Don Sanderson: This Old Car


This Old House is a quite popular television program and magazine. Back in the old days when we had television, I used to enjoy watching. Our present home is a rental, but one with which we have free rein to redecorate the inside and landscape the outside in my usual wild permaculture way. If something needs fixed, such as the new furnace/air conditioner we just got, and not a cheapee, the owner takes care of it. And, he eats the depreciation housing is now undergoing. We’ve owned homes before, but the overhead was always a problem. Give me a rental every time, assuming I can find a landlord such as the present one. This has been our home for a decade and we fully expect it to be for the foreseeable future. Wait, I really intended to talk about cars.

We have a ’92 Crown Vic that we purchased a dozen years ago. It has six cylinders and burns between 22 and 25 miles per gallon, so Obama didn’t want it. I don’t have any idea how fast it will go, but I’ve held it for many miles above 110 on 5 between the Bay Area and LA. It is wonderful to drive, steady as a rock, like a cop car but with a smaller motor. The speedometer claims it has gone 215,000 miles, so it surely must be getting ready for the garbage dump?

Recently, we noticed that the coolant was dropping rather faster than we liked, so we took it to our favorite local mechanic. Whoa, he said, under pressure there is water spurting out at one point in your head gasket. There was no water in the oil, so the spurt was only to the outside, a real win. The mechanic said it can’t be safely driven, because the gasket could completely fail at any moment. We can remove the head, he to us, replace the gasket, and repair any valve problems in the process for about $2,500, but the car is so old that this surely isn’t worth it? We thought only moments and told him to go for it.

Over the past few years, we’ve replaced the rear end and axles, rebuilt the transmission, installed new steering rods, replaced the front seat with bucket seats I helped remove from a ex-cop car, installed a new ignition system and muffler, and other odds and ends. Recently, I had the brakes repaired and purchased new tires. Since we drive very little, just to Ukiah and back mostly with very occasional trips to Healdsburg, Laytonville, and Santa Rosa, I’d guess these repairs have been performed in the last 50,000 miles, mostly much less. So, how old is this car really?

The entire cost of all these repairs and the regular oil changes, which we’ve never missed, I’d guess is about equal to six months’ payments on a new Japanese car, or the price of a used one eight or ten years old, of whatever kind. Neither of which count the repairs needed. The glory of the Crown Vic is that the motor is very reachable, very easily worked on, unlike almost all newer cars. The body is also hard steel, not that plastic, so if someone hits us with something newer, it is clear who is going to pay.

So, we have a car that was built in Detroit in the old days when Ford was a solid company. It has been repaired entirely by local mechanics and never taken into a dealer. Though it has its dings, we quite love it and expect to have it the rest of our driving lives. Anyhow, metal bodies are cheap and easy to repair and pretty up. A plus, of which we often remind ourselves, we haven’t burdened the Earth with the three or four lesser, if more price and environmentally expensive, cars we might have. I’m told that in the poorer world, many keep their cars purring similarly. I expect that is America’s future. No problem, particularly if you can find an older solid American-built car or pickup – we just purchased a ’95 Dodge Ram. Who was it said, “Think small? ” I’ll add, “Think old.”