I learned to drive on late 1950s and 1960s VW Beetles.

We haven’t had much luck lately with cars. Last October my son had his car stolen. It is a ’98 Isuzu Amigo. Unfortunately, he didn’t get on it right away. If you report it to the police right away, they’ll give you a call if the vehicle is found to give you a chance to retrieve it before the impound. It ended up in an impound yard and it was several hundred dollars to get it back. I gave him the Amigo 12 years ago when I bought a Suzuki SX4.

It is a good vehicle for desert exploration, but you can’t keep anything of value in it when parked on the street because of the soft top.

Heavy sigh!

My beloved Suzuki SX4 AWD. Just barely old enough to drink. Only 200K miles. With only 2 inches of lift, we’ve gone through some rough terrain; truck trails probably better reserved for genuine 4WD.

Fast forward to December. Daughter’s car wasn’t running so well, so I loan my ’09 Suzuki SX4 for her to use. My wife, daughter, and granddaughter were moving through an intersection with the light in their favor when someone simply made a left turn into them. I’m not sure how you miss seeing a bright red car with lights on in the middle of the day, but I personally think a cell phone was involved. Nobody was injured but the car was totaled. I finally got the check from the insurance company today.

Honda CRV AWD. It was my car for years until I gave it to my daughter a decade ago. Here I’m camped in Mojave National Park for Christmas

Two weeks ago, my daughter’s CRV – which was on its last legs anyhow at 333K miles – is stolen from in front of her house. No reports back yet on it being found so it has likely gone to a chop shop. Big demand for parts for older Honda CRVs because there are so many of them still out there. So now I loan her our ’99 Lexus which we inherited from my sister-in-law.

There is a pattern here. We typically have one new-ish car and two well-used cars in our driveway. Sometimes three. I figure a spare is always useful. I also have a strong preference for 4wd and AWD for my wilderness exploration.

Pro tip: One of the best deals you can get is to buy a “luxury” car that is about ten years old. They are designed to last and usually have another ten years left on them – sometimes more. 100K miles is not an issue with them. Parts are never difficult to find. People on the west coast get rid of them cheap because of the age and then they get sent to northern and eastern states to be resold because they are clean of rust.

Last night I got a phone call from her that the check engine light had come on, and it was running rough. OK, so drive it to the family mechanic to see what’s happening. She gets about halfway there, and suddenly it becomes unsafe to drive, intermittently losing power and then suddenly speeding up. Call the Auto Club and have it towed. We don’t yet have an estimate, but the symptoms suggest the catalytic has failed and clogged the exhaust. Not economical to repair.

At the same time, her husband reports his Toyota truck started bucking and bouncing. He managed to get it to the mechanic’s place. Somehow all 4 shocks have failed, the wheel bearings are shot and need to be repacked, and both front control arms are bad. Looking at 1.5 grand to repair a 22-year-old truck and it is looking dubious. I suspect he’d been ignoring the shocks and bearings for years but when the control arms went, it could no longer be driven.

We have run out of cars. We could give them a 2001 Toyota Sienna, but it is sitting in the driveway and registered under non-operational status. We’re about to give it away to Kars4kids because repairing it will cost $3000. It seems the design has two very expensive catalytic converters, and both are bad. (California law won’t let me install generics.) Plus, the power steering is leaking fluid badly, and there are numerous minor oil leaks.

I don’t work on my cars aside from minor stuff anymore. Too much arthritis in my hands. It isn’t fun.

My hero! Suzi Q (my daughter named her) has been a steadfast and dependable companion for decades. Bought her used because she’d been abused and needed a good home. She’s lifted two inches with tires two sizes larger. (235s instead of 215s) I’m hoping I can get her to the age of 30 before she’s retired.

We are down to my 1994 Suzuki Sidekick, which still runs like a top but looks like crap. Lacks A/C, leaks when it rains, and doesn’t have airbags. But it has a 5-speed manual and high/low ranges for 4WD. That’s my daughter’s new loaner car until the Lexus and the truck get fixed, and she loves it. (Few women prefer driving a stick!) Wife and I share her new Subaru Crosstrek for now. I guess my son-in-law will be commuting to work (concrete and construction) by public transit.

Update: One year later and I can’t get Suzi Q to pass smog so it will probably be sold or given away. I now have a 2013 Foord Escape which my daughter drives and she now owns a 1998 Subaru Forester which I drive.