'Hi Michael, the crash repair place got back to me.'
'Yeah? What did they say?'
'I've got some bad news.'
I wasn't expecting that.
'...What is it?'
'They estimate the damage on the car to be about $3600 worth. They also reckon the car is valued at around $3900. Normally what they do when the values are that close is pay you out the value of the car and sign it as a write-off.'
'What? But it's just the side door! There's no damage to anything else! How could they value the whole rest of the car to be worth $300?'
'Relax, they haven't decided anything yet. The insurance company will be sending someone out to give it a proper valuation on Friday.'
'Okay, but... I like my car.'
'Well hopefully, the results come back positive.'
I sat back and considered my situation. My first car was in hospital and it was looking like the doctors wouldn't be able to operate. I was suddenly in the position of needing to work out a succession plan. I was already borrowing my late grandma's old car, which was small and smelled of moth-balls. I wanted my friend back.
I bought my first car on April 25t2012. It had taken me ages. In Australia, you can get a learner's permit to drive at age 16. You can get a provisional license at 16 and a half and once you've done the required learning hours. Then after two yours of that, you can pay to get your full licence. Me, I didn't get my learner's permit until I was almost 17. By the time I upgraded to my P's, my L's were two days from expiring. And then when I did get my P's, I was borrowing my parents' cars to get places. I was 20 years old when I finally decided I needed to buy my own wheels.
My parents both owned a type of car commonly called a "City 4WD" - a car with the body and function of a 4-wheel-drive, but which doesn't really have the toughness or grunt to do any serious off-road driving. I did all my learning in those cars, so I wanted my first car to be the same thing. I loved the height the vehicles as well as their practicality. I wanted to be able to just chuck everything in the boot, take the seats down if I needed to to fit in a bike or other equipment. If my friends and I were going away for the weekend, I wanted to be able to chuck everyone's gear into it and take it along. I wanted it to be the go-to car, which everyone defaulted to when it was time to decide whose car to take. But not too many people shared my vision. So when I came home two days later with a big blue Mitsubishi Outlander, having parted with over half of my life savings for what was just my first car, my parents thought I'd made a big mistake.
But my parents eventually saw what I saw in it. I immediately got good use out of the boot space by holding all my equipment for work in it.
My ex reminds me all the time about our first New Year's Eve together that year. It was well past midnight and I'd agreed to drive a friend to her home in the Adelaide Hills. As we made our way up those winding roads, I realised I was literally falling asleep at the wheel. So when we got to my friend's house and she disappeared inside, I turned to my girlfriend and said "I made need to get some sleep in the car here before we head home or I'll probably end up killing us both." Being a responsible person, she was completely on board with that. So I reclined my driver's seat and said "Well, goodnight," falling asleep instantly. I woke up three hours later to find my girlfriend staring at me, shivering so hard her teeth were chattering, covered in whatever she could find to use as a makeshift blanket. "C-can we g-go home now?" she stammered painfully. She claims she never used to feel the cold before that night, but now she can't stand it.
Eventually, after three and a half years of owning the car, I finally had an opportunity to use the car for its number-one intended purpose. My friends and I planned out a road trip to Victoria. We were to drive the 730km to Melbourne, stay there one night, then spend the next three days winding along the Great Ocean Road, stopping to set up tents in local caravan parks along the way. Four of us went, and we discovered that my car was big enough to hold all four of our gear as well as ourselves. The 3-port USB charger came in real handy with four people constantly needing their phones charged and the radio transmitter got a work out too. It's possibly my favourite trip ever and I've been to Singapore, America and Italy.
In the end, it was such a stupid thing to do. Our house has an open two-lane carport in which we keep four cars. My sister and I have to move and swap our cars around to make room for each other and other things like the washing. Often when I move my car, I won't even turn on the engine. I'll just take off the hand-brake and the parking-brake and push it to where it needs to go. But stupidly, arrogantly, I thought I could do the same thing while the car was on the driveway. What's worse is that I didn't even get into the car to take the brakes off - I just leaned in through the driver door. The moment I put it into neutral, it started to roll backwards. The open door caught on our brick fence and snapped around until it was just dangling from its hinge. It tumbled onto the road - where there were luckily no cars coming - and had managed to pick up enough speed that it hopped over the gutter and onto the footpath on the other side of the road, coming to a stop just inches from the neighbour's fence. The next day, I got that call from Dad and I had to face the real possibility that my time with my first car had come to an end.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. As I thought about my friend in the hospital, I thought about how much it had been through. There was a big scrape on the left hand side where I'd misjudged the room I had in a parking lot and scraped a pylon. There was still a hint of the awful smell that came from the time I left it parked with the windows open a crack and then it started pouring with rain, soaking the whole car's interior. The brakes were creaking and there was often a thump that came from somewhere under the car when I accelerated too fast. I started to think about buying myself a new friend. A better friend. One with leather seats. I have a lot more money now than I did back then, so I could afford to get something a bit better than that bottom-of-the-line Outlander. But on the other hand, I've been saving up to buy my own property for a long time. Having to buy a new car would blast all the savings I'd worked so hard to make. The thought of a new car excited me, but sacrifices I'd have to make didn't. And one of those sacrifices would be to say goodbye to my old car, whom I love.
Friday came and went and I didn't hear anything back. I had to painfully wait out the weekend, driving that uncomfortable car that belonged to my grandma. I've been driving it for almost a week and yet I still haven't been able to get those tiny side-view mirrors right. I'm having to be very careful when I'm reversing to remember that the car extends further than the rear window. I had to perform one of those back-seat clothes changes on Sunday and - shock horror - I had to take stuff out of the car before I left to endure I had enough room to change. Then, late on Monday afternoon, Dad called again.
'Michael, I've just had a call from the crash repair.'
'...They can operate. They'll start fixing the car as soon as the parts come in.'
I let out a sigh of relief. The car would be okay. I was still excited at the thought of getting something new, and sooner or later I will. But like the faithful pet that's been in the family since before the kids were born, I don't want to put her down just yet. The old girl still has life in her.