I’ve had my car for eleven years, and yesterday I sold it. It’s a silver Toyota Prius and started out pristine like the one above. Since then it’s collected quite a lot of bashes and dents. A bit like me.
Molly, my youngest daughter, was seven when I bought it, and this week we were sitting in the car, when I told her that we wouldn’t have it much longer. I was surprised at her reaction. ‘Is it going to a new family?’ she whispered, with concern. When I shook my head she lowered her voice further and said, ‘It’s not going for es see ar a pee, is it?’ I said that I wasn’t sure, but it might be, and she patted it kindly.
I’m not sentimentally attached. It’s a car and all I want it to do is to start when I put the key in, and to keep me and my loved ones safe. It’s never once let me down but a recent service showed that there are several expensive problems looming so I decided that the time had come to part company. It’s done many miles and I’ve bumped into a lot of obstacles so I knew that it wasn’t worth very much. I made an appointment and drove it to a supermarket car park on the other side of town. There, I parked next to a PortaKabin and got out for the last time. On first sight the webuyanycar.com representative, Leo, seemed bluff and brisk but as I sat down he looked at me and asked gently if I was upset. ‘People often are,’ he said. ‘You’d be surprised.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘it’s OK. It’s just a car.’
I produced the log book, my driving licence and a recent utility bill. Then I sat patiently whilst the IT system went down and Leo made lots of phone calls and sighed. I was grateful for a quiet few minutes with nothing much to do.
It’s always astonished me that I’ve managed to accrue such a huge mileage on this car. I’ve used it for work commuting and also for what must amount to thousands of school runs. Even so, 216,000 miles seems a lot and my local mechanic obviously thinks so too as he calls it ‘the space shuttle’. But recently a knowledgeable friend told me that he knows of several cars that have done 400,000 miles and some that have done a million. There’s even one Volvo in the US, that’s driven more than three million miles.
I’ve enjoyed having a hybrid car. For one thing, the road tax has been zero and for some years it was exempt from London’s Congestion Charge. And a particular quirk is its quiet engine. There’s almost nothing to hear when you start the ignition. This can be dangerous for pedestrians and on one drive to school through Kentish country lanes, we came up behind a very elderly gentleman walking down the middle of the road with his dog. For several minutes I crept along at walking pace, with Molly and her friend squealing with delight. It seemed rude to hoot and I was worried about frightening him but eventually I had to do something, so pressed the horn as lightly as I could. He whipped round, threw himself into the hedge and we passed silently on our way.
I don’t mind driving a scruffy car. In fact it’s quite a stress reducer. Once you have a few scrapes then you can stop worrying about further damage. But I know that not everyone feels this way. I fell foul of this some years ago when I borrowed my then-husband’s precious Land Rover Discovery and used it to take some rubbish to the tip. As we arrived I was chatting to my youngest son and imagined that I was in my own normal-height car. However, I soon remembered that I wasn’t, when the high-sided Land Rover got wedged under the height barrier. It hung there unhappily and the roof looked as though it had been attacked with a large can-opener. Several staff appeared and walked around with pursed lips. ‘He’s not going to like that,’ said one. Then they helped me unhook it and I drove it home. I knew that ‘he’ wasn’t going to like it so I took a deep breath and tried to soften the blow. ‘I’ve got something to tell you’, I said. ‘I haven’t been having an affair, or beating the children or shoplifting or fiddling my tax, but I have had a little accident in your car’. I’d never seen him so furious. He could barely talk to me for days. Sometimes I wonder whether this marked the start of our terminal decline into divorce.My car has seen me through an exhausting succession of stages. Whilst I’ve had it, I’ve been married, separated, divorced and now engaged again. It’s taken me and my children on many trips up and down the country for university, holidays, and treats. It’s been there whilst I’ve laughed, chatted, listened to Radio 4, explored new music, sworn in frustration at the M25, and rubbed my sore feet at the end of many a long walk. For several years it was also there whilst I cried and raged in despair. And when Molly and I moved a hundred miles to start a new life, it carried us and our belongings.
Eventually, Leo stopped huffing and puffing and announced that the IT was now working. He took his clipboard and walked slowly round the car noting down three pages-worth of dents and scrapes. We did a bit of negotiating on the price and then he scanned my documents. It was very simple. Even though I profess to be unsentimental about objects, I found myself asking, ‘What will happen to her?’ ‘Someone from British Car Auctions will come and collect it,’ he said. I hardened my heart. It’s just a car.
But as I went out, I couldn’t help but lean over and give her a surreptitious little pat and a ‘thank you’ slipped out. It’s about the memories. We’ve been through a lot together. Now it’s time to move on.