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Function Over Fashion

Function Over Fashion -
How a Car Reflects Function for a Busy Lifestyle

By Jessie Raymond

Some people say that the car you drive is a reflection of yourself. If that's true, then I’m dependable and on hot days I smell like sour milk. How silly. Anyone will tell you I’m not dependable.

In reality, people’s cars don’t reflect their personalities, just their priorities. Some people use cars to project an image. Maybe it’s a crayon-colored sports car that says even someone of your age can act young and hip. Or maybe it’s a luxuriously outfitted SUV that says you’re rugged but refined, and even though you’ve never been off a main road in your life, if you wanted, you could drive right up the face of Mount Rushmore without spilling a drop of bottled water. Or maybe it’s a black pickup covered in mud and roaring like a rocket to let the uptight grownups know that you are bad news; in case there is any doubt, you hang a terrifying skull-and-crossbones air freshener from your rear-view mirror.

Then there are people like me, who choose function over form. Farmers driving hard-used pickup trucks and parents driving minivans aren’t trying to get anyone’s attention. They both have to haul domesticated creatures of one sort or another, and they’ve chosen the most practical vehicle for their needs.

One look at the outside of my car will tell you that I see it as little more than a mode of transportation. In fact, in design and appearance, the car is forgettable in just about every way, except for an elegant set of three faux-metal hubcaps, two of which aren’t even cracked. Even the color—not quite green, not quite blue, and so dirty it mostly looks gray—fails to excite the eye. I admit it’s flashier than the economy-silver finish of my two previous vehicles, but they had a practical advantage: the duct tape I used to cover up the rust spots blended in beautifully.

My car’s interior reflects a similar indifference to image. I choose not to vacuum or dust it, as these are chores that I can barely handle in my own house. If I start keeping the car picked up, what’s next? Ironing my clothes?

In the interest of safety, however, I keep a survival kit on hand at all times. Never mind that this consists of half-eaten candy bars, old cough drops, and dirty, balled-up sweatshirts, all thrown in an apparently random manner around the passenger area. The point is, if we were somehow stranded, we could find enough food and warmth to keep us going for days. The poor fool who keeps a spotless interior will be reduced to wrapping up in a floor mat and licking Armor-All off the dash until help arrives.

Regardless of its appearance, after 6 years under my ownership, the car has proven that less is more. No power windows, no tachometer, not even an interior trunk latch. But with only minimal maintenance, it’s never broken down or failed to start. Tune-up costs have not cut into our retirement savings. And it’s paid off. What more could you ask for?

Well, I’m sorry to say, a replacement. It’s only a matter of time before this car starts to go. So before the mechanic starts throwing around terms like “CV joints,” “clutch assembly,” and, God forbid, “head gasket,” I’m starting the search for a new car (“new,” of course, meaning “used”).

Here are some tips for my next car salesman: don’t even mention terms like “spoilers” or “bucket seats.” Say “36 miles per gallon” and I’m yours. Forget leather upholstery; give me something that hides melted chocolate bar stains. And instead of trying to wow me with muscle, keep in mind that I’ve survived 16 Vermont winters with four cylinders and front-wheel drive. If the weather gets so bad that I need an assault vehicle, I’ll happily stay home.

Although I’ll always steer toward reliability and low maintenance costs, I do hope my next car has more style than the nondescript, getaway-car look I have now. In the meantime, I’m going to work on my image, starting with a skull-and-crossbones air freshener. If nothing else, it might take care of that sour-milk thing.