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Prompted By Car Trouble

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One of my father’s new cars

I had no idea what car trouble was until I was married and relying on used cars to start and get us to our destination. As a child growing up in the Motor City, (Detroit) a shiny new car was something my father bought every 2-3 years. He believed in trading in his GM car before it was old enough to need repairs.

Our Dodge Dart was this color but not this pretty

After buying our first used car, a 1960 Dodge Dart with push button transmission, we learned the value of having a good mechanic.

After buying our first used car, a 1960 Dodge Dart with push button transmission, we learned the value of having a good mechanic. Judging by its battered exterior and low price, that car had been in some serious trouble. My husband barely made it off the expressway with stream coming from the engine and coasted into a long relationship with Ardido’s Auto Repair.

We bought our next car from our brother-in-law, which turned out to be a lemon. It would stall at unpredictable and dangerous times. That beauty epitomized car trouble and Ardido declared it beyond repair. After that, we stuck to new cars and had a few fairly reliable ones we were able to drive for many years and easily repair and maintain. We kept our Chevy Chevelle for ages, followed by a bright yellow Chevette. After that, my husband stuck with Toyota Camrys and later transitioned to Priuses. Toyota proved to be reliable and he experienced little car trouble.

A safety disaster

When we added a second car to accommodate suburban living, my first mom-mobile was the Chrysler Town and Country wagon, bearing the license plate MOM395. The main trouble with that car was the way we used it. We folded down all of the back seats to transport car pools and take road trips that permitted our kids to play freely. No seat belts, of course. This car also featured third row seating, the “way back,” that faced the road behind us. When I had to sit there because we were transporting four adults and five kids, I was horrified by how unsafe it felt. Thinking about this car by today’s standards, with kids in car seats until they turn eight, I feel grateful my children survived.

The Astro van — so ugly and lots of car trouble

I was an early adapter of the minivan concept. My first one, a Chevy Astro, was basically a box on wheels. Hit a lot of curbs with that car. After enduring a few years of teasing, I moved up to a Jeep Wagoneer that I eventually gave to our daughter for college, replacing it with the Toyota RAV4 (first a white one and later a black one). These cars were pretty reliable but I wanted to try something different and bought a Honda CRV, which my husband and I share now that we have downsized to one car. It’s definitely harder to repair because of its computerized features. Our granddaughter is driving my husband’s 2008 Prius (yikes).

Of all of these cars, the most reliable and least likely to get us into car trouble were the Camrys. We drove our last one forever and then gave it to our daughter, who was in graduate school in Minnesota. It survived the terrible winter weather there and became her first car after she married. She dubbed it the “Smart Kid-Mobile” because it had stickers from Harvard, Brown, and Duke all over its back bumper. In the end, we sold it to the daughter of a friend who wrecked it within a month. Alas, the car had met its match and was beyond repair. But the new driver was fine, so that car was by far the least trouble of any we owned.

We really need to buy a new car, but there are none at dealerships to test drive. They are so computerized that they will create a new form of car trouble for us. Can we figure out how to operate a 2022 vehicle? Judging from the problems our friends are having with their new cars, I’m not sure.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Thanx for the Levy car saga, Laurie!
    My husband – foolishly I think – hates to part with his cars and insists on keeping them – and keeping up with the needed repairs – for decades!

    Our newest car is a 2017 Subaru – still new by his standards – but we also have a 1994 BMW that I finally convinced him to donate. But he will NEVER part with his mid-life crisis birthday gift to himself – his 2004 T-bird.

    In fact I wrote my very first Retro story about that car – https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/fender-bender/

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Must be time to hit the electric car market Laurie! I hear there may be rebates on the way and it’s easy to recharge, and it will be perfect for driving around town. Also pricier models with longer ranges. You may be surprised at how trouble-free they can be!

  3. Suzy says:

    That’s quite a history of your cars, Laurie, for better or worse. Interesting that your father bought a new car every 2-3 years, to avoid car trouble. Of course, being new is no guarantee of being trouble-free, as I wrote about in my story of our brand new Chrysler Imperial.

  4. Marian says:

    Oh, good old “Detroit Iron,” we used to call it, Laurie. Loved your recap of all cars you owned and their characteristics. We had a 1964 Dodge Dart with the pushbutton transmission, and I learned to drive on it. Not having been a parent, I bypassed the vans. I, too, am phobic about getting a new car. So much technology to learn!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great collection of car/car trouble/car pictures through the years, Laurie. I am sure that many of these resonated with many of us — they sure did with me. And even those of us not from Motor City rememberl how frequently our parents bought new cars, problems or not. As I recall, “planned obsolescence” by the manufacturers in changing their styles and features drastically every year — and/or just plain shame in driving an older model — drove that unfortunate trend (pun intended).

    Is it now time for an EV for you? We think so for us, but our reliable Hondas keep doing their jobs. Plus, as I wrote about, they rarely have problems I can’t fix.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      We are pondering the EV, but I don’t want to buy a Tesla. This is partly because I detest Musk, but also because my friend has a new one and it feels more like a huge computer than a car. We could go with a hybrid but aren’t sure about the Prius vs Camry. Of course, there are no cars to look at or test drive in showrooms right now. People are putting deposits on cars without even seeing them. So, we will wait to see what happens in the next year. Sigh.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    As another Motor City gal, I understand the concept of trading in cars frequently (of course, my dad was in the car business, so we had new cars every year, until he wasn’t in the business. Then he and my mother kept their cars until the cars gave out. My mom had a Valiant right off the assembly line. That was also push button – really cool; she gave her next one to me to take to Brandeis my senior year).

    I love that you had “mom” cars, that weren’t really all that safe, but you could drive the whole crew around in. We all learned our lessons about seat belts and shoulder harnesses. Interesting to read all the comments about EVs and the infrastructure in place to support them. That and how long the charge lasts, and how far you’ll drive before needing to recharge is part of the decision, once the supply chain issues resolve.

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