There is no way of saying precisely when the Horse Age ended and the Motor Age arrived. But one can approximate the date. The new era arrived about the turn of the century, when the gasoline vehicle ceased to be experimental and began to look like an automobile rather than a buggy directed by a driver sitting on an explosion. The genuine automobile displayed such characteristics of design as a hood, tonneau, and side door: it steered with a wheel instead of a tiller, and was capable of travelling up to forty miles in an hour. If the motor car fell short of Ransom K. Olds's triumphant claim for his Reo, "Nothing to watch but the road," it had at least attained the degree of dependability which made it possible for a young man to do his courting over a radius of fifty miles instead of five, while a proper Bosionian could plan to spend Sunday in the Afilton hills with a reasonable expectation of seeing the Common again on the same day.
The American motorist has everything working for him nowadays. There is an infinite network of excellent roads on which it is almost impossible to get lost, he is never out of touch with garages and filling stations, and there is an unmatched abundance of eating places, motels, inns, and lesser conveniences, many of them extremely good. He can drive anywhere he wants to in complete comfort, troubled only by the multitude of other people doing the same thing.
For little more than the price of a tired Model T, it was often possible to step up to a better automotive brand (in similarly rough shape). A seven-passenger Nash, perhaps, or a big Studebaker President. Maybe a sporty Chevrolet roadster or powerful Auburn-even a La Salle, or a massive Marmon V-16. Once past their prime, big luxury cars fell sharply in value. Motorists who couldn't even fantasize about a new Lincoln or Packard occasionally wound up in their driver's seats, years after those marques had lost much of their allure.
That phenomenon continued into the postwar years, when a rough Buick Century or Chrysler Imperial could be found for hardly more than the cost of a modest Plymouth. Besides, a humdrum car usually looked ultra-dull when its body had grown weary, but a stylish, sporty auto tended to retain some of its flair even after the glow had faded.
Motoring years ago resembled motoring today about as much as an Algonquin canoe resembles an aircraft carrier. Nobody hurried on a trip. Averaging about one hundred miles a day, which was considered a bit leisurely but not very much so. It might be remembered that most of the roads were all but totally unimproved. You couldn't make time on such roads if you wanted to, and if you tried you quickly broke something - a spring, or a, hip, or something. Obviously this was not much like motoring today. It was a great deal less comfortable, but somehow it was more fun.
Factory-issued vehicle identification numbers (VINs) are so cold and impersonal. As a motorer, it is your duty to give your vehicle a name befitting its unique personality. Name it as you would a boat: The Tsunami. The Corner-Hugger. Give it a dog's name, and pat the dash when it performs like a champ. Name it after your first love. A superhero. You get the idea. Your vehicle is a part of the family.
Herbie and Christine are names to avoid but the endless road stories you tell will be all the more interesting when one of the main characters has a cool name. (CAUTION: Christening your vehicle may damage vehicle exterior and ruin a perfectly good bottle of beer.)
As a motorer in-tune with the subtleties of a vehicle's personality, you will find yourself becoming a connoisseur of varying road surfaces. Like a fine wine waiting to be uncorked, the highways and byways of America have their own distinctive flavors waiting to be explored. Bon appetit
Asphalt with a hint of recycled glass creates a shimmering surface. Look for Urban Glassphalt on the streets of Manhattan and on L.A.'s Hollywood Blvd. See how Tinseltown and the City that Never Sleeps shine at night. Uncrowded stretches of farm-to-market roads that fill the vacant areas between the interstates are called Rural Blacktop. Watch for sticky, gummy patches in the summer heat, and super slippery black ice during winter freezes.
Today, we call Macadam a gravel road, but the original recipe was concocted in 1816 by Scotsman John Macadam. Look for telltale rooster-tails of dust heralding your arrival during summer droughts. Concrete is the original hard-surface road, and also the surface of choice of our most romanced byway, Route 66. (CAUTION: Beware of hypnotic, sleepy feeling associated with rhythmic clickety-clacking when motoring over concrete expansion joints.)
Jump starts. Opting NOT to exchange electrical charges with total strangers is up to the individual motorer's discretion. However, random acts of kindness do continue the flow of positive energy. Which adds up to good motoring mojo for you. Be the bigger car.
Smooth is the key. Obey the old racing adage: in slow, out fast. Overdriving, especially at a corner entry, could result in the vehicle controlling you, rather than the way it should be. (NOTE: A horn is not a musical plaything, and should be sounded only when absolutely necessary in traffic situations, i.e. greeting fellow motorers.)
What do you consider the basic necessities in your life? Food, water, shelter? Sure, and, most likely, your car. Mobility in many areas of the country depends on personal transportation. Cars are a daily essential, and the expenses associated with driving have become second nature; we don't really think about them. Well, yes, we budget for our monthly loan payment, balk when our insurance premiums go up, and gape at the price on the gas pump, but how often do we stop and add everything up to understand how much it's really costing us to own a car?
Here's an opportunity to do some consciousness raising. How much of your bank account is spent on the costs of owning and operating your family vehicles? Consider the finance charges, insurance premium, license and registration fees, depreciation, maintenance, repair, and gas bills. Of course, these expenses add up differently depending on what vehicle you drive, how you drive it, and where you live. Annually, AAA conducts research on "Your Driving Costs" to help members budget for automotive expenses. In 2004, this research concluded that the average cost of driving a new passenger car was 56.2 cents per mile, or $8,431 per year.
Vehicle depreciation costs car owners a lot. It is the largest component of a vehicle's expense. AAA estimates that a vehicle purchased in 2004 will have depreciated by $3,782 a year later. Full insurance coverage adds the second biggest dent to the vehicle budget, costing an average of $1,603 per year. Routine maintenance -- including the manufacturer's recommended maintenance operations and tire expense -- is estimated to cost $915 per year. And then, there's gas -- the expense on steroids. Based on prices posted on AAA's daily Fuel Gauge Report, the average vehicle owner paid $975 at the pump in 2004.
With a worksheet, a handy filing system, and an attention to detail, you can collect all your vehicle related expenses throughout the year and tally up the total to learn your vehicle's true price tag. While somewhat tedious, this exercise could be very helpful in understanding how your budget is being impacted today, and for the long term. A reality check on vehicle costs also may influence the timing and priorities of your next car purchase.
A car is often one of the biggest draws on the family budget. Knowing how much you're really going to pay to drive it each year may help you decide when and what to buy and, perhaps, how many macaroni and cheese dinners you'll have to survive in order to make your budget!
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