Owning a car is a relationship. You need to know how to get along.
There are two ways you can think about car ownership. You can...not think about it, like you don’t think about any other appliance, until it breaks or otherwise doesn’t meet your needs. It’s never going to make you happy, because you will only notice it when something goes wrong. But it won’t make you unhappy, because you don’t really care about it.
Many people are content to live that way, which is fine; but it isn’t a relationship. A relationship with your car opens you up to, yes, more heartache; but also to joy. Or at least more fun when you’re driving and why wouldn’t you have that if you could? Like any relationship, though, it requires some effort on your part, to listen to your car and learn how to get the most out of it.
1) Literally listen
We all pay attention when there’s a clunk and something starts making a “wuppa wuppa wuppa” noise underneath, but that’s just the bad stuff. Your car relationship gets better if you listen for the good things. Unless it’s a total heap, there will be particular rpm ranges where your engine sings, where you get the best kick when you put your foot down. Learn those points and live in them.
2) Explore your limits
*cough*. Your car is capable of far more than you probably imagine. Let’s look at something completely uninspiring, say, last year’s Nissan Titan pickup, before it got this year’s diesel engine. Your base model stickered at $29,000 and came with a 317hp V-8. That got it to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, which is like an ‘80s Z/28 Camaro. Get yourself in a straight line on the highway sometime when you need to get up to speed, and stand on it. Any modern car is faster than a million-dollar old Ferrari. Finding out what you can do will make every driving moment better.
3) Treat it to a little something
I can’t repeat this enough—with only a few parts, you can completely change the way your car feels. They are: good shocks or struts (not Midas); good brakes (again, not Midas); and most importantly, good tires. Yes, a set of proper summer tires (or ultra high-performance all-season if you drive an SUV; save your factory all-season tires for December and January) is going to cost you, but it’s going to feel like a new, better car as well as being about 40 times safer.
4) Go out
Do you ever drive for fun, or do you just commute and do errands and basically just get from one place to the other? You can do both, you know. Go out to the Cherohala Skyway this weekend, make a little round trip through Deal’s Gap and lean on it coming out of the corners. Remember that you’re probably nowhere near your vehicle’s limits. It’s OK to have the tires squeal a little. Bring that knowledge back with you and start enjoying on-ramps a little more.
5) Make quality time
Everyone used to be out in the driveway on the weekend washing the car, gapping the plugs, setting the timing, all the little chores we just don’t do any more. I’m not saying you need to crawl underneath your Escalade and grease the zerks, but how about an extra trip to the car wash, or that detailing I’m always pushing? Tim, the nice mobile detailing guy, will even come to you and make your car all happy and nice while you do whatever it is you do. If you’re into that sort of thing.
The difference between a car and any other inanimate object you might own is that this is the only one you travel in every day. It should be different, and you should treat it differently. It should be a whole lot more meaningful, and fun.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. He welcomes the inevitable and probably richly deserved kvetching about Air Bag and anything else on Twitter as @proscriptus.
Photo: Tom Romig