Milestones For Milage

Published 2:12 pm Thursday, June 20, 2013

How do you know a relationship works?

It's a probing, potentially personal question, so let me be the first to crank it up and let the opinions roll: when it lasts and lasts.

Americans have long had a love affair for the automobile. The new car lot allure for wandering eyes has helped terminate more relationships than busted head gaskets and slipping transmissions.

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But some relationships are built to last. I have long been committed to a certain 1996 Dodge Intrepid. And, now, we were closing in on the equivalent of a 25th anniversary. For weeks I watched the slow mechanical spin of the odometer-our family's forest green dependable ride was approaching what seemed like an incredible milestone: the lofty 200,000-mile mark.

Such a figure doesn't seem like much today, but once upon a time an automobile approaching 100,000 meant a golden pass to give into the allure of newer models at car lots. No, 200K doesn't mean as much to some people, but I'm old and I still consider tripping the 200,000-mile barrier something special.

I say “tripping”, of course, but that's not so accurate any more. In the old days, the mileage-meter restarted at zero after every 100,000 miles. Now most are digital and just keep going and going and going…Though mine is still the mechanical kind, it's good to 999,999 before it actually starts over.

I'm optimistic, but even I can't see getting there.

The Intrepid was used when she first arrived to our family, had about 55,000 miles, and was super clean. It was the wife's car at first and has taken us to Florida and Disney World, countless trips to Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, to Lynchburg and back so often it knows the way, and down to North Carolina to visit family.

All that roadwork means she isn't as pretty as she used to be, of course. But that happens to everyone with age. A sag here, wrinkle there, rattling, worn-out joints, the starter doesn't start like it used to. The paint on her hood is peeling, so we gave her a touch of rust preventative black. I hear a “thunk” emanating from the back of the car occasionally on the road that we can't seem to find. The passenger window will jump off track if you try to roll it down.

The transmission went out not long before she became mine, when the wife got a newer used car. She kept on track, though I never thought I would retain an auto long enough to wear out a second water pump (our latest issue).

True, she's had her share of problems and auto doctor visits over the years, but she's brought me a lot of happiness-happiness in knowing that it's paid for and in no need of monthly installments.

There used to be a lot of Intrepids on the road like her; now it's a rare enough occurrence I want to waive when meeting them. Of the ones I see now, many are the same hue of green.

She's been my daily driver about four years. I know the day comes when all such relationships come to an end, no matter how much we care or take care, for that matter.

But even at 200K, her time is just not yet.

All of which gets me back to the build-up to the great event. A co-worker that drives a Toyota thought of holding a party in honor of her vehicle for passing the 200K mark. That, of course, had me thinking: such milestones are more commonplace for Toyotas, Dodge Intrepids? Not so much.

While mine was worthy of honor, or at least an idle moment at a pull-off spot, such was not to be. The wife and I swapped vehicles for but a single day and, without fanfare, she crossed the finish line without balloon, cake, gathering of celebratory friends or even thought.

By the time I thought to check again, she was at 200,040.

Sigh. I guess that's as it should be: we shouldn't worry or think about milestones as we're living them. That's the sort of thing to get crushed over once our relationship with the automobile officially comes to an end.

And, hey, there's at least still the hope for 300,000.