The Car Story

When I have to travel, Brother Park – who has volunteered to serve as my chauffeur – gives me a ride to the airport. He recently sold his SUV that had more than 200,000 miles on it and bought a new sedan. The smell of his new car reminded me of when I first came to the U.S.

I came to America in 1970 for graduate school. My wife came a year later, also as a graduate student. For the first year after we got married, we didn’t have a car. We then decided to buy a car because we couldn’t depend on our friends for rides all the time.

The first car we owned was a Mercury Comet, an 8-cylinder convertible. It was over 10 years old and had more than 100,000 miles on it when we bought it. It had so many problems that we only drove it for short distances. I didn’t dare drive it outside the city.

The first new car we bought was a Dodge Dart. I still remember the sweet smell of my very first new car. However, the quality of American-made cars seemed to be deteriorating around that time. I remember being shocked by the shoddy paint job in the trunk, which wasn’t visible from the outside. One day, the window handle suddenly fell off, one of numerous small troubles we had with the car. We had to make many trips to the mechanic.

That bad experience drove me to buy Japanese cars ever since. The most important quality of a car to me is not its power or design but its reliability; I don’t want to spend time maintaining my car. In this respect, I haven’t been disappointed by Japanese cars. (I’ve heard that Korean cars nowadays are also reliable; I’ll consider buying one the next time I buy a new car.)

My son Danny’s first car was a yellow, 2-door, manual transmission 1982 Datsun Sentra with many miles on it. He enjoyed driving it until it died. My daughter Christine’s first car was a Subaru station wagon her mom used to drive. It also had more than 100,000 miles on it. She drove it for years although she complained about being the only high school girl in the whole world driving a station wagon.

I think it’s wise for new drivers to start with low-priced used cars because it’s hard to downgrade once you’ve become accustomed to driving new or luxury cars. Since I’ve never owned an expensive car, I’ve never envied people who owned them.

Even if parents can afford it, I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to buy their high school children new cars because it may raise their expectations about the cars they own. Furthermore, beginning drivers are bound to have one or two accidents. The price of that education is too high with a new car.

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