Here is 2002 essay I came across recently. It was never published — but I thought was an amusing look at the dilemma of driving an import in a city known for its cars.
Post your thoughts.
Is it chutzpah to drive imported automobiles in a town that posts signs that read “no foreign cars” at union halls? That was our dilemma when we first moved to Detroit, land of the Big Three.
We loved our Swedish cars, yet our vehicular needs changed along with our address. My husband’s Saab was designed to accommodate skis but wasn’t large enough to handle warehouse club quantities or large pieces of lawn equipment. And though my family-friendly Volvo performed unfailingly for over 140,000 miles, our carpool crew demanded more space than a five-seat car could offer. We’d have to make a switch but would we once again buy foreign or follow the suggestion left on my husband’s dirty windshield to “buy American.”
A minivan made the most sense. We visited an international array of showrooms, played with motorized seats, listened to jazz on nuanced sound systems and treated dashboard buttons like children let loose in a penny arcade. Not surprisingly, each make and model, from Chevrolet’s Astro to Toyota’s Previa, had its perks and quirks.
But Chryslers, with their Detroit pedigree and raves from consumer magazines outperformed the rest. The test drive was smooth, the look something I’d grow accustomed to and the price reasonable, given the high demand. I was an enthusiastic buyer and pulled my ’97 candy apple red Chrysler Grand Caravan LE into a garage that suddenly felt Lilliputian.
Over the next months I worked my biceps trying to parallel park and drove past “compact car only” parking spaces in city garages. I discovered the pleasures of third row seating, especially when the children got rowdy, and loved the roominess which allowed me to, on impulse, buy an antique armoire for pennies on the dollar. Though I missed my old car, I grew fond of my new soccer mom image with the accompanying crumb-crusted seats and forgotten apple cores. Then the problems began.
While the turn of a key in my Volvo produced a sweet compliant song of “at your service,” my minivan started a yearlong kvetchathon. This was a vehicle that didn’t want to be bothered by cold morning carpools or the stop and go life of an errand running suburbanite. The car’s high pitched noises made pedestrian heads turn and let our neighbors know we were coming from blocks away.
I spent many mornings waiting in the service department, drinking bad coffee, reading old magazines and talking to mechanics I got to know by name. Besides minor repairs that were still under warranty, my van “squealed,” “screeched” or “squeaked” depending on who wrote up the work order. I’d get a brief reprieve only to find myself back with another variant of the same problem. If headache cars were lemons, mine was citrus king.
Friends insisted that I just had bad luck and to try again. I, however, wanted to be rid of the nuisance the van had become. After selling the van back to the original dealer, cynical me started all over again.
Naturally every salesperson’s pitch,was the same, “superior product.” But I didn’t need biased opinions. I wanted a guarantee that I would not be getting the last car off a Friday afternoon assembly line.
“Buy an Odyssey,” the Honda salesman said, “and we’ll provide a loaner every time you come in, even for maintenance.” No more bad coffee or vending machine cookies, I thought. The offer clinched the deal but this time instead of buying, I would lease. I’d live with this set of wheels before agreeing to marry.
Five years of hassle-free driving has made me an Odyssey loyalist. What many of my Detroit neighbors fail to recognize however, is what Japanese automakers, with factories in 13 states and 56,000 employees, contribute to the American automotive scene. In fact those who think I have chutzpah should know that my minivan, while a product of a Japanese company, was actually assembled in Canada with American parts.