By Al Vinikour
One of the joys of a lifetime is taking home a brand new car (or even a used one which is new to you). You take the family for a spin, wash it repeatedly and often for the first few weeks…and then like an old mule you put it to use toiling through the seasons. Since I am on the road more than the average bear I notice a lot of things that are vehicle-related. First and foremost I look for exotic and/or standout cars (no Chevy Cobalts for these eyeballs). Then I look for vehicles that have withstood the test of time—in terms of health. Given enough time I also look at those poor bastards of vehicles that have taken a turn for the worse and, rather than given an honorable death or even sent to a vehicular nursing home, are ridden until the last foot of service is gotten out of them.
Few things are sadder than to see an older car or truck that has developed the manufacturing equivalency of leprosy… or even worse, cancer. The other day I was driving down the street to stop in at a 7-11 and purchase one of their fine, gourmet Oscar Meyer tube steaks, when I pulled up next to an early-‘90s Ford F-Series pickup. At first I thought it had an unusual tri-tone paint, which would have been very un-Ford. It had a green top and white upper trim paint. Below it I thought it sported black paint. But as I looked at it deeper I realized it was not black paint at all. Rather, the body had been so eaten away by rust that large patches of nothing appeared. The truck looked like the official vehicle of the Molokai Leper Colony in Hawaii.
Even though the vehicle was about 20 years old there’s no reason it should have been allowed to decay so badly. It seems to me that during that era the manufacturers were touting their “long-lasting” or “rust-proof” exteriors. If “Quality is Job #1” then this poor bastard of a truck must have been orphaned by the factory as it was being built. Granted, there are a lot of environmental circumstances that could be responsible for something this degrading, like flooding, excessive salt used to deice winter roads, an incessantly-blazing sun that constantly beat down on the metal and eventually wore it down (like using a magnifying glass on an ant colony) or just plain neglect. But what would have it cost the factory to include a little preservative in the paint process at the time of construction? Bupkis, that’s what. But, as with any other good idea the engineers and designers have, by the time Purchasing gets through de-contenting a vehicle it’s a wonder there’s still window glass and five or more lug nuts left on it. These genie-asses can probably tell you at what hour the first traces of rot will appear on metal… and I guarandamntee you it would coincide with the end of the vehicle’s warranty.
I have never seen a vehicle’s body erode to the point of crumbling on its frame but I strongly believe if I would have had the heart to follow this poor truck for many more miles—or even hours—I would have witnessed such an occurrence. The point of my sermon is this: there is NO reason for a vehicle to fall into such a state of disrepair through no fault of the owner. Maybe he (or she) could have prolonged the inevitable, but for how long is anybody’s guess (except maybe Purchasing’s).
Should this indignity befall your family’s personal transportation at least have the decency to let the vehicle end its life away from the prying eyes of others. Take it to a junkyard, part it out and burn the remains or just pay a couple of kids a few bucks to bury it in an abandoned field somewhere. Think of this poor vehicle as a member of the family who gave you years of faithful service and never asked for much except to be fed gasoline and oil, and get an occasional lube job. I’m one of those people who believe machinery has a soul, and if somebody believes in reincarnation but treats their car with nothing but neglect to the point it disintegrates in front of the entire world, I can only hope in the next life this person comes back as a 1973 Ram Van that has more cancer than the entire citizenry of Chernobyl.