Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The End of a Blue Era?

I started driving when I was 18 (though the driving age in Oregon is 16), but I didn't get my first car until I was 26, about a year and a half after arriving in Japan. It was one of those tiny, 3-cylinder mini cars you'd never see in the US, though they're quite common here. Specifically, it was a Suzuki Alto, red in color, and already very well used by the time I bought it from a friend for less than a week's pay.

( looked just like this!)

You have to understand; those things are not built to last, and considering it was a first generation model (meaning it was at least ten years old when I got it) with a lot of mileage on its odometer, it got howls of surprise every time I took it in for a tuneup or oil change. It did have its share of problems, though, and after I'd loved it, nursed it, and cursed it for a few years it finally just died. (Actually, I have reason to believe that a vindictive punk at a gas station put sugar in my gas tank, but whatever...) Thus I came to buy my second car, which was...another well-used Alto, white in color. Actually, it was an "l'Epo" model, which was a little larger, fancier, and included such luxuries as air conditioning and a tape deck, which were both very welcome.

(It looked more or less like this...though not in such good condition.)

Nevertheless, though I'd bought it from a very reputable mechanic on the recommendation of several people, it turned out to be a bigger headache than the older Alto had been, and repair bills for such things as an exploding timing belt (and related catastrophic engine damage) added up. When its battery died while I was at work, I made the perhaps fortuitous mistake of letting my American manager at the time take it in for repairs while I taught my classes. He allowed the mechanic he'd picked at random to "improve" the car (so he could sell me a larger battery), and it wound up frying the electronics. Next came the Daihatsu Mira, another bare-bones (white) mini car but bought in nearly-new conditon.

(It looked just like this!)

It turned out to be a very good machine, and it never gave me any trouble in three years of use despite my abusive treatment (read "frequent trips to Tokyo on the expressway cruising well above its rated speed"). I probably would have used it for far longer if passenger and cargo space hadn't become an issue. Finally, in 2000, I bought my first new, full-sized car. That was the BLUE RAV4. It has been my faithful friend ever since.

(Here's a snowy shot of my BLUE pal on a snowy day 5 years ago)

Now, perhaps inevitably, it is starting to show its age. After a decade virtually free of any need of repair, let alone major repairs, problems are starting to appear. I guess it all started exactly one year ago, when a broken fan belt pulley required seriously complicated repairs right on Christmas Eve. Now this year, no doubt to some extent because of my having to drive on all those earthquake-damaged roads, I've so far needed:
  • a complete overhaul of the steering mechanism, which was bent out of shape and partly broken. Some parts had to be replaced,
  • a thorough examination and adjustment of the brakes, which were making weird noises and not working well. They never did find the cause, and though they're now working better, they're still not quite right...and still making noise,
  • realignment of the wheels after only a couple of months,
  • replacement of all four tires, which had become deformed,
  • a refill of the oil, which was more or less empty only two months after the last change.

Once all these repairs were complete, I was warned in no uncertain terms that, now that the BLUE RAV4 is more than ten years old and has more than 250,000 kilometers on it, the problems are going to start multiplying. This was coupled with a not-so-subtle hint that I should start thinking about getting a new car.

I admit that I have been thinking about it, and now I'm thinking about it more seriously. The question is what model to get. I suppose I could get a new-model RAV4, but there's another type that I'm seriously eyeballing right now. It offers a number of advantages, would be more convenient overall, and would be more economical even with 4WD. I won't say what it is unless I decide to get one. There's just one problem: they don't currently offer it in BLUE.


  • Finally, a post about CARS!
    Man, I am not sure how many cars I have had but it has been a lot. If you add in the motorcycles, even more. I will probably forget some but cars: Pontiac Bonneville Station Wagon, Ford Granada, Pontiac 2000, Geo Storm, Mazda Miata, Isuzu Myu (Amigo), Ford Explorer, Ford Ranger, Ford Focus, Infiniti G35, Chevy S10, Nissan Frontier, Subaru Impreza, Datsun 280Z. Motorcycles: Yamaha YZR, Honda CBR, Kawasaki Eliminator, Buell XB12S, BMW F800ST.

    By the way, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

    By Anonymous The Intrepid Adventurer, at 9:45 PM  

  • Happily, as you know, I am unburdened by car ownership yet can ride-share with my wife when required. So I'm not a great source of info on the topic other than listening to NPR's podcast of "Car Talk" for laughs every Sunday.

    Perhaps a Subaru Impreza would fit the bill - decent mileage, all wheel drive and (maybe) enough room inside to meet your needs? I don't know what colors they offer.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:00 PM  

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