Do cars have feelings?
This question haunts me whenever I am in the market for a new automobile. My BMW X5 is currently one month from its lease expiration. I know it, my bank knows it, and my BMW sales rep certainly knows it as evidenced by his near daily texts and phone messages reminding me that a 2017 Hybrid X5 would sure look “sa-weet” in my garage.
I can only hope my car doesn’t know it, for I fear what lies ahead if it gets wind that its days are numbered.
Much like a dog can sense when its owner is headed out of town and its temporary destination will be a kennel (or compassionate relatives), cars can feel when a separation is imminent. Problem is, they also know that separation will most likely be permanent.
Even if they have been bathed and hand dried regularly, allowed to flex their muscle courtesy of owners who pushed the speedometer to digits illegal in all 50 states, and spent their downtime under sealskin covers in heated garages, they still don’t understand their owners eventually want something else. A new color, more horsepower, cheaper payments, a multi-lingual GPS system, doesn’t matter.
The car always exacts revenge.
I discovered this with my first car, a used 1978 Oldsmobile Omega. That car towed all my possessions from Chicago to South Florida, as I prepared for my first newspaper job. For two years, it endured scorching sun on its hood, beach sand in its tailpipe, and, one terrifying weekend, hurricane force winds that threatened to rip its side mirrors from their mounts.
All I ever did was change the oil.
Until the day I decided it was time to make my first “adult” purchase, a new automobile. I drove the Omega to various showrooms, showing it off to sales people and saying it was worth every penny of its trade-in value.
“She’s a real beauty,” I said, sounding more like the sales reps who pounced on me the minute I set foot on their property.
Driving home that evening, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and noticed a slight gap in the automotive headlining surrounding the car’s dome light. Probably nothing, I assured myself.
The next morning the gap had expanded significantly. The headlining was slowly separating from the car’s roof. My choice of repair tools — duct tape, glue and a staple gun — proved fruitless. Suddenly I had draperies in my back seat, not exactly a selling point unless one owns a ’60s-era Volkswagen van. The sales rep gave me $50 for the car and demanded I thank him for his generosity.
Other cars I’ve owned also developed serious maladies around trade-in time. A Pontiac Grand Prix suddenly needed its first ever brake job; a Honda Civic kept shifting to “stall” mode; and a window crack mysteriously appeared on an Oldsmobile Aurora, spidering its way across my field of vision until I was forced to replace the entire front glass pane four days before my new car arrived.
This is why I now start my BMW’s ignition with the same trepidation as a compulsive gambler deeply in debt to mobsters. This car has performed like a champ in multiple snowstorms, and even shared in my jubilation when the Cubs clinched the National League pennant, for I was listening to the game on its radio, on a lone stretch of Iowa interstate, when the final out was made.
Surely it understands the rules of a three-year lease, right?
While gently stroking its front bumper one evening, I reminded it that I had already exceeded the lease agreement’s allotted mileage limit. “If that’s not love, I don’t know what is,” I said. “Please, please don’t take it personally.”
In other words, please don’t let me find a puddle of transmission fluid on the garage floor before my final payment.
I’m not sure the car heard me. But I’m not taking any chances. I’m heading to the Chicago Auto Show this weekend.
And I will take public transportation.