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Nathan's column: The quirks of an aging auto

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Maybe the most annoying sign the holiday season is upon us each year is the return of commercials from luxury auto makers suggesting that a high-priced car is an entirely reasonable gift for the person you love. Or at least the person you most want to appreciate you for your bank account.

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Am I really supposed to believe the naughty people on Santa’s 1 percent list just get a red Mercedes instead of a white one? Do the red ones at least come without a seat heater?

It’s always luxury cars in these commercials, of course. Nobody makes an ad where someone presents their loved one with a Chevy Spark with a big red bow on the hood. Possibly that’s because the bows caught the wind too much during filming and caused the Spark to flip.

I wasn’t sure the big-red-bow-on-a-car thing was anything other than a marketing image until I read Andrea Langworthy’s column this week. You’ll find that elsewhere on this page, but to sum up: apparently it’s happened at least once. And apparently it was pretty great.

Then again, maybe I’m just jealous. My own car is more than a decade old. It’s got more than 205,000 miles on it, although the current transmission, its third, is significantly fresher.

The car is exhibiting the kind of quirks cars tend to develop when they get up there in age. I can understand that. I just turned 39.

In the case of a car, of course, “Up there in age,” is pretty reliably defined as, “Shortly after you make your last payment.” There are no major problems, at least not right now, but there are some annoyances.

The CD player no longer plays discs without skipping, which wouldn’t be as big a problem if I hadn’t bought the car in that sweet spot between when tape decks stopped being basic equipment and iPod jacks started.

If I want drive-time entertainment I’m limited to whatever I can find on the radio. It’s accompanied nicely, though, by the rattling caused by my decrepit struts.

I’m not entirely sure what struts are, outside of something John Travolta does in Saturday Night Fever, but I’m told whatever is going on with mine is not a safety hazard. If I can avoid spending money to fix a minor problem I’m all for it.

In that respect I’m apparently the opposite of the Vikings who will happily pay millions for a quarterback who hardly ever puts on a uniform.

All I’m saying is, I could have contributed as much as Josh Freeman to this year’s Vikings season and I would have done it for half the price. Maybe even a quarter.

The air conditioning in my car gave out a few years ago, but that’s OK. The windows still work.

The heat is a trickier proposition. It works, but on the coldest days I sometimes have to make a choice between a well-warmed interior and the ability to see out my windshield. For some reason, the defrost setting on my vent refuses to recirculate air from inside the car. It insists on pulling from outside. When it’s 10 below, there’s only so much a heater can do to warm that up.

It’s like trying to warm up your ice water by drinking it through a straw wrapped in warm cotton. Except less weird.

If there’s fresh snow on my hood when I turn the car on in the morning, I sometimes even get a nice spray of powder in the cabin. It’s a refreshing way to start the day. Like driving a snow globe, only not filled with water. At least not yet.

I’ve gotten pretty good by now at switching back and forth. A little warmth, a little defrosting. Gloves help, too.

I don’t mean to complain. I’m still better off than a lot of people. I don’t worry about my car starting in the morning or getting me where I’m going. Heater issues aside, I don’t have to worry about frostbite. Not a lot, anyway.

Still, I wouldn’t complain if someone wanted to get me an BMW for Christmas.

I don’t even need the bow.

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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