In some circles, a person’s choice of automobile says something about that person. Some of us look at automobiles the way that I personally look at sports, both watching the professions and playing them, in that outside of acknowledging they exist, they don’t really have have an effect on my life. For me, growing up in Detroit, automobiles are a huge part of my life. Since Detroit takes pride in being the “Motor City” and since it seems that everyone has a family member or friend that works for General Motors or Ford or one of the parts supplier companies around there, the automobile culture of that area permeates so much of how we see things. I’ve always had an interest in automobiles, be it from an engineering and design perspective or in the access and freedom that the automobile has granted people. I was typically the guy that had more than one car at a time, even if they’re both run down and needed lots of work, as I often found that its difficult to serve all of your desires of automobile ownership in one platform. Plus, redundancy has always been a facet of my overall view of things. That said, as I have grown older, this has changed substantially on my quest to automotive nirvana.
I personally feel that your choice of automobiles, if you consider this aspect of your self a point of importance at all, speaks volumes about you as a person. Automobiles are a very large expense and likely the largest asset that any person acquires before purchasing a home, and one that we spend a lot of time interacting with. Even if you have a short commute each day, you are likely in your car everyday and you interact with it as your transportation, your lunch room, your way to show off a part of your personality, your baby holler, your grocery getter, your garbage can and also your friend that occasionally needs more help than you do. The freedom it grants you can make your day to day chores easier, simply being able to throw the key in and drive places at a whim and with no planning for bus routes or airfare or other forms of transportation. Even if your car is not something you consider to being a major aspect of who you are or an identifier within your social status, it is a part of your life and something that could be leveraged as a reflection of self.
Even if your approach on your interaction with your automobile is that of an accessory at best, acknowledging the expense and volume of interaction we as a culture have with our cars, it is a potential facet of who a person is, and many people will judge this passage as a way to see how you make choices and to see how you use your financial resources, even if you do not consider this implication. It is most certainly not even in the top 10 points of contention I consider about a person when determining their value as a person or evaluating them for anything more than what it might say of their interests, but, at this point in my life, I think much like the pattern of tie that you are you wearing with your suit or what kind of color you paint your house, it does at least superficially say something about your outlook on things and how other people perceive you and how you wish to proceed.
For me, vehicles have run the gamut of needing to look cool when I first got my drivers license, to being able to perform a certain function with optimal utility, which is why I spent so many years driving a Jeep when I lived out in the country and so many years driving pickup trucks as I constantly needed to haul around my stuff as I was moving from place to place often. There is even a point my life where I really just wanted a classic car, which is a testament not so much to an era of which I have fond memories as classic cars of the sixties and seventies were around long before I was, but more as a homage to where I came from in Detroit and again, to “look cool”.
Over time, as my needs evolved, so did my perception of the automobile. In my late 20’s, my needs became more utilitarian, marginalizing my desire for external validation of friends, and I became less focused on form and more driven to function, efficiency and convenience. While my friends began taking on their careers and having large salaries and able to buy status symbol vehicles sensors BMW and Mercedes and Audi, some of them did this under the guise of the performance of the vehicle, but some of them owned up to it, even if just subconsciously, as needing to prove something or needing to belong. Entirely okay if that fulfills your needs. Realizing at some point that utility really serve me better than presentation, I begin looking at station wagons and SUVs. The PT Cruiser, probably my longest running vehicle to date, had a bit of that but was plagued with mechanical problems and ultimately wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It did serve me well for over 4 years but I realize that its functionality was not ideal for me even in my mid to late twenties.
I spent my early 30s trying to find duality, without a child in my life yet and when my wife and I were both autonomous in our own needs, buying reasonable sports cars. I always came back to the Mazda Miata, as it served my purpose very well most of the time. As of this writing, I’m actually sitting in my 11th Mazda Miata, which is currently for sale, but I’m glad I have it as a backup as my primary vehicle is in for schedule repairs with the local Volkswagen dealership. The Miata is a testament to efficiency, if you don’t consider utility to be the largest part of that equation. While there are far more fuel efficient cars out there, I found the MX5 platform to be a reasonable mix of sporty and reliable, fuel efficient and fun, and comfortable enough for my needs. Also, as ridiculous as it sounds, I have used many of my Miatas over the years as pickup trucks. Having a roll bar that is bolted through and a series of bungee straps and ratchet straps allowed me often hilarious but still effective ways to turn my miata into a pickup truck from time to time. Obviously not the most efficient way to haul cargo, but I made it work when I needed to do so. Knowing it’s less than ideal and knowing my list of requirements for a car now include “baby hauling” and “must haul more than just ass”and”seats that don’t hurt my back”, this brings me back to why I have the car I drive primarily now and why I went out of my way, after months of research, to buy this particular one. I feel that it is actually a good reflection of who I am now and why I was so adamant in buying one.
Shortly after the scandal broke about Volkswagen deceiving the regulators about emissions on their turbo diesel cars, I saw this is an opportunity. I have several friends that swear by Volkswagen, as many people are loyal to their brand of car for one reason or another, and it made several points why the TDI platform was quite excellent. Diesel engines, by their very nature, have the tendency to be more efficient than their gasoline counterparts. Thanks to their bulletproof and proven design, combined with a turbocharger, they tend to be relatively reliable and last many miles. Several of my friends that have driven Volkswagens for as long as they’ve been driving have well over 300,000 miles on their current cars. Along with economy and longevity, they also tend to perform much more similarly to a modern gasoline sports car, thanks to lots of torque down low and to get things moving and lots of pulling power to get things done. They may not be incredibly fast and they may not be for everyone, but from utility standpoint, it is very difficult to beat a diesel in terms of long-term value reliability.
As the scandal developed over Volkswagen’s intentional deception, it was clear that their claims of fuel efficiency being over 40 miles per gallon were due to removing restrictions or not including restrictions that are required by the various ecological watchdog groups. Americans, as a whole, tend to think of diesel motors as the belching black smoke contaminating monsters of the 1970s or that ticking truck sitting next to you in traffic, or the “rolling coal” show off in his lifted mud truck or any number of other unrefined, unsophisticated, undesirable traits. This is why you see so few diesel cars on the road, despite so many diesel pickup trucks and commercial trucks throughout America as these classifications of vehicles are known to benefit from this motor design. So many people simply can’t get over the stigma of what a diesel was, forsaking what has come. Looking at the innovations in design and the smog reduction tactics taken by diesels as a whole (even with this deception in mind), the modern TDI found in Volkswagen passenger cars and those found from many other modern manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes have a long way in the last several decades and a lot longer way in the last decade itself, not only being far more efficient but also quiet, stable, easy to find fuel for, and adequat,e if not down right fun to drive, when you add a turbo charger.
I intentionally went with the sport wagon model of the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI because in addition to its added space to haul things, I went after this because I had a purpose in mind. Knowing my life was changing around me over the last few months I had to make the best of it, I decided to pursue a long-term dream of a country wide road trip. You can read more about this and the project attached to it at my other website, drivenfrommadness.com. The 2.0L motor was a relatively new design for Volkswagen, replacing the 1.9L of the old TDI that had grown long in the tooth and had begun to develop issues as these motors and their associated cars became more road-weary. Knowing I would be sleeping in my car between my various stops, I wanted something that was large enough to haul me in my supplies, with plenty of pulling power should I need to pull a trailer or just hold a lot of luggage but I also wanted something that was going to be inconspicuous, under the radar as it were, but still fun to drive and ideal for my needs. I reviewed the Subaru Outback, a Volvo wagon, Ford Flex and a few other cars in the 2005 two 2012 range and of all the ones I found in that price range, the Jetta really seemed the best deal.
When I was initially reviewing them, the cost of them was quite a bit higher, as the diesels are more expensive to buy upfront and slightly more expensive to own as you put fuel in the tank, but the sudden glut of used TDI’s on the market as the of their deception crept through the headlines cause prices to plummet an opportunity to rise. Surprisingly, was to insure this vehicle, even with a turbocharger and fully loaded package that the TDI’s come with, was very reasonable. As the saying goes, station wagons are inherently not cool that again, cool really is in the eye of the beholder. While a 20-year-old version of the would not be caught dead thing, the 35-year-old version of me appreciates not just its functionality, form, economy and all of the other benefits that I sought but I found that I could make it my own version of cool.
So now you have my reasons, what does my Jetta say about me? I’m hoping it says that my old age, and hopefully my experience, led me to make a practical choice that still plays on the fun part of me. I’m hoping that it says that I choose issues like economy and utility over form, not completely sacrificing form function, but trying to find the best of both worlds with the meter ever so slightly to the left toward function. I hope it says that my desire for a bargain, along with being in tune with buying trends and my I trained on a bargain, along with waiting for the opportune time to buy, has netted me a smart buy and has played homage to my inner economist. I guess more than anything, what I think it says about me is that I have taken the practical and made it a priority. I also think it proves that you can find cool and most anything, and make that thing your own, if you’re willing to define your own needs ahead of what the population might think and stand on your own conviction that your decision, based in extensive research, is one you can live with. I also hope it inspires at least a few of you, those who think Volkswagen may be dealing its own deathblow with this deception, to consider that under the surface of the scandal is a potential for all of us to embrace our inner torque dork. Of all the cars of ever owned, and I’ve owned probably 40 or 45 of the this point, the Jetta really seems to speak to me a primal level and I’m okay with that. I will be taking my newly found efficiency and practical decision-making to the bank, and when this Jetta finally is turbo for the last time, I will likely buy a shiny new TDI Jetta unless something else suits me and my newly found desire to be practical and efficient even more closely. Of course, once I have a garage again, something tells me there will be a Miata in need of love packed between boxes of old memories and waiting for the need of a call back to my youth to be answered.