CC Kids: Unintended Depreciation


Those who know me wouldn’t find this photo at all surprising.  Good habits begin early and these days, any passengers who dare push my car doors open with their shoes or rest their feet on the dashboard will find themselves reliving a Mommie Dearest moment.  I was six when this picture was taken, either in the fall of ’89 or spring of 1990; with the lack of deciduous trees in New York’s North Country, it’s difficult to pinpoint.

My father bought this 1984 Audi 5000 just after I turned five.  A fully optioned turbo model, it replaced the ’78 Nova he and my mother had purchased new in grad school and decided to junk after the passenger door flew open while making left turn at low speed.  If that seems wasteful, rest assured that ten winters in Syracuse and Plattsburgh, New York had reduced the unibody to dust, held together with paint and undercoating.  The Audi’s resistance to rust, on the other hand, was truly impressive, but as it turned out, the Chevy proved far more reliable than Ingolstadt’s finest.

The Quattro version wasn’t introduced until the 1986 model year.  Dad’s early production car therefore powered its front wheels with 140-hp horses fed through a fragile automatic transmission.  The five-cylinder warbling through three very tall gear ratios made a very distinct sound.  I still remember the turbo’s unusually low-pitched whistle, accompanied at all times by a dull hum.

It was very unlike from the metallic noises my mother’s Accord made, and even as a five year old passenger, riding in the Audi made for a very different experience.  It didn’t crash over pot holes, and my feet didn’t reach the floor, but most importantly, it was absolutely loaded with gadgets.  With fog lights, heated power seats, map lights everywhere, a trip computer and rear headphone jacks, the first couple of months were a classic “don’t touch it, you’ll break it” childhood experience.

None of these accessories broke (much), but among other problems, the transmission went out, as did the water pump.  When my dad made his final attempt to unload the car, the transmission again died, along with all four power windows.  After four years, he sold the car for a pittance.

My father thought with both his heart and his head when buying what seemed like an irresistible bargain.  As a professor of mass communications, he knew better than to believe hyped-up stories of unintended acceleration, but all in all, it proved too good to be true.