There is a basic moral principle that we are called to love people and use objects. If I reverse those priorities, I’m not even on the slippery slope, unless that slope is a 60% grade and bare but for a foot of smooth ice, a guarantee of imminent moral failure.
I’ve been pondering that principle and trying to use it to gain some perspective on a bit of sadness that I feel. Tomorrow is my last day with my 2005 Toyota RAV4 and I am surprised by how that fact bothers me. There is a brand-new car waiting for me, exactly what I want, the result of a great deal that I negotiated with two car salesmen, and that is really exciting, but right now, I feel a bit disappointed at giving up my little truck, what I have come to call “Blue” in the last week. It never even had a nickname until now.
Let’s be clear: objects are not sentient. They don’t think or feel or regret or aspire. They don’t have vices or virtues, don’t sin, don’t have souls. When a machine has a tendency to work well or badly, that is not personality as it would be in a human, but simply a percentage-probability outcome based on design, materials, and care in construction. Rationally, I have made a great bargain for myself and an exquisitely rational decision in regard to this transportation machine, but I also see how something like a house or a vehicle comes to be imbued with feeling.
I bought my RAV4 in December 2004, replacing a new Honda Civic that I only kept for a year because it was built in the first year after a redesign and it was having some odd problems, including a door handle ready to come off. I was starting to do more things outside and when that Civic got stuck in a Wendy’s parking lot while following tire tracks through perhaps two inches of snow, that was the last straw. I’ve never been afraid of storms and I was an all-weather driver in a fair-weather car. The Civic had to go.
I considered a Honda CRV to replace it but the dealer wasn’t responding to my inquiries. Subaru Forester is consistently at the top of the small SUV class in Consumer Reports but they are boxy little station wagons so I looked at the RAV4 instead.
In December 2004, I was serious enough about my girlfriend to ask her to look at the RAV4 with me before I signed anything. She told me later that when I did that, she knew that I really liked her. Six months later, she was my fiancée, and a year later, she was my wife. Now she has been my ex-wife for over a year.
That RAV4 helped me to move in with my wife, then to move out when we separated, then briefly move in with family before going a long way to a new and strange town. It brought me joyfully back to my home county six months later. It has been a good moving truck and part of the delay on taking delivery of the new one is the need to finally get some stuff out of the trunk.
Blue took me to many job interviews, first days, and first dates. I gave up a lot of nervous sweat in that truck and the air conditioning still works very well. There was a lot of thermal sweat, too – gym sessions, hikes, park and church service projects. I have made the last eighteen consecutive Lewes Polar Bear Plunges so figure that the majority of them were made from this truck. A vehicle joins the other ways that we measure life, in jobs, homes, and lovers.
I came to appreciate the four-wheel drive and the six inches of ground clearance, enough to get me through the deepest water or snow or over the highest curbs that I would attempt. Blue never got stuck. In fact, wherever I took us, Blue always got us home, wherever that happened to be at the time.
I had Blue for almost eleven years and over 153,000 miles and the engine and transmission are still running really well. On the day that I made the deal to replace it, Blue passed inspection with no trouble and even the battery tested as ready for another winter. That makes it harder to replace it, knowing that I don’t have to give it up, but that in turn made it easier for me to negotiate a good deal, like interviewing for a job when you already have a job, without the smell of desperation. I could easily have walked away if I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. If I had been unreasonable then the dealer would not have given it – there’s no charity, no favors, no kindness – beneath the free coffee and the small-talk is all hard-core business. I heard that it was the last day of the month and they needed one more car to make a quota and a bonus, the invitation to ostensibly take advantage and the imagined thrill of the kill, the adrenaline rush overriding logic. I was tired, hungry, and mildly sick from a head cold and I don’t make major decisions under those conditions, so I waited a day – until the first day of the next month.
The dealer honored the terms offered on the previous day, in the previous month. The quota and bonus were probably real but this deal started in September and counted for that month. Again, though, if they had balked, had asked for more money, Blue would still be running in late October and I would have just come back. Blue served me well one last time.
However, the list of problems not worth fixing was growing. I had lost many of my dashboard lights. The sunroof, admittedly a luxury under most conditions but less so during a blistering summer, had finally died, mercifully closed and with a tight seal. The lost paint in the back, where another Wawa patron and I mutually backed into each other, had turned orange. The spare tire cover was coming apart and I was contemplating that great solve-all, duct tape.
Over the years, I learned about how Blue worked and that saved me on repairs. When the ride felt wrong, I brought it in to find broken sway bars. When the engine smelled wrong, I brought it in and caught a burning water pump before it blew up and took the rest of the engine. The sway bars were not a big deal but when I had to pay for the water pump, that was expensive but if I didn’t repair it then I had to replace the whole truck and what could I get worth having for less than the cost of the repair? Blue runs great but what if something else major goes wrong? Can I still trust it in dubious neighborhoods or on long trips? No, not trust – the belief that another person will act in my best interests – am I still confident in the percentage-probability that it will not fail in a significant way? At eleven years and 153,000 miles, no. Blue is ready for another adventure, as a perfect first-car for a younger man. The repairs that make no sense for me will be cheap for a dealer to make and clean up and resell.
I had looked at Car Sense, considered the possibility of a CRV with two years and maybe 20,000 miles. That would make sense, a bit of variety and the likelihood that I will keep my next truck until it’s wearing out and getting dicey. It would be crass to give the financial details but I am getting a new car for less than what Car Sense or its competitors want for something gently used. I’m getting zero years and zero miles and other benefits as well.
As for variety, well, you buy your next bottle of Glenfiddich Solera 15 because you liked the last one. There were other options but Blue was great for me and if I get that again, I will be very happy. My new RAV4 is waiting on the back lot, marked SOLD. It has a factory sunroof and a back-up camera and all-wheel drive with a better transmission and an economy mode and an actual interior thermostat instead of simply turning on heat or air conditioning.
The names of car colors are ridiculous and I told the sales guys this. Even Toyota’s white is called “Super White.” Blue was and is royal blue but back in 2005, Toyota was calling that color "Spectra Blue Mica." My new RAV looks a lot like coffee and the color is called Pyrite Mica. The colors are like the styles of women’s underwear, “Passion for Comfort” being different from “Comfort Ecstasy” and completely different from “Comfortable Passion” or something. They won’t call it “Comfortable but Boring” or “Cute and Mildly Unpleasant” or “Sexy and Annoying” any more than Toyota will call a red car a red car (it’s Hot Lava) (never mind that Cold Lava would be a rock). I’m a guy. I’m not working from the Crayola 64 box. Let’s start with the 8 box and go one step up only if truly necessary. "Spectra Blue Mica" sounds like a lacy bra.
“Pyrite Mica” (coffee with maybe 1 cream and 2 sugars) looks different enough and I will be getting a new license plate, with letters that would be great in Words with Friends. It’s going to be fun and I expect it to be as solid as what it replaces. It’s a significant financial commitment but it is still an it, a thing, a transportation machine. God bless the hands that built it and brought it to me and even the hands that sold it to me, and God have mercy on the adventure that I will have in it.