Cars have only gotten better over time. Parts are machined more precisely now, cutting down on wear and tear breakdowns. Features once considered luxuries are included on the average model: air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, and powered windows. And cars are safer than ever, featuring dedicated crash protection systems far beyond what we ever had before. The automobiles we drive around in are better appointed and more sophisticated every year.
So why have we seemingly abandoned the pursuit of the open road as a national pastime?
Diminished Auto Maintenance
There was a time when car repair could be a pleasure. In between a round of golf and rooting for the home team, getting beneath the undercarriage of your ride and figuring out how to stop that engine knock was a way of relaxing. Even when we were just taking the family car in for a tune-up, it was an event, a day marked bold on our calendar every couple months.
We were proud of our cars, and the act of maintenance was a form of bonding. It was a connection reminiscent of the time when travel was still by horse; the feeding and brushing of the animal replaced by fuel stops and car washes. In every afternoon spent teaching the next generation how to wax the vehicle and get the swirls out of the finish, we taught lessons about diligence and workmanship beyond the act of basic maintenance. Take care of your tools and they will take care of you. We became more attached to the things and the memories we built around them when we invested our own sweat and elbow grease.
Cars require less personal care now. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in losing this connection, we lost some of the affection for our rides. They barely need to be broken in; their finishes look better longer without much effort; and the companies who build them are less interested in encouraging the home mechanic.1
It’s more cramped under the hood these days. The spark plugs and oil filters are often recessed, and harder to reach without special tools. Much of what we once could fix is electronic, and what isn’t might not need replacing quite so often. For many of us, we just don’t have the skill set to do it ourselves. It was something our dads did, but we no longer have the time or the tools to practice the art.
Even having a car has become the default for so long that it has started to lose some of its gloss. Car ownership has hit market saturation. We have reached a point where getting a license has started to slip from a rite of passage to just another government mandated hassle for an increasing number of potential drivers. If that sounds odd, just look at the statistics. Teenagers and young adults are getting their licenses later or never at all.2
There isn’t clear evidence as to what is causing this. It could be the combination of the still painful recession and rising gas prices. Perhaps the connectivity of modern technology makes physical transit less important to recent generations. In any case, these are kids whose fathers, and father’s fathers likely foamed at the mouth in anticipation of their first ride, but the thought of driving no longer appeals to them.
In a sense, this has been happening since Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway act into place in the 1950’s. For those of you not old enough to remember, the Pixar flick “Cars” dramatized the results and the eventual closing of the iconic Route 66. The roads that were once a means for leisure had been made efficient. They serve to get us from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss, if at the price of our sense of wonder and discovery.
And the autos are following suit. Between Google and the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenges, self driving cars are quickly becoming a thing. Google’s manned autonomous fleets reached half a million miles without human intervention in 2013.3 Pundits are claiming all cars will be self driving by the year 2050.4 And it’s little wonder, vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injuries and death in the U.S. with approximately 2.2 million people a year hurt in a crash. Self driving cars promise to lower that figure, and if the technology proves true the changeover seems inevitable.3
But that isn’t today. There isn’t a thing in the world like finding yourself in the driver’s seat on a beautiful day with nowhere in particular to be: when your favorite song comes on the radio and the setting sun breaks free from the trees on the side of the road to wash the world in light; or maybe listening to the motor growl a solo as you feel the acceleration, the wheels biting into the curve of a back country road. It doesn’t feel like an endangered experience, especially when you want to be anywhere but dwelling on morning traffic. But it’s something we might not always have, and there won’t ever be anything to replace it once it’s gone. So the next time you find yourself behind the wheel of your car, take a moment to indulge your inner driver.
And if you want to add some spice to your commute, consider stopping by Car Credit. We can help you slip into something a little more comfortable. Car Credit has a selection of autos to give you a taste of what your father grew up on. It’s still there after all this time, a little smoother, different than it might once have been. But this is a love affair that runs deep in the heart of the land. It will not be so easily forgotten.
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