My Hooptie, a Love Story: The Amazing and the Terrible Things about Driving an Old Car


If my car were a person, she’d be getting her driver’s license this year.

When I was 17, my parents gave me the amazing gift of a used car. I named her Mollie Malibu. She was mine to take to college and drive through young adulthood.

As she approaches 17 years of age and 200, 000 miles, I have a strange a mixture of pride and shame. An old car certainly has benefits, such as no car note and low insurance and tag fees. By driving Mollie and my husband driving his 18-year-old car, we’ve saved thousands of dollars, yet in a culture that’s fascinated with the new and nice, it’s not always a fun decision to make.

There’s so much pressure to have the nicest and the newest.

Newer cars offer security. They’re outward signs of success and financial well-being. On some of my less proud days, I’ve parked away from events and walked farther so I wouldn’t have to be seen with my car. The plan has been to drive these cars until they break past the point of being worth the cost of repair. Each day we’re surprised they’re still going. We’ve had a handful of moments like when a belt broke on a rural stretch of road, stranding us while I was pregnant. It was unnerving to scramble for help, but not only did we survive, Mollie’s gone another 40, 000 miles since then.

Though they run, the truth is neither car is in great or even good condition.

Mollie’s engine idles rough, and the small oil leak a mechanic previously told us about has grown noticeable. Her paint’s peeling. Interior plastic has dried out and cracked. The turn signal is temperamental. We had to disable the theft lock system that started to lock the engine more and more frequently. I haven’t had a driver’s vanity mirror in years, and please do not try to open my glove box.

Yet, I love this car. For all her flaws, she’s mine. She’s been there for me for my entire adulthood. Time and use are wearing on her not unlike they wear on me. Mollie has gone from moving me into my dorm room to carting around my babies.

Mollie’s got her quirks, but she’s been one of my best assets.

To be able to get in a car and go has been a huge privilege. She’s taken me to work, on trips, to our wedding and honeymoon. She’s carried so many friends, so many groceries, and so many books from story time. She was there to get me to every job interview I’ve ever had. Last year, she was about 15 minutes from being where I had my second baby. Sure, reliable A/C would be nice, but it’s a luxury we’ve learned we don’t have to have. Saving for our family and an unknown future has been more important than climate-controlled comfort.

With the ongoing budget crisis facing higher education, we have been very cautious about adding additional bills. After relocating for my husband’s professorial career, we were glad that we didn’t have those additional expenses as I searched for a new job. I had no income when the state government released a projected budget that cut 83% funding to the university where my husband had been working less than a year. As we had hard conversations about contingency plans, I cannot understate the relief we felt knowing our monthly bills, besides housing, were so low.

We’re not living a life of poverty by far. Though I cannot buy everything I would choose, we eat well and regularly. This past year we had to use our emergency fund for the first time, and we were so glad it was there. It gave us so many options, allowed me to pass up undesirable employment and hold out for something better. Better things have come along, including buying our first house. The loan we were able to get was thanks in large part to Mollie, our other car, and the money we saved driving them even when they were inconvenient, embarrassing, and hot.

The other day my husband’s car stalled out at a red light.

Though it started again and the problem hasn’t reoccurred, we know we may be nearing the end for these cars. It’s hard to think about moving on when they have been so good to us even when we don’t always think so kindly about them.

To my beater, my clunker, my hooptie, my friend, please forgive me when I fail to acknowledge all you’ve done for me. You’ve taken me where I’ve needed to be for over 15 years. You’ve taught me thrift, humility, and a hard kind of pride that’s made me more kind, patient, and appreciative. Though I will miss you when you finally go, I will be forever grateful for every mile.