I graduated from high school almost 13 years ago, so I’m kind of becoming an old fart. But through all the transitions from when I was a 16-year-old high school student to now, as a burgeoning AARP member, I've always had my 1992 Toyota Camry named Frank. His bug visor looks like a mustache, so I named him after Frank Zappa.
Frank has gone into car comas twice recently and been rushed to vehicle surgery, leaving me with pretty hefty bills both times. Despite the large bills, I’m very grateful for affordable Frank and his tiny insurance bill. He’s helped me put extra money toward savings, getting ahead on my student loans, and, as a millennial, buying as much avocado toast as I possibly can.
Here are some reasons it’s not so bad to be puttering around in my old faded Camry with malfunctioning power locks and windows.
1. No extra debt
In a world of immeasurable debt, one woman chooses to have just one kind.
I saw a lot of friends rush to buy new cars after college. I mean, with the student debt I had to pay off with the wages from my two, $8-per-hour jobs, the only brand new thing I bought for a while was food. Call me a snob, but slightly used peanut butter is just not appetizing.
Maybe my lavish tendency to buy non-second-hand food is why I don’t own a home yet. Either way, extra debt in my early/mid-20s was about as appealing as the dinners I whipped together with 50 cents of ingredients.
2. Not appealing to would-be car thieves
No nice stereo system, external radio, phone compatibility, not even a functioning tape player? Yes, this is the state of my car. I was also unaware of the existence of something called “car wax” for many years, so the paint job is more like a bad kindergarten watercolor at this point.
The last time Frank got towed, the truck driver broke my bug visor in the middle, conveniently making it look more like a mustache. I don't think this is the kind of thing carjackers are into, though.
I think the only way Frank would appeal to thieves is if a car detailer was so uncomfortable looking at it that he felt compelled to steal it and put a new coat of paint on it. Or maybe Frank’s looking so rough around the edges that someone would call Car Protective Services on me.
3. Saving money
In America, the land of the free and the home of inevitable massive medical debt, I’m glad that I’ve been able to stow some money away for safekeeping. If my calculations are correct, I should be able to afford a down payment on a starter home when I’m 65. That’s a lot better than the 75 I’d be looking at if I’d had a car payment the past ten years.
And yes, baby boomers, obviously I’d have had the money for it when I was 25 if I didn’t buy those three Starbucks drinks a year and the ever-alluring avocado toast. But at least keeping Frank has gotten me closer.
4. Money for fun
I can put a little bit of money toward traveling every year. Of course, don’t tell Frank where I am, or he will know I’m cheating on him with a much younger rental car.
If I had a car payment, it would definitely take all the money I earmark for excursions. With Frank still in my life, I've been able to contemplate kidnapping goats in Glacier National Park. I've been able to get to third base with so many TSA agents. And I've been able to go down to California and watch my beloved, last-place Oakland A’s lose games in person.
All of these experiences are because of good ol' cheap Frank.
5. Being able to sound like you know cars
When you have an old car, it’s going to break down sometimes. Especially at inopportune moments, like on an on-ramp or when you’re a college kid who just finished spring semester and has 15 dollars in her checking account.
The upside of this is that you learn about car parts, or at least you learn their names. You can drop them into random conversations and seem knowledgeable. Now I can say things like, “Oh, the water pump is important. You can tell it’s going out when you press the car radio button, and water comes out of the tape player,” and, “I bet you need a new timing belt. It doesn’t match your rims. Cars don’t like that.”
6. Less depreciation in value
Within the first year of driving a brand new car, it goes down in value enough to buy multiple Franks. Who doesn’t want a fleet of old Camrys instead of a new car? With all those cars, you could attract many aging car guys complimenting your fuel efficiency and long-lasting engines. Since the Kelley Blue Book value of my car is barely over $1000 right now, I only lose about three French fries’ worth of money each year as Frank becomes less valuable. That's a deal.
7. Frank brings back some good memories
Frank's been there for so many moments of my life. I remember being a little 16-year-old heading home from track practice, over the moon because I wasn’t the slowest person that day, because the slower person had thrown up. But it still counted.
I remember driving home from college when I just had to take a break from homework, roommates, and dorm cafeteria food poisoning.
I remember living at home for after college and having an angry robin sit on my side view mirror and poop on my car every single day. As soon as I cleaned it up, it would be back within the hour, no exceptions. It went on for months. Mom and I plotted ways to stop the madness. None of them worked, but at least we tried. Maybe the bird preferred Fords.
So yes, I may be 31 and still cruising down the street with my windows down because the AC broke years ago. I’m not ashamed to continue to use my high school car, especially since it doubles as a sauna.
If someone wants to sneak it away from me to paint it, that might be okay, though. Just keep pooping robins away.