The last straw was a broken alternator.
I had been driving my grandfather’s tannish 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier since college (1996 or thereabouts), and it had been experiencing growing mechanical issues, from a wacky fuel pump to a broken air conditioning to an oil leak. But when I got the warning light while driving back from Disney World around the summer of 2001, I thought, OK. It is time.
When I brought in the Cavalier to the local Chevy dealer for an oil change, I went out into the lot to peruse the selection. Not long before I wandered over to the Cavaliers did a salesman approach me.
I had my eyes on a dark blue two-door 2001 Cavalier coupe. When the salesman and I got into the car to take it for a test drive, the steering wheel threw me for a loop. I couldn’t adjust it to get my longish legs inside. And I noticed while there was a CD player, there wasn’t a cassette player (for all you youngsters out there, cassettes are these miniature reel-to-reel tapes that play music).
We hopped out of that Cavalier and got into another dark blue two-door Cavalier coupe. Not only did this have a combo CD/tape player, but it had tilt steering.
Perhaps this was like Bumblebee in the Bayverse Transformers, making sure Sam would pick him as his car. Perhaps not.
The test drive went well. The radio worked magnificently. Actually, it worked too well. The bass was overpowering. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell if they had installed an extra subwoofer. I would end up dialing back the bass under the mid-point, and it was still all about the bass.
I decided this was the car. It took about a week of wrangling with the dealer and the bank to get everything finalized, but on a Friday, I drove off to work in a BRAND. NEW. CAR!
Over the next 14 years, this car would take me on various adventures for work. I’d drive from Central Florida to Daytona Beach without any problems. It hauled my drums whenever I played at church. I took trips to Jacksonville to see my family. It took its first long trip up to Nashville, Tennessee, with my soon-to-be-wife to meet her family. One morning during another Nashville trip in December, frost covered the car, so naturally I had to take pictures of it.
I felt a sense of happiness when I set up the final payment on the car. After five years, it was mine.
The car passed 100,000 miles. Three of the four engine cylinders conked out, but after an expensive intervention, the car got a new lease on life. The air conditioning (a must in Florida) would go out when the car idled. One morning, on my way to work, I discovered the car didn’t stay cool while idling for long periods of time, because the CHECK GAGES light appeared, and the car temperature gauge was rising. I pulled into a parking lot to let it cool down. When I left, it was back to normal.
A few years after that, while driving to work, the car’s temperature gauge rose, and I noticed steam coming out of the front. The radiator had to be replaced. I was leaving work, backing out, only to discover I couldn’t put the car into drive, or park, or anything. The paint job slowly disintegrated on the roof and hood (perhaps a consequence of being out in that oppressive Florida sun).
The CD player could play music, but only if you jumped ahead few tracks so it could read the disc, then go back to the first song. Then it wouldn’t play at all. No problem, there’s still the tape player. I could get a CD adapter. Only by the time I found one, the tape player started acting up. Now I was flipping around the radio dial, being subjected to the Taylor Swifts and Rhiannas and Maroon 5s amongst Genesis and Billy Joel and Rush.
The car’s passenger side window stopped working. The driver’s side worked, but at times, it would take forever to get it back up. Then I decided against rolling it down again…until car shop mechanics would roll it down even though I told them not to do that.
The car passed 200,000 miles. This, I wasn’t expecting. Despite all of its foibles, the Cavalier still got me from point A to point B.
By this point, two young children have entered the picture. My wife and I had been talking about getting a larger vehicle to house everybody, maybe a minivan.
On a whim, I searched on another dealer’s website their used car inventory. I spotted a 2011 Chevy HHR. It was dark blue. It had relatively low mileage. My wife said, “We have to go look at it. TODAY.”
So we did. It was a rainy, dreary late afternoon in January 2015 when we took the HHR out for a test drive. It rode like a dream.
The next day, I found myself saying goodbye to an old friend a little sooner than I thought.
I will miss that little Cavalier. It was more than a car. It had become my Millennium Falcon, my old bucket of bolts that could get point-five past lightspeed. But as with anything, nothing lasts forever, and it had served out its time beyond measure.
Now, it’s time to see if I can get this HHR up past 200,000 miles. I think it’s doable.