Personal, Stories Told

Requiem for a Toyota

Have you ever become irrationally attached to something you owned?

Replacement Matrix

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?

MatrixNose

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.

Dog in the wayback

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.

Wagon Full of Sod

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.

Brick Lincoln Highway

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.

Snowy day

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.

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Matrix

Matrix, Parked
Yashica-D
Kodak Ektar 100
2016

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.

Film Photography

Photo: An evening shot of my car parked on the street in front of my house.

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Stories Told

When do you give up on your car?

Ford Toyota

I’ve had a run of bad luck with my two little cars this year. The Ford Focus has seen my mechanic three times. In February, the power-steering pump failed. In March, a check-engine light led to replacing the thermostat and its housing. And then in April, the alternator died – in 65 mph Interstate traffic at 9:30 at night. I limped along at 25 mph on the shoulder and managed to get off the highway before the car shut down entirely. On top of that, my high-mileage Toyota Matrix needed a new axle half shaft and brakes all around. I’ve now invested $2,400 into keeping my two cars going this year. A lot of that cost is labor, as both cars cram the engine and all accessories into tiny spaces, necessitating removing lots of stuff to get at the dead part. Replacing the Focus’s alternator involved lifting the engine partway out of the car!

Repairs are part of the territory when you buy cars that are 6 to 8 years old and then drive ‘em into the ground, like I do. But my opinion about a car changes dramatically when it leaves me stranded. The car has breached a basic trust, and I think seriously about replacing it.

I came really close to putting a For Sale sign in the Focus’s window. But given all the other things competing for my dollars this year and my severe car-payment allergy, I’ve decided to stick with my two old cars. For now. If they don’t act up any more.

How much nonsense do you put up with from your car before you give up and replace it?

I also posted a version of this at Curbside Classic, a site about old cars and their stories. Check it out!

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Old Cars

Why do so many modern sedans look alike?

A version of this post appeared at Curbside Classic a couple weeks ago. I contribute there from time to time. Its primary mission is to document the old cars still rolling on the road, but we consider all things automotive. Check it out here.

Are the world’s automakers all smoking from the same pipe?

Recently Chrysler unveiled its redesigned midsized sedan, the 200, which goes on sale in the fall as a 2015 model. It’s about time; the current 200 is frumpy and dumpy. The new 200 is a sleek, beautiful design.

Chrysler200
2015 Chrysler 200

But wait… where have I seen that form before? Oh, yes, of course – on the midsized Ford Fusion, which went on sale in 2013.

FordFusion
2014 Ford Fusion

And on the new-for-2014 full-sized Chevrolet Impala.

ChevroletImpala
2014 Chevrolet Impala

These cars have a lot of common design elements: high beltline, tall nose, aggressive grile, dramatic side creases, roof that flows smoothly into the trunk lid, and large, round wheel openings. But the signature design element they share is the rounded six-window greenhouse with a kick-up at the tail.

Did Chrysler steal this look from Ford and GM?

Or maybe they stole it from Toyota. Here’s the full-sized Toyota Avalon, which debuted in 2013.

ToyotaAvalon
2014 Toyota Avalon

Even small cars are wearing this basic design. Here’s the current Nissan Sentra, which was new in 2013.

NissanSentra
2014 Nissan Sentra

The compact Dodge Dart, new in 2013, could be the Chrysler 200’s little brother. But given that they’re made by the same company, I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

DodgeDart
2014 Dodge Dart

But it must be coincidence that Buick’s smallest car, the Verano, has worn the same basic look since 2012.

BuickVerano
2013 Buick Verano

Ford’s small cars wear similar six-window greenhouses, although the rear-window kick-up is far less dramatic. Here’s the current Focus, which debuted in 2012.

FordFocus
2012 Ford Focus

And here’s Ford’s Fiesta, also new in 2012.

FordFiesta
2014 Ford Fiesta

Finally, even Honda’s compact crossover, the CR-V, got into the act in 2012.

HondaCRV
2014 Honda CR-V

I’m used to cars by the same maker wearing similar or even identical styling. GM was king of this for decades. They made one basic car, put different front and rear clips on for each of their brands, and sold them by the boatload. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many similarly-styled cars across so many different makers. I find this six-window styling to be plenty attractive – but I guarantee that ten or fifteen years from now when these are all cheap wheels on the used market, we’ll all look at them and say, “That styling is so mid-2010s!”

Wanna see some classic car style? Then click here and here and here.

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Stories Told

Cars of a Lifetime: 2003 Toyota Matrix XRS

My Cars of a Lifetime series ends today over at Curbside Classic, and it makes me a little sad.

SnowCoveredCar

My last story is about the second Toyota Matrix I’ve owned, this one a top-of-the-line model with a more powerful engine.

This is the same car that got rear-ended twice last year and had several other cosmetic mishaps that has left it looking quite forlorn. My poor car just couldn’t catch a break!

Go read the whole story now over on Curbside Classic.

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Stories Told

Cars of a Lifetime: 2003 Toyota Matrix

My Cars of a Lifetime series over at Curbside Classic is quickly reaching the present day. Today I write about my little red Toyota Matrix.

My car

I ended up with this car in my divorce, and it turned out to be a great little hauler. Well, except for the multi-thousand dollar repair, which came a few months before I wrecked it.

I owned this car when I started blogging, and have shown you many photos of it and told many stories about it. But now I’ve had a chance bring them all together.

So now go over to Curbside Classic to read all about it!

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