Just like people, when they get old, a car’s seals deteriorate and they start to leak fluids. My wife’s 1998 Camry for instance.

It started with power steering fluid. Just in case you don’t know how to tell there’s a problem in this area, if, when you turn the wheel, it sounds like there’s a behemoth moaning under the hood, the fluid is getting low.

I took it to our mechanic for a diagnosis. Turned out the whole power steering mechanism was shot – a $1,000 minimum fix – so I opted to keep putting in fluid (with ‘stop leak’ additive) rather than invest that much in a 22-year-old car.

About the time the leak stopped (Tah Dah!) Linda came home from work to say one of her co-workers had asked if her radiator was leaking because she saw fluid where she parks. “Did she say what color?” “Yeah, green.”

Back under the hood I discovered the coolant tank was empty. After three consecutive days of topping it off, I took it back to the clinic. They diagnosed a cracked radiator.

“What’s the radiator made out of?” I asked the mechanic. “Plastic.” “Can it be fixed with stop leak?” “Nope.” “Adhesive?” “Nope.” “Duct tape?” “(Chuckle) Sorry, J.T., but a replacement is the only fix because it’s a large crack.”

So it was time for some serious consideration on purchasing a new ‘used’ vehicle, which got me thinking about how much cars have changed.

When I was growing up, anyone with half a brain, elbow grease, and a little mechanical skill could repair most problems.

These days, even the most simple repairs are much more complicated because of computer technology. (One reason why the older models are increasingly in demand.)

Shopping for a used car can be a real pain unless you’re into the car vending machine option, aka ‘Carvana,’ where you can browse online, take selected vehicles for a virtual spin, and get your final choice financed and delivered to your door.

Sounds great, but Linda and I are more “kick the tires” buyers so she started looking online at what was on area lots after which we stopped by and drove some around. Still, to borrow an analogy from Forest Gump, “My momma always said, ‘Buying a used car was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna’ get.’” 

Which is to say, no matter how honest the dealer is, it’s likely he doesn’t have the whole story about the car because he can’t possibly know the car’s full background. Defects in the vehicle could easily have been hidden from him when he took it as trade or purchased it at auction.

But we got lucky. When Linda asked the local dealer about the history of a car we liked, he told her that it was traded in by a grade school friend from the Republic of Frontenac. She phoned him and got the skinny that it was in excellent condition, I did a little friendly dickering, Linda wrote a check, and we drove a 2013 Hundai Tucson off the lot. Take that Carvana!

Getting back to the human body / car analogy, years back when I told my dad (who was starting to experience dementia) that his old friend, Millo Farneti, had passed away, we first shared our sorrow and then smiled and laughed as we reflected on what a dynamic character he was. As I turned to leave dad called to me, “Hey, how many miles did Millo have on him anyway?”

Ha! I thought to myself. That mix up is perfect. Millo served as a correspondent for The Associated Press out of Tokyo in Korea, worked as a newsman and sports writer in New York City and lived in Rome, where he worked for the Journal of Commerce for many years. So in Millo's case, with all his travels — not to mention his frenetic, kaleidoscopic mind – mileage was an equally appropriate measure of his life as his years.

The case of Linda’s Camry, not only did it carry her over 215,000 miles, but it became an old friend through the years, accompanying her on trips to Girard High School and Pittsburg Middle School to teach gifted education, multiple drives to volunteer at Miners Hall Museum in Franklin, long journeys across the Kansas plains to Denver to visit our son, and excursions all over Kansas to give presentations on The Amazon Army for the Kansas Humanities Council.

Indeed, when her brother Gary asked how she liked her new car, she responded with a pause and a wistful look. “Oh … it’s okay,” she sighed. “But I’m still grieving my old Camry.”

— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, jtknoll@swbell.net, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762