service if there was some tangible benefit, some evidence of work being done, (other than the footprint). Maybe I am just irresponsible, but just knowing the oil has been changed recently doesn’t exactly thrill me. Now if there were decorations, or pictures put up maybe…
So what do you reckon, is this a girl thing, or just extreme slumminess on my part? Do you swear by a regular service or do you rely heavily on strategically placed fruit as a form of car maintenance?