Saturday, August 22, 2015

The cars I've owned

Now that Amanda's starting to learn to drive, we looked at things like insuring her for one of our cars. It turns out we can't do that, because our insurance policies don't allow learners, so we would have to change insurer. How we get round this remains to be seen, but it's going to be expensive.

We would then have to decide which car to insure her for. Which made me think back to the cars I learnt in, and all the cars I've owned since.

My instructors car was an old Ford Escort Mark II, but the family car was a Triumph Toledo. These were all fairly simple cars, basic, but relatively easy to drive.

The first car I owned was a Renault 5, a blue one as I recall. It had a fault with the driver's window - if you opened it you couldn't close it again without taking the door apart. This car met an untimely demise in Godalming, when a local boy racer lost control on a bend and skidded across the road straight into us.

We had to replace that one. There wasn't a great deal of choice available to us as poor students. There was this metallic green Morris Marina with a leather covered roof that I quite liked, but we ended up with a maroon Talbot Solara. This was dull but worthy, although we did need to replace the gearbox when it got completely jammed in reverse (I suspect someone who had been learning to drive in it).

We left that one behind in the UK when we moved to Toronto. Although on its penultimate trip the front driver's side wheel blew out on the motorway at 70, which was fun. And it had only just been into the garage to have the tire checked (they claimed nothing was wrong, so hadn't done that good a job). Unfortunately they had put the wheel back on with air hammers, and I couldn't shift it (although I managed to bend the tire brace, which was quite impressive).

On our return to the UK, we ended up with a Rover 213 saloon. It was nice, not too expensive, and I liked the drive. It's the only thing (other than the mortgage) we've ever taken out a loan for. When it came to replace it we went for the 214 hatchback, but actually went for a slightly older Honda-derived one, they drifted away from Honda and the replacements (I think the later ones had Citroen gearboxes) were never as good. Later, the Rover range got shuffled and we couldn't find one that really suited us.

So the next one was pretty much run of the mill. With the Rover 214 and its replacement, we were having to compromise - making a single car do for everything, so it had to be big enough for children and holidays, while small enough for Melanie to be happy driving around town. So it ended up as a Ford Escort. I think it was a Mark VI, but it had a new engine model that had an entertaining fault. As it warmed up, differential expansion caused air leaks in the head gasket, so about 2 minutes after start it had a propensity to stall. This didn't affect me too much - 2 minutes into my commute it was running hard on a main road, but Melanie's trip home had a stop 2 minutes into the journey and it would cut out every time.

As time went one, managing with one car was starting to become inconvenient, so Melanie got a Nissan Micra. In fact, all she's ever had are Nissan Micras. This meant we could cut the compromises, and have a small car around town and a larger car for the meatier journeys.

Along came the Toyota Avensis. This was a nearly new ex-hire vehicle, but had things like a satnav and air conditioning. It was the facelifted first edition, and for most things I really liked it.

The Avensis was involved in a lot of pain, though. Back in 2002 we went on holiday to France and I broke my arm. Cue Melanie having to drive the Avensis (which she hated driving) in France, following an ambulance that had carted me off to hospital. Then having to drive it home, including navigating the channel crossing. Later, in 2005, I got rear-ended at speed on the A1 - I slowed for queueing traffic, the car behind didn't. That was a big hit, but because it was dead straight, they just had to pull the rear bumper back. The satnav never worked again, though.

In 2006 we were again in France when the gearbox blew on the autoroute. It turns out we were about as close to the broken arm incident as you can get without leaving the autoroute (I've been reluctant to go back to France since). We managed (after a lot of back and forward) to borrow another car to continue the holiday. Then the car was recovered back to the channel tunnel, but the recovery vehicles aren't allowed though, so we had to drive the car (which sounded like it was dragging half the tin cans in europe behind us) onto the train and off again. There was no way I was going to stop, even when I was supposed to to let a first-class passenger in ahead of us. On arrival in England it seized completely at the top of the exit ramp, about 200 yards short of the waiting tow truck.

We replaced the gearbox (relatively cheaply) and it ran for a couple more years. It was a good car, but was carrying a lot of emotional baggage, so again we looked for a replacement.

The current car is a Ford Focus. We didn't need quite as much space as the kids grew older (although getting them and all their junk to and from University isn't quite so easy). It handles well, is easy to drive, and is basically trustworthy. Performance isn't great, fuel economy is awful, and the sound system isn't fantastic. We've had this one a while, and while I don't have any great attachment to it, we don't need anything in the way of a replacement, mileage is low, and the market at the moment really doesn't have any inspirational alternatives.

I've occasionally wondered if we actually need 2 cars at this point. I think that if we just had the one, we couldn't justify getting a second - we could hire one temporarily if needed, or use public transport. But as we've essentially paid down all the depreciation on the Focus, we may as well hold on to it.