Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Highs and Lows of Family Vehicles

By L.A. Kohl
April 1, 2007
(published in the May 16, 2007 edition of the "Bullseye")
Large family = large, gas-guzzling vehicle, correct? For the most part, that’s true. We’ve progressed from an old Jeep Wagoneer, to conversion vans, to a Suburban, and finally to the ultimate…a fifteen passenger van.

However, about four years ago, when our eldest became old enough to learn how to drive, we quickly found that Suburbans and fifteen passengers were not the ideal driver’s education vehicles. Thankfully Nate had a business client who needed some work done, and also happened to have a used car lot, so with a little swapping, bartering and not much money, we came up with what I consider to be an ideal little vehicle. Good gas mileage, AWD to get up our icy driveway in the wintertime, and most importantly from a mom’s perspective – great ratings in the crash tests. I won’t tell you what it is, as I wouldn’t want to be found promoting one car manufacturer over another – I’ll just suffice it to say that our daughter calls it a “SUV wannabe."

Imagine my delight when at Christmas time, our now nineteen year old daughter brought the SUV wannabe home from college and announced that it was time for her to make her own car purchase. She didn’t want to keep driving the “driver’s ed” vehicle…she wanted a car that was all her own. More importantly, she wanted one with a manual transmission, so she would be forced to learn how to drive a stick shift. (This conveniently also guarantees that her younger sister will never ask to borrow her car, as she has no desire to learn to drive a five speed!)

I was secretly cheering inside…now I could drive that little SUV wannabe to town anytime I needed. I could actually have fun driving on Route E and Highway 124, not getting all tense trying to navigate our big bus of a van around all those curves. And instead of having to climb/hop UP into a vehicle, I could actually sit down into the vehicle. By “down into”, I mean way down into…so far down that I have to careen my neck slightly to see over the top of the steering wheel. But hey, not a problem; it’s worth it to actually be able to reach those drive-thru windows.

However, when driving this little low rider, I sometimes pull up to a parking curb and hear an ominous “scrrrrkkch”…the sound of the front spoiler/bumber bottoming out on the curb. It sits so far down, that even though it is a very fine SUV wannabe…I did manage to get it stuck in a field once because the mud was more than six inches deep. Basically, it doesn’t matter how badly a vehicle wants to be an SUV, if you bury the axles, it probably won’t work like an SUV anymore. You’re getting the picture by now; this car sits low to the ground.

I was reminded of its lowly state once again this past week, as I was happily driving along curvy Highway 124 on my way to Columbia. I noticed a dark blob up ahead, right smack in the middle of my lane. It looked like some type of road-kill, lifeless and unmoving…probably a coon or opossum. I assessed the situation and knew I was going to have to straddle it, as there was a car coming from the opposite direction, preventing me from swerving around it.

It wasn’t until I was almost upon it, and then a moment later heard that ominous “scrrrkkch” sound as I went over the top of it, that I realized it wasn’t just your average, shapeless and mushy road-kill.
I couldn’t help laughing out loud as the realization sunk in. I had just bottomed out my little SUV wannabe on a snapping turtle. That was an all time low for us!

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