Curbside Musings, Conundrums, & QOTD: How Old Is Too Old?


Long ago my grandfather told me the older one gets, the faster time passes by.  When I first heard this observation around age 15 or so, I was somewhat able to grasp the basic concept but had not yet acquired the basic life experience to fully comprehend his wise observation.

I use “wise” as I am now thirty-odd years further down the path of my life and the painful truth of my grandfather’s statement continues to ring true.  New days keep rolling around increasingly faster as each new year seems to be shorter than the last.

My wife and I are less than three months apart in age.  This small age gap allows for easy comparison and commiseration as time starts to take its toll on us, giving us the opportunity for a truly joint effort in facing the aging process.  Naturally many of our milestones of aging are neither simultaneous nor identical; I have nearly escaped having gray hair while she has thoroughly sidestepped the typical middle-age weight gain.

Both of us are aware, via social media, of the goings-on of some of our former cohorts, primarily those from our high-school years.  Both of us have been guilty of carefully examining the various pictures these people post.  In some cases, but not all, we have realized the years have not been overly kind to these people.  This makes us wonder what conditions have manifested in which we can brazenly view the results.

This all leads into a conversation we recently had about automobiles.

With there now being a third driver in our house, the need to again adjust our automotive fleet is rapidly approaching.  The extent of adjustment is the biggest question, a quandary that leads into the question in the title.

Long ago in some other article I opined that cars are generally built to mimic a 35 year-old person – mature, where everything functions and there are no leaks, squeaks, or rattles.  From that point forward the aging process is wildly divergent.

Like with people, the aging process for automobiles has countless variables.  Exercise, environmental realities, and maintenance all play into the automotive aging process the same as it does with people.

One of the beauties with an automobile is how it is perfectly acceptable to kick a figurative member of the family to the curb and replace it.  But when is that point reached?

The trigger for this conversation was our 2000 Ford Econoline.  It has 133,000 miles, we have owned it for over eleven years, and the slow onset of aging is making itself known.  While this van has been featured here many times, it is now being used strictly as an example.

Early last summer the van was having intermittent episodes where the oil pressure gauge read zero for about a quarter mile after a cold start, after which the gauge would jump to normal range.  Knowing nothing was wrong with the oil pressure, I tracked down a faulty $15 oil pressure switch.  It was an easy repair, taking all of ten minutes.

This was something I have never had to replace before.

Then, in October, we made a trip to visit friends in Kansas City.  On the way back, my wife was driving.  She commented about the play in the steering.  Soon after, our daughter drove it and observed the same thing.  It had happened so gradually I had not noticed, but there was indeed play.  I tracked it down to a worn drag link.  I ordered a new one and a coworker installed it.

This was something I have never had to replace before.

Are either of these cause to get rid of it?  For some people it likely would be.  But switches go bad and suspension parts wear out, especially those with no grease zerks.  But, despite appearances to the contrary, this van is 22 years old.  It’s not only old enough to vote, it’s now old enough to legally drink.

It’s not like the van is unreliable; in January we drove it the 750 miles each way to Denver.  A cold and semi-snowy voyage, the van ran flawlessly.

Looking for potential replacements and/or enhancements to our fleet brings up another quandary about how old is too old.

In the Fall of 1983, I made a day trip to Memphis, Tennessee, with my parents in their 1983 Plymouth Reliant.  Upon our departure, a member of the Arkansas State Police desired to speak with my father.  During this discussion about velocity while sitting on the shoulder of I-55, the trooper asked my father what model year the car was.  My father confidently replied it was a 1973.

This provided two new experiences.  First, it allowed me to see a trooper having a look of confusion.  The second was my first insight into how people tend to compress time in their memories.

In my very initial scoping of automotive offerings, I keep finding examples from the 2005 to 2008 timeframe and thinking those don’t seem too old.  Then I have to remind myself this is fourteen to seventeen years ago.  How old is too old (for me) to shop for a car without reminders of time having elapsed?  When my brain catches up, all I can do is think, “duh, 1973 Plymouth Reliant”.

During the course of my life, I have occasionally purchased something for daily to semi-daily use which was older than fifteen years in age.  While one of these (but not this fantastic Dodge) was not the smartest move in the history of the world, my need to adjust for the passage of time has me questioning myself about how old is too old when looking to purchase a car.

I realize the need to have a model year cutoff.  Anything older is too old.  But then there is the part of my brain that kicks in, asking if I am willing to sacrifice some great opportunity that might be presented by a person much older than me, one who has taken care of what they have.  It’s quite the conundrum between the rational and frugal parts of my brain.  I say that as we’ve all likely seen irrational frugality.

Purchasing older cars has generally been a money maker, with one (identical to this awesome Thunderbird) quintupling my initial investment.  But is it always worth it?

The easy way out is to simply purchase something new yet my basic constitution abhors pumping money to a depreciating asset.

The dilemma will no doubt continue unabated.  And there is no doubt everyone here has battled some form of this same dilemma.

So how old is too old?