Driver

07 May 2017 | 9 mins
personal

Since I passed my driving test as a fresh-faced 18-year-old way back in July 2010, I’ve not been without a car for more than the week or so when my various cars required repairs or maintenance. Until this week that is, when I finally sold my last car that has been sitting idle outside the flat since October last year.

Vauxhall Corsa

In the seven years since I started learning to drive, I’ve owned four cars. All four were subsequently sold for scrap parts after I had put them through their paces. My first car, a 2001 Vauxhall Corsa, was originally my grandparents car, gifted to me for my 18th birthday. I named her Christine, after my friend’s mother (I was 18, don’t judge).

At the time it was worth maybe £900 - the insurance for a just-passed driver (third-party only) was more than twice that. Still though, it gave me freedom from relying on less-than-perfect public transportation back home in the North East where I grew up. I used the Corsa to get to work, visit Sasha (we both still lived with our parents back then), and drive to University when I didn’t fancy getting the bus.

Like most 18-year-olds, I had an invincibility complex, particularly when it came to driving. Sure, I suppose deep down I knew I was piloting a ton of lethal metal at high speeds, but car crashes and major incidents were things that happened to other people, right? I remember taking Sasha out for a drive in the snow, not long after we started dating and full of teenage confidence, to a deserted car park on a hill and throwing it around with handbrake turns, skidding and squealing all over the place. No regrets with that one though, it was a lot of fun.

But about a year and a half after starting to drive on my own (around Christmas 2011, and not long after I moved out of my parental home for the first time aged 19), I hit a patch of black ice driving some friends and my flatmate to the pub, and skidded into a crash barrier. Low-speed, no injuries, but the car was a write-off.

I distinctly remember the crash itself. I remember the oh-shit moment when I realised what was happening, and having no way to avoid it. I remember not really knowing who to call first afterwards. I remember a police car just happening to pass us about two minutes after the incident, who breathalysed me (I was sober) and told me to call my breakdown cover for a tow. I remember arguing with the breakdown company on the phone, as they didn’t want to come out and pick me up, due to it being a crash not a breakdown (they did eventually come out and take me home).

I called a mechanic friend of mine the next day who came out to take a look at the car. The damage looked superficial to my untrained eye, only the front passenger headlight was crushed in. The chassis had cracked though; he advised me to scrap the car as it was essentially worthless. I sold it to a friend-of-a-friend for £50 the following week. According to the government’s Vehicle Enquiry service, the car still has a valid MOT and tax, which means someone out there is still driving it. Scary thought.

Renault Clio

After the Corsa bit the dust, I desperately needed a car to get to work and make rent. As it happened, a guy I knew at work was trying to sell his brother’s car. £800 cash-in-hand later, and I was the owner of a 2001 Renault Clio. The car itself had been modified with boy-racer trims, a ‘spoiler’ and alloy wheels (think of the starter car you’d get in Need for Speed Underground 2). I named her the somewhat unoriginal Cleopatra, and she was surprisingly fun to drive. The engine was a slight upgrade to a 1.3L from the 1.0L Corsa, and with no real weight increase the difference was clearly noticeable.

I had the Clio for pretty much all of 2012, about 14 months in total until about March 2013. I drove her down to London for the one and only time I’ve driven in the Big Smoke for a job interview, and scraped a Lexus trying to park near Euston Station. Luckily there was no damage and the guy never called me (I left a note with my number); I think his paint job was worth more than my entire car. I moved to Scotland for the first time with that car, packing my whole life into the back seat and driving it all up north. By the point though, the car was approaching her twelfth full year, and she’d had a rough life. I took her in for the MOT apprehensively, and rightly so - the list of faults they found went on over two pages. It would have cost me about £1000 to get her back to roadworthy condition. Not worth it; I called a scrap dealer the next day and sold her for £150 - incidentally, the one and only time I’ve ever had a Scottish £100 note. Man, that thing was hard to get rid of. Like the Corsa though, the government website indicates that it is still on the road.

Ford Fiesta

When I moved to Scotland for the first time, I chose my houseshare with the knowledge that I had a car for commuting. Fortunately, I lived near enough to the train station that it was only about an extra 15 minutes each way to travel by train to work, but it wasn’t a long-term solution. I needed a new car.

Around this time, my sister was learning to drive, and she’d just bought her first car - a 1998 Ford Fiesta. It was hideous; white with rust speckles, and a bulbous 1980’s style design. As a responsible older brother, I told her as much, and offered to buy it from her for what she’d paid (around £400 if I remember rightly), and helped her find a less socially-inept vehicle. I regretted it almost immediately, having seen all the other cars I could have had when I took her car shopping, but a deal’s a deal. I named her Fiona, and drove back up to Edinburgh for the end of my placement year, and used it to cart my life back to Newcastle for my final year of University.

I got my old job back at McDonald’s when I moved home and the Fiesta, to its credit, lasted me until I left again for Edinburgh in the summer of 2014. When I decided to upgrade the car, there wasn’t really anything specifically wrong with it, but it felt like it could fall apart at any time. I didn’t want to be relying on the Fiesta over the winter, so in September 2014, about 18 months after first buying it, I started shopping for a replacement.

MG ZR

As I was making ‘real money’ at this stage (not my words), I figured something reasonably reliable would suit me well enough. As you can probably tell from the previous three cars, I’ve never been a fan of spending money on cars - I need something to get me from A to B and no more. Spending thousands on a depreciating asset doesn’t appeal to me, and while I understand why other people find it a good use of money, I have never felt that it was worth it.

Not long after I started looking, I found a private seller who was selling his 2003 MG ZR. It looked like a decent car, it was fun to drive, and the guy had already uprated the head gasket (a notorious point of failure for this model). I bought it, for the princely sum of £950, and scrapped the Ford Fiesta.

At two and half years, the MG has actually lasted longer than any of my previous cars, but probably has had the least amount of mileage added to the clock. Since I moved into the city, in a place with great transport links, I genuinely haven’t needed the car. For the first time, driving has been a luxury rather than a necessity, and for how little I used it, it wasn’t worth the expense. Yes it was paid off, but factoring in insurance, breakdown cover, maintenance, car tax, and petrol, I was still forking out about £100-120 a month, and barely starting the engine a dozen times.

I haven’t actually driven the car since October, but primarily through laziness only got around to actually getting rid of it this week. I called a friend-of-a-friend again back home, and they’re coming to collect it in the next couple of weeks.

Car-Free

For the rare times when I do actually need a car throughout the year, it will be much cheaper to just rent a car for a weekend or so than keep one around. I’m insured on Sasha’s car already anyway (she needs hers for work), so we can split driving responsibilities where necessary, and Charlie is fine with public transport so even if that wasn’t an option it wouldn’t make too much difference, other than I may have to order groceries online rather than driving to Tesco.

I probably will get a new car at some point - I do enjoy driving, but right now it doesn’t make economic sense to keep a car around. For the money I will save without it, I can pay for my Ridacard (necessary for my new job anyway), with money left over to put towards Sasha’s petrol bills. Or new toys for Charlie, whichever catches my eye first.

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