I love my car but am selling it because it’s time. With it, I’m bidding farewell to a carefree, unattached, adventurous version of me. But it’s time.
In the early 2000s, with my own money from my first job, I bought my own car. I was a border-town photojournalist during the week (so you can imagine, I had to scrimp), but on the weekends, I went country. We rode horses, went off-roading, had bonfires, danced, and rabble-roused all weekend every weekend, and I needed a car that could keep up.
While on vacation with my family on Coronado Island, California, still considering what my first car would be, we were walking toward the car after lunch. A 4Runner with the sunroof open and windows down drove up and haphazardly pulled into a nearby parking space, turning wide, and ending up with one wheel on the curb. The tanned, messy-haired guy behind wheel the hopped out, gave us a huge smile, shrugged, and traipsed off. I thought to myself, “I want that.”
Shortly thereafter I bought a 6-year-old red Toyota 4Runner SR5 with a sunroof and without frills. Power nothing, no upgrades, nothing to break or fall off while climbing mountains, not to be stopped by any curb. I put that car to the test and she never failed me. During a year and a half of grad school, I moved 13 times and each time I packed everything I owned in the back of the old girl, who I lovingly called Beast.
After the MBA in 2006, I moved to California. Not long after getting a job in San Diego, my friend and I were driving to do some cardio-shopping at Target, when a UCSD student drove at me perpendicular through his red light, my green, and though I swerved, I bumped the back side of his car. He flipped over into the nearby apartment building, sending a big bottle of laundry detergent and his textbooks out to tar and feather the intersection. Miraculously, no one was injured, but I bet the kid’s dad, a safety engineer for Ford, was pissed that the kid crashed this car (He failed to see the humor when I told him to let his dad know his airbags were good.)
Sadly, in that very intersection which was foamy from the kid’s laundry detergent and firefighters’ hoses, Beast perished.
Within the month, I drove up to Orange County and found myself an 8-year-old beautiful, upgraded 4Runner LTD, well-loved by its owner who was making a difficult decision to sell because her kids were getting too big for the back seat. Her sadness to see it go was equaled by my happiness to get it.
It’s been 11 years since then, and about 16 total as a 4Runner owner. I never put the LTD to the test quite like I did Beast, and am not as hopelessly attached, but I am still finding it difficult to move on. In the last year, with 266 thousand miles on the LTD (140 of them mine) and a few thousand dollars invested, betting she’d run another five years, I took her into the shop and found out she needs one more big repair.
I drive a toddler around all day. She’s messy, takes up a lot of space, and deserves something reliable. She doesn’t care how much I love my 4Runner, and I love her more. In the interim, I’ve been driving my parents’ small SUV – it has cargo space and a car’s chassis, which means fewer bumps and a more agile drive. It has lower miles, is younger, is closer to the ground and easier to get into, takes the curves, and has a lot more space in both the front and back seats.
So with a heavy heart, I make an adult decision to throw in the towel. I’m not a person who becomes attached to things and didn’t at first understand why it’s so hard to let go.
4Runners are my spirit car. They suited me best when opportunity was ahead of me, a life to be chosen, a world yet undiscovered, and my time and money were all my own. That version of me spent the weekends wandering in the wilderness, not at farmers’ markets buying veggies to make healthy meals. She kept the sunroof open. windswept and touched by the sun, unhindered by the threat of sunspots and skin cancer. She had money to spend on off-road tires because she didn’t have two mortgages. She needed a truck to carry her life’s belongings from place to place because she didn’t have a home.
But I do. A home, a career, and a family. I know who I am and have lived richly. With my 4Runner, I let go of the young, wild version of me and if trading in my spirit car for one that suits my beautiful life now is what it takes, my decision to end this 16-year relationship suddenly becomes much easier.
Maybe in a couple years when I’ve earned my mid-life crisis, I’ll get another 4Runner.