Have you ever missed a car you owned after you sold it?
I miss my old blue Toyota Matrix. A lot. Above you see it shortly after I bought it, in 2009. The photo is from its first road trip, along the National Road in western Indiana.
I owned this car for nine years, the longest I’ve ever owned a car. I bought it used with about 90,000 miles on it, and I drove it another 90,000. By the time I sold it about a year and a half ago, it looked terrible. It had several scrapes and dents, and the front fascia had broken off. The paint had gone chalky, and had peeled off a large section of the hood and a little on the front bumper.
I bought a used Ford Focus in 2012 to be my primary car, but kept the Matrix. The Focus was terrific to drive, more fun than the Matrix by far. But I never bonded with it like I did this Matrix. I was always happy behind its wheel for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
In the last couple years I owned the Matrix I used it like a work truck, hauling anything and everything in its capacious wayback. By the time I traded it in on my VW Passat, it looked every bit as used up as it was.
I was happy to get my new car, and it’s working out fine for me and my family. But every time I see a Matrix rolling on the road, I find myself hoping to see a for a For Sale sign in the window.
Tomorrow I’ll publish an Operation Thin the Herd report on my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK. Here’s a frame from the previous time I used that camera. I’m not a giant fan of Kentmere 100 — I’ve had terrible luck with its highlights blowing out. Yet my Contessa managed that well in any light. It seems to “get” this budget film.
And just look at the great detail that Tessar lens captured on my former Toyota’s flank. Count those water drops! If you guess focus right, the Contessa does credible close work. But don’t ask it to shoot macro: it focuses down to only one meter.
I might have a couple more rolls of the Kentmere in the freezer. I know which camera I’m putting them through.
At last, a new car. A new-to-me car at any rate: a 2013 VW Passat 2.5 S.
With that, my beloved Toyota Matrix is finally gone. I wrote its eulogy last September (read it here) after it developed several problems that would cost far more to fix than the car was worth. One of those problems made the car a safety risk on the road.
But then I dragged my feet on selling it. In part, I struggled to let go of my baby. In part, other priorities kept winning over selling a beater car. In part, I wanted more from it than the $200 my mechanic offered me so he could part it out.
But then late in January it became essential that my family have three safe and reliable automobiles. My wife and I both own Ford Focuses that, despite age and high mileage, are entirely roadworthy. I had to act, and fast, to replace the Matrix.
My wife and I set a budget and I went shopping. That budget was low enough and time was enough of the essence that my purchase criteria were very broad: under 50,000 miles, good reliability reputation, four doors, usable back seat. I looked at a handful of cars and SUVs before coming upon this Passat.
The back seat is cavernous. Our 6′2″ youngest son can sit back there with easily four inches between his knees and the back of my seat. Finally, a comfortable trip car for the family!
The automotive press panned the 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder engine for lacking power compared to the competition. I’ve not driven other midsize sedans, but this Passat has plenty of scoot for me, especially when I drop the transmission into Sport mode. Whee! Fusions and Accords and Camrys must be blazing quick.
The press also criticized the Passat’s generic styling. Can’t say they’re wrong.
After so many years driving inexpensive economy cars, I feel like a real grown up driving this large, comfortable car. But it feels like a wasteful amount of car for me to drive alone to and from work, which is what I use it for most. I take solace in the fact that it gets gas mileage at least as good as my lamented Matrix and my Focus!
Oh, and the trade-in value on a beater 2003 Toyota Matrix: $750. Score!
One of the cool features of my Toyota Matrix is how its gauges are invisible until you turn the car on. I think the display looks especially cool at night.
Astute readers may be curious as to why my car’s redline is so high, 7,800 RPM. It’s a feature of Toyota’s 2ZZ-GE four-cylinder engine, which was designed by Yamaha and built in Japan. It’s the go-fast engine in Toyota’s ZZ engine family. You’ll find versions of this engine in several Toyotas and, surprisingly, one Pontiac and two Lotuses.
Revving the engine past 6,200 RPM activates a second camshaft profile that boosts speed suddenly and considerably. It feels like turbo and is great fun. Unfortunately, my Matrix is hobbled with an automatic transmission, making it hard to reach the revs necessary to have this fun. If you ever buy a 2ZZ-GE-equipped Matrix (it will have the XRS badge on the hatch), go for the six-speed manual transmission.
I’m still talking about this car in the present tense because I haven’t disposed of it yet. It still has the front-end problems that aren’t worth fixing given the car’s market value. It’s days remain numbered. But with everything else going on I haven’t found time to deal with getting rid of it yet.
Have you ever become irrationally attached to something you owned?
I bought this 2003 Toyota Matrix in 2009 after wrecking my previous car, also a Matrix, on vacation with my sons. My first Matrix had been the base model, but this one was the top-of-the-line XRS with its peppier engine. She’s a blast to drive. I made this photo the day I brought her home from the dealership. Doesn’t she look good?
But after eight years she has rolled over 185,000 hard miles. It’s shocking how badly the paint has worn on this car — it has faded heavily on every horizontal surface, and has chipped off a large portion of the hood. The front ground effects broke off in a mishap, but by then the paint was already in bad shape. I spent the reimbursement check on other things. Her body is scuffed and dented from other minor mishaps, including a low-speed rear-end accident and that time I broke the side mirror while backing out of my garage. Truly, she looks awful.
Systems are failing. I suppose the least of the failures is the windshield-washer motor, but it’s surprising how much you really need it. Yet given her age and condition I didn’t even bother finding out how much it would cost to replace. I just plunked a bottle of Windex into the center console and drove on. More seriously, she’s developed a slow oil leak. And the Check Engine light comes on from time to time to warn me of a problem with the engine’s variable valve timing system. My mechanic’s advice was clear: “Don’t fix it. Not on a car this old. Just keep her oil topped off and drive her gently. She’ll run for a long time like that.” I bought my own OBD II code scanner so I can check for that error code and shut the Check Engine light off.
Key signs your car is a beater: it looks beat up, you are choosing not to fix some of its problems, and you bought your own OBD II code scanner.
When the Check Engine light came on again recently, however, the error code pointed to catalytic-converter failure. And I’d been hearing an ominous clicking sound from the front end when I turned the wheel hard.
You know you’ve gone the distance with an old car when your mechanic calls you by a nickname. “Aw Jimmy,” he said, “I can fix these problems if you want. But it’s gonna cost you big. Two or three times more than this car is worth. You might want to stop and think about whether it makes sense.”
In the end, I let logic prevail over emotion. It’s time to let the car go.
And I’m sad about it. I love this dumb car. I bought it because my first Matrix worked so well for my family. Even though a Matrix is small on the outside, it offers enormous interior room. I could put my two sons, the dog, and a weekend’s worth of luggage in there. We could take on any adventure we wanted in the Matrix.
It has been incredibly useful for moving things. Folding down the back seat opens up a giant cavern of cargo space. I’ve moved an assembled gas grill, a dining room table and six chairs, and many loads of sod. When I recently moved into my new home I moved all my boxes in the Matrix in just a handful of trips.
Along the way she was a great road-trip companion, prowling many old alignments with me. Here, she’s on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, Indiana.
Five years ago, as old age began creeping up on my car, I bought a used Ford Focus to be my daily driver and relegated the Matrix to backup duty. I taught my sons to drive in it and let them use it when they needed a car. I used it like a small van to haul house-project supplies home from Lowe’s. And I drove it to church, because then I drove it at least once a week. Though one especially snowy winter I shoveled her in and waited for the thaw. All together I’ve put just 20,000 miles on her since buying the Ford.
I don’t really need her anymore. I haven’t in a few years, really. But I’m sad to see her go just the same.
I photograph my cars a lot. They’re easy subjects. While the composition here could be a lot more interesting, I love the jewel-like color the Yashica-D returned on Ektar. It makes my beater car’s flank look better than it does in real life. And I love how the camera captured plenty of detail, whether in light or in shadow.