THE POPULAR CAR TALK RADIO SHOW would often get calls that went something like this:

“Hi, this is Bill from Burlington. My daughter lives in Indianapolis and is about to give birth to our first grandchild. My wife and I want to be there, but we’re wondering whether we should attempt the journey in our five year old Camry with 42,000 miles on it, or whether we should get a new car to make such a long drive.”

Most of the time I would be disappointed when Tom & Ray didn’t give an answer similar to this:

“Before this trip was in your plans, Bill, how much longer had you imagined you would keep your Camry?”

“Oh, a couple more years.”

“Is it running okay?”


“Any problems with it in the past?”

“Just regular maintenance stuff.”

“So it’s a good car, then?”


“And you don’t drive around Burlington worried the car could break down at any moment?”

“No, no.”

“Okay, let’s see, you said it had 42,000 miles on it and you’re driven it five years. That works out to about, oh, 8,000 miles a year or 700 miles a month, more or less. Right?”

“I don’t have a calculator handy, but that sounds about right.”

“Burlington to Indianapolis and back is, what do you guess, Tommy, about 1,500 miles round trip?”

“Something like that.”

“So, Bill, that’s about the same as two months worth of your ordinary driving around Burlington.”

“Hmmmm… yeah, I guess.”

“Let me tell you a secret about cars, Bill. They don’t know they’re on a trip. They don’t know they’re far from home. They don’t freak out and throw a rod because they’re somewhere unfamiliar. But people do. The farther we get from home the more we think something bad will happen.”

“Y-y-y-yeah, but…”

“But something still might happen, right? Tell you what, take a tiny fraction of the money you might spend on a new car and have your Camry inspected bumper to bumper by the most finicky mechanic you can find. Replace any questionable parts, change the fluids, even get new tires. Then load up and head out for Indianapolis. And if necessary, keep reminding yourself, ‘Miles are just miles. Miles are just miles. Whether they’re miles around town or miles around the country. Miles are just miles…’”

“Y-y-y-yeah, but…”

“Unless, of course, you just want a new car and you’re using this trip as an excuse.”

This is why Tom and Ray had a radio show and I didn’t.

Yes, vehicles break down. But they break down because they’re in bad shape, not because they’re in unfamiliar territory.

When the power steering went out on my van, it wasn’t because it was on the other side of the country from its “hometown.” It wasn’t because it was about 35 miles up a dirt road from the nearest mechanic. It was because the van had 13 years and 310,000 miles on the clock. And because I had been ignoring some warning signs, like a moaning noise and a chronic power steering fluid leak.

Where do you want to be?

Let’s say you knew your rig was going to break down in, oh, 5,000 miles. Which would you rather do?

Use that 5,000 miles traveling only within familiar and reassuring territory

Use that 5,000 miles traveling to new, interesting, life enriching places

This is similar to the old question, “What would you do if you knew you had only X time to live?”  Most of us would want to finally do all the things we were going to do… someday. Well, what would you do if you knew your rig had only X miles left in it?

I know I would be severely disappointed if I had spent the past nine years still in a hometown I hated only to save myself some anxiety, inconvenience and money when my van broke down. I would rather spend almost a week in a Motel 6 in Grants Pass, Oregon, while the van was being repaired, thinking about all the wonderful things I had experienced so far, instead of loathing myself and my dead end life back in the same old place.

Of course, there’s Option C: Get your rig checked out and repaired now so you can stop worrying about it. Sure, that’ll cost money, but so will the eventual repairs. At least you can do it when it’s convenient, when it’s planned for, when you can still drive your rig to a mechanic instead of needing it towed from the boonies.

But if you’re poor, if you can’t afford a reliable vehicle or the repairs to make it reliable, if your rig is keeping you from being homeless, then drive as little as possible. Don’t risk it. Be sheltered, be safe above all.