He loves me.
He’d have to in order to deal with two dogs and that one time we drove around with my mama and sister from store to store in Black Friday traffic.
We rode across this country together — from Virginia to Missouri to California to Minnesota and back again. He even went with me to Harvard last year to survive that frigid New England weather and then got me back to Missouri again. We’re talking almost 17 years and 155,000 miles together.
He loves me not.
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Fitch, my silver 2001 Volkswagen Beetle, has been letting me down. One time his air conditioner failed. Then the window wouldn’t roll up. And the lock broke. But I just kept fixing him up, even though he’s worth only about $500. My sister told me to move on from that car a decade ago.
That would have been the ideal time. Most people drive a new car for 6.5 years, according to IHS Automotive. And most cars on the highway are no older than 11.5 years. I’ve been hanging on too long.
But I loved this car from the moment I drove it off a Virginia Beach dealership lot. My first car purchase. I grew up driving this car. I became a journalist driving this car. I graduated from college driving this car. My dad once grabbed a napkin and cleaned bird poop off my windshield because his baby girl couldn’t be seen in a dirty car.
On Christmas Eve, his heater box broke. On one of the coldest days this season, my car was an igloo on wheels. My trusty mechanics at Vee Village told me it would be an expensive fix. The car also needed some other minor repairs. Bob gently told me that this was something I needed to really think about.
For the next week, not even two pairs of gloves and thermal layers could keep me warm in that car. I couldn’t put another $2,500 in my mobile heart. It was over.
We went from dealership to dealership trying to find a new love. Car dealers asked about my potential trade. Like I said, he was only worth $500. A used car indeed. But they all offered at least double and sometimes quadruple the value. Not a single one disrespected my silver companion. Over and over again I heard the same thing: It was good to you.
That kind of bond is a common one, says James Renner, a Baron BMW client adviser.
“There is sentimental attachment for some people,” he says. “I think you just have to value that meaning. You don’t want to make someone feel bad.”
I looked for a new ride for exactly one week. I couldn’t find the right fit. It’s been almost two decades since I bought a car. These things talk now. Even most of the certified used models unlock themselves and read your text messages. Fitch was simple. Get in, drive and arrive. No matter how fun or fancy or fully loaded, I found reasons to reject each car.
So I based my decision on Consumer Reports, budget, how I was treated at the dealership and the best deal I could get. And my stomach still burned with anxiety. I had planned to drive my car till the wheels fell off.
On New Year’s Eve, when the temperature dropped below zero, I was frozen. It was time to let my Beetle go.
The team at Hendrick Lexus understood. They didn’t mock me. They had me drive Fitch into the clean-up garage under the pretty lights. They told me to take a moment and say goodbye. They even took photos. They made a ceremony of it because this grief, over a machine, is an actual thing.
Thomas Trillin, better known as Dr. Tom, is a retired podiatrist turned Lexus educator. He helped orchestrate the goodbye. It was just two years ago that he upgraded his 8-year-old Lexus GS — an opal color that looked silver but shimmered purple in the sunlight. It’s the kind of car that stands out in a crowded parking lot. And for him it was special, because even his schnauzer Lucy May would run right up to it. It was their car.
“I felt like I was sitting shiva,” he says of grieving over his old model and trading for a new one. “Through hell and high water, that car got me through. It almost felt like ageism, like I was punishing my car for getting old. Yet I don’t punish myself for getting old. It took me a while to come around. With my new GS, it’s a slow love affair.”
So I’m taking my time with the new guy. He’s opening my doors. He cares about my safety. But I’m still convinced that when it comes to cars, it’s never as good as the first ride.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist, @jeneeinkc