She’s been a constant companion. During our time together, we have spent some part of almost every single day in each other’s company. She’s been a true and faithful friend, and I’ve grown to love her. Lately, though, her health has been failing. About a week ago, I learned that she was dying, and I sat down and had a long cry over her.
So it might surprise you to learn that she is my 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara. Maybe you find this devotion amusing or overly sentimental, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not ashamed of my deep feelings for her, or that I’ve grown so attached that the news of her poor health and uncertain future left me in tears. I’m sure I’m not the first person to form a strong attachment to a vehicle. We’ve been together for just over 13 years, and just under 200K miles. There’s a lot of history there.
I never gave her a name. Not unusual for me, as I’ve had a string of vehicles since I began driving some 37 years ago, and very few of them had names. The few that did usually acquired their monikers based on some bad behavior, and not due to any affection on my part.
Cars like the little 1972 Mazda RX-2 that I drove in high school. Back in the ‘70s, Japanese cars had not yet taken over the market, and among my friends, they were pretty rare. My Mazda was a faded yellow, with a black landau roof. It looked a bit like a bumblebee, and was not always the most reliable vehicle. One of my friends dubbed it “the Japanese Breadbox”, and the name sort of stuck.
Years later, when I worked for my brother and was allowed a company car, I ended up in a lovely burgundy Peugeot, straight off the lot. It was a fabulous car! For about six months. Then everything started to go wrong. I drove it for about a year, but it had more problems than any car I’d ever had. We ended up trading it back, and going for something American-made, and more dependable, I hoped.
The Peugeot’s replacement? A maroon red Chrysler LeBaron convertible. She was flashy and sassy and I was delighted with her. Until one cloudy evening when it began to rain and we couldn’t get the top back up. At the time we had no garage, so she couldn’t stay outside without shelter. We called my brother Leo and arranged to leave her in his garage overnight.
The next day he called to tell me that he hadn’t slept, stating that my car was the culprit. He said that her faulty convertible motor, while still unwilling to raise the car’s top, had intermittently triggered his garage door to open and close during the night. Even after we had the motor replaced, other things began to go wrong. Windows would stick open and closed. The battery would die for no reason. We determined the LeBaron was possessed.
We named her Christine, and arranged to dump her as soon as possible. After that, I swore off red cars.
Many vehicles have come and gone over the years. I’ve done my best to be unprejudiced, driving both American and foreign cars, in every color and shape. A green Opel. A blue Plymouth Champ. A black Chevy Blazer. A white Pontiac Bonneville. An enormous bright blue Suburban which I think you could see from space.
A blue BMW – my first and only luxury car. I was very fond of her, but she was a bit of a diva and a nightmare to maintain. When things started to go wrong with her, around year four, and I was pouring $500-$1,000 a month into repair work, she had to go. After that, I swore off luxury cars.
A lovely green Saturn station wagon, which served me so well that I passed her along, first to Celeste, and then to Jarrod. It was a sad and scary day when I got the call from Mark that Jarrod, then a senior in high school, had been on his way home and somehow managed to hit a patch of loose gravel and roll the car. He got a ride to the emergency room in an ambulance, while the Saturn stayed behind to wait for a tow truck. Jarrod sustained a nasty cut on his head that required twelve staples, but otherwise, he was okay. The Saturn was totaled, sadly, but she gave her life to protect my kid, so I always appreciated the gesture.
I can’t tell you exactly why I chose the Suzuki. As I recall, small SUVs were just becoming popular, and I knew I didn’t want another huge vehicle. It needed to be something that could carry lots of kids, supplies, and frequently, a bass fiddle.
I researched the Suzuki far more stringently than any vehicle before her. I test drove her three times before committing to her. One time I even drove her back to my house just to make sure Jarrod’s bass could ride safely. It was a perfect fit.
She had a third row of seats, which I didn’t need very often, but which allowed me to transport Celeste and six of her fellow cheerleaders to and from events. When I wasn’t hauling cheerleaders or a bass fiddle, I hauled groceries, dogs, cats, boxes, luggage, plants, and all the other stuff that busy moms need to haul.
She’s handled all kinds of bad weather and kept me safe throughout. One rainy morning, on the way to work, I was in the passing lane of the freeway I travel every day, when I hit a patch of standing water and began to hydroplane. I lost control of the car, and went into a spin. I KNEW I was about to die. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the inevitable impact.
But it never came. We’d gone from the left-hand lane to the right-hand shoulder, crossing four lanes of traffic during morning rush hour, and making at least one 360 degree turn. And somehow, nobody hit us, and we didn’t encounter a guardrail or bridge abutment. Maybe it was just dumb luck, or a miracle. Who knows? Possibly one of the scariest moments of my life. I came through it unscathed, but with a death grip on the wheel of my little Suzuki.
But now, she’s dying. A worn timing chain is the culprit, although she’s been leaking oil pretty steadily for the last few years. Repairing her would be my preference, but that’s a complex and costly procedure. The mechanic would have to take out the engine to replace the chain, and could replace all her seals and gaskets too. She could probably last another 100K miles.
It won’t be cheap, though. Parts and labor would run to a total that is higher than her current value. Probably not a wise expenditure. Even our ace mechanic didn’t recommend it.
For now, she sits in the driveway, waiting for us to decide her fate. It may be time to let go, and move on.
But I just don’t think I’m ready.