The first car we bought in Chicago was a ten-year old Mercury Tracer. I had been against buying a car, since we lived a block from the Montrose el station and were able to take the train to work. Getting groceries was a little challenging, but doable. Peter really wanted a car though and when one of my friends from work was selling the car cheaply (and was willing to teach me how to drive a manual transmission car), we decided to buy it.
The Tracer was a perfect first city car – we never had to worry about it getting dinged or stolen. It was very reliable for an old car. After awhile, we discovered a long-term health problem, a leaking valve-y thing or something that sometimes caused the car to burn oil briefly when we started it up. It would have been very expensive to fix but as long as we checked the oil frequently and topped up when necessary, the problem was mostly just an annoyance. We were betting that by the time the valve was entirely shot, we'd have gotten a new (or at least a new-to-us car).
We bought the car in the summer and the winter was an adventure. When it got cold, there was always the chance that an old car like that wouldn't start. We'd talk to the car – his name was Baby Toly (short for Anatoly, since we'd bought him a Communist. I mean a Socialist. ☺) "Comon, Baby Toly. You can start. You can do it." For an old car, Baby Toly was extraordinarily reliable. Even on the day it was so cold that the locks froze and we had to climb in through the hatchback, Baby Toly always started.
Until, of course, the day that he didn't start. I still remember standing in the parking lot of a drug store, waiting for the tow truck. Not a great feeling. After that day, we could never really trust Baby Toly quite the same way as we had. He might start. He might not. When he didn't start, it usually meant we were going to have to pay what my brother called "the used car random crippling balloon payment."
That's the thing about a used car – once the trust is gone, it's very unsettling. You wonder all the time – "Are you going to strand me today?" "Are we going to have to spend the vacation money to replace some part I've never heard of?" "Is it a bad sign to know the tow truck driver by name?" Of course, living in Chicago, you nearly always have other options so an untrustworthy car is an annoyance and a money sink, but it's not the end of the world.
Living in the Middle of Nowhere, having a car you can trust is essential. Because cars and insurance are so expensive in Ireland, I can't really see us ever owning a new car. We had to buy a second car and I found the process very frightening. But I really fell in love with my little grey Peugeot so I let myself trust the car.
The trust was quickly broken by a flat battery. (Someone, who shall remain mostly nameless, left the lights on. He was later partially exonerated by the fact that the idiot-alarm that warns you that the lights are still on is somewhat faulty.) But the AA (same as AAA) man fixed that problem without breaking a sweat. So the trust was restored.
Then 4 days later, the car stopped working just outside the next town. Our very kind local mechanic rescued me and fixed the car right away, since I had to drive to the airport later that day. I worried about the car the whole time I was in Dublin. I did not want to be stranded in the airport.
The car started fine and has been mostly starting fine ever since. Sometimes, it takes a second too long to catch or it takes a second try. But, even if it starts every time until the day I trade it in, I will still have a hard time trusting it. (After camogie practise, I start the car first and then change my shoes, just in case there's a problem, I don't want to discover it after my team has already left the car park.) I've learned that not unlike interpersonal relationships, in automotive relationships, once the trust is gone, it's nearly impossible to replace.