My Car Saga Musings #3 — Why I Can’t Wait To Be Free From Cars

person laying in front of silver sedan

Yes, that’s right. I am finally saying it out loud. I wish to be free from cars. Or more specifically, my car!

What brought this on you ask? Well, aside from the last two times I wrote about my car, I’ve actually had many more occasions to write about it. Not the least of all this very moment. It’s just that, in the past two years, I didn’t have the time, energy, or quite frankly, the inclination to dwell on it without losing a spark plug or two — of my patience!

But first, to really understand my disdain for the car, you have to understand my disdain for most things mechanical and metal.

“Let’s Face It. I Ain’t No Mechanic!”

gray scale photo of gears
Photo by Pixabay on

Ever since I was 13 and had to endure a whole academic year learning about “metal works,” I’ve developed a healthy dislike of everything metallic. Even though I would much rather have amnesia about that traumatic year, enough residual memory of what I endured still lingers in the deep recesses of my mind.

I can recall, during my first year in secondary school, the two to three hours we had to devote to the metal workshop every week. To learn how to bend and form metal to our will. And all for what? The browning of my fingers and skin as I made contact with the metal strips and slabs we had to knock, file, and wallop into whatever form our instructor wanted it to be — a ruler, paperweight, or receptacle. The constant smell of rust, lingering for days on my fingertips and workshop apron, that made me gag nearly every time in disgust. The ear-piercing sound coming from the various motors and engines in the workshop that threaten to make me permanently deaf.

To this day, I have no idea what it was for, all that hammering and banging. All I know is I disliked the banging, the hammering, and of course the scolding. As if the tasks at hand weren’t bad enough, our instructor was perpetually short on temper and long on lectures.

If they had taught us more practical skills we could use around the house, like fixing a leaky toilet or mending a broken electric fan, I would at least have tolerated the sessions. I wonder why that never crossed the mind of the school principal when deciding on the curriculum. Who wants yet another paperweight or ruler anyway?

The long and short of it? I learned nothing that year except one thing: I Ain’t No Mechanic!

Before Cars, There Were Bikes– My Deal With Real Steel.

person in blue denim jeans and black jacket riding on pink bicycle
Photo by cottonbro studio on

I was also no good at mastering vehicles.

Growing up without any constant male role models or mentors (my dad and two older brothers hardly spent time with me), I was raised mostly by my mom and two older sisters.

My mom was the queen of the household, as most mothers in the 60s and 70s were, being full-time housewives. Unfortunately, that kept her home pretty much every waking moment, with no bandwidth to do more. Especially if it had to do with the great outdoors.

Which left me with my older sisters.

Now, as far as sisters go, they were certainly more nurturing than brothers. And also more available. I had more memories of going on outings with them. Especially memorable was one where they and their friends took me to the island resort of Sentosa, located at the southernmost tip of my country. It was there that I had my first memory of trying on a bike. But to be clear, it was one of those tandem bikes for two or three riders. And since I was the youngest (I was probably around ten), I was really there more for the photo opp than to do any actual pedaling!

Which suited me just fine. I disliked the stiff, hard feel of bicycle metal and how my near-flat behind ached after the ride. I also found my movements cumbersome as I tried to stay upright, balance, and pedal with all my might.

Any wonder I only picked up cycling much, much later in life? (If you’re wondering, I was 34 when I finally learned to ride a bike!)

Of cars, breakdowns, servicing, and repairs.

photo of man inspecting car engine
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Fast forward to the last five years since driving the second car my wife and I have ever bought (and, we are increasingly certain, MUST be our last!).

The ordeal has been a roller-coaster, to say the least.

But before I itemize the “grief spiral” this car has put us through since 2018 when we bought it, I wish to make one thing absolutely clear: I am not ungrateful for being so privileged as to own a car. Especially when I live in a country where car prices are as expensive as landed properties in other countries! Nor am I not unaware of the convenience, luggage/grocery/load-bearing, and time-saving advantages that come with car ownership.

I am, however, hard-pressed to name any other advantages that come with the car.

From the moment one puts a downpayment on a car purchase, it’s like you’ve irreversibly set off a ticking time bomb. One that will “explode” at the end without a doubt. For, like it or not, anything mechanical begins to depreciate from day one! In my country, we even peg the “death timeline” for cars to ten years, with a proviso that anyone who drives their car beyond ten years must renew their car’s certificate of entitlement (or COE). The COE can cost as much as a car itself! (This is why cars are SOOO expensive here). There’s also the need to pay road tax and insurance coverage every year. So the hole in one’s wallet gets wider by the calendar!

Aside from annual general servicing to ensure my car’s safe to drive, I’ve had to contend with breakdowns and repairs. These happen more frequently each year it approaches that ten-year mark (it’s now into its sixth). My so-called “grief spiral” has seen me send the car to various workshops. I’ve had to either replace or repair its coolant and aircon compressor, thermostat, light bulbs, spark plugs, battery, tires, air and cabin filters.

To add insult to injury, servicing and repairs can often cost an arm and a leg too. It all depends on which workshop you send the car to. Some may say the best bet is to return to the manufacturer. But these often charge huge sums and lock you into “packages” to ensure you return to them year after year. And while the alternatives (small, independent car workshops) exist aplenty, finding one that’s affordable with honest, top-notch service can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

I’ve reached a point where it just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore!

The kindness of strangers.

people pushing a vintage car

Last Saturday, while driving to visit an ailing friend, my car battery died.

Unfortunately, it happened while I was parked momentarily in an open car park, but not in a proper lot! I wasn’t planning to stay long, only stopping briefly to buy some tonic for my friend. I figured it was okay since I would be in and out of the shop in less than two minutes.

You can probably guess by now what happened! Upon returning two minutes later, I was unable to start the car! The battery chose that moment to give up on me. It didn’t help that my car was blocking some others, and I clearly had to move it. Unfortunately, my chronic bad back made this a near-impossible task.

And so I asked around the car park for kind samaritans, either for a jump cable to resurrect my battery for one more trip, or to help me push the car to safety. I found not one but three kind strangers! While I sat in the driver’s seat to navigate, three kind strangers helped me push my car to a spot away from the ingress/egress point I was at.

My gratitude was indescribable. One of them even stayed behind to brainstorm ideas on the remedy.

Eventually, I managed to locate a roving mechanic to turn up with a replacement battery. But I won’t soon forget that kindness is still alive and well, thanks in a twisted way to my car.

Still, with all that said, I am looking forward to the day I can be free from cars!

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