Saying goodbye to my old car after 14 years

After fourteen years and 230 thousand miles, the time finally came to retire my car. When the mechanic gave me the estimate to repair the wheel bearings and clutch, I knew it was too much. The car was too old. It was time.

Saying goodbye to my old car after 14 years

I was surprised to feel nostalgic, as if someone in my family was moving far away. I wasn’t prepared for that. I’m not sentimental, and I’m not the kind of person who builds an attachment to ‘things’. Besides, there was nothing special about the car. It was just a Subaru Impreza. No big deal.

When I was young, I had an intense relationship with cars. My first two cars had been very used Alfa Romeos. One suffered an accident, the other threw a rod. The cost of repair was more than the cars were worth. I moved on to a 1967 Mustang which I bought from a friend’s father for 700 bucks. But after that, it seemed all the cars I drove became less interesting one after the next. I owned at least a dozen cars before I bought the Subaru, but none of them (with the possible exception of my 1966 VW Beetle) were ever as cool or as much fun as the Alfas.

I felt worse saying goodbye to the Subaru than to my Alfas. And believe me, I loved the Alfas. My parents and siblings still joke about them the way they might joke about an old girlfriend who broke my heart.

The Subaru and me had history. I bought the car brand new at a dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2002. It was there for the birth of my son. It drove us home from the hospital. I still remember strapping my baby’s tiny body into the car seat and driving 30 miles an hour on I-25, my heart racing with fear. I had to keep this fragile little creature alive.

The Subaru helped me build two houses. I must have made hundreds of trips to the Home Depot, loading the car down to the ground with dozens of sacks of concrete. And how many times did I drive with 12-foot planks and 2x4s sticking out the back hatch and out the front passenger window? It was a workhorse. A pickup truck that wasn’t a pickup. For fourteen years it labored alongside me and never complained.

The car moved us to Florida. It survived Hurricane Charley in August 2004. At the time I was working for the local paper and I remember racing south on a deserted I-75 to Punta Gorda to photograph the damage minutes after the category 4 storm passed.

Four years later the car survived my divorce.

The Subaru might have lacked character, or personality. But fourteen years—it’s the longest I’ve ever owned a car. And it never gave me any trouble.  It was everything the Alfas and the Mustang had never been: reliable, steady, hardworking.

Also  read: 5 Cars that will make you feel young again

Saying goodbye to my old car after 14 years

A few years ago my older brother backed into the side of the Subaru with his Jeep. The whole front right fender was crunched like an old accordion. He promised to get it fixed, claimed he had friends who would do it cheap, he’d get it done. Promise.

He never did.

When that little accident happened, we were sitting in his Jeep. My son, who at the time was 9 years old, cried. I figured he was just startled by the fender-bender. But now I understand. The Subaru was his car. It was the one steady thing in his life. It had driven him back from the hospital and stayed with him ever since. We’d lived in two different houses, and his mom and I were divorced. But the Subaru was always there.

So the other day, as I drove away from the dealership in my new car, I looked back at my old Subaru and felt guilty for what I was doing. It was as if I had betrayed the old car. But how do you tell a car you have to move on?

The truth is that I had been unfaithful to the Subaru. In the last couple of years, as I drove by used car dealerships, I’d check the prices on the windshield of the cars and fantasized of buying a used Mini Cooper, or Honda or BMW. Sometimes I’d even browse websites for special deals on new cars. Once, I even went so far as to visit the VW dealership to test drive a Golf Diesel (pre-emissions scandal).

But I never took action on those dreams because deep down I loved the old Subaru. Maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. We bonded quietly as life happened. And as with all good things, it had to come to an end.

When I asked the dealer what would happen to my car after I traded it in, he said someone would probably buy it at auction and ship it to some place in Latin America. “They’ll probably turn it into a taxi,” he said.

Well, I hope one day I’ll be lucky enough to step into a taxi in Lima or Santo Domingo or Rio, and be reunited my the car, my dear friend.  

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe's novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil's Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!