Sometimes, when I lay awake in bed thinking about my car, I wonder if my car is laying awake in the garage thinking about me too. It's probably not, but I'd like to think that my car is more than just a rolling piece of steel, glass and rubber. A noisy Subaru is definitely not short of character, that's for sure, but can a car be some sort of transient being? Can my car, or any other car for that matter, become...alive....*cue creepy music and stormy sounds effects*
Some cars have more character than others the day they roll off the assembly line. An STi is going to have more spunk than say a Toyota Camry, but does that translate to it having an actual soul? When I sit and think about it, maybe it's not so much the car's character that give it a soul, but it's something that blossoms over time. Maybe it's a high millage machine that refuses to die. Maybe it's a car that's been beat up in an accident but still drives straight. Maybe it's a car that's been on the road for more than 40 years and you cherish it more than your wife, but you won't tell her that because you know that would mean you'd be sleeping in it. Maybe it's simply a car that brings you joy in some way that another car can't.
So after much deliberation, I came to a conclusion. I think the soul of the car is tied to two things:
1. The car's character, and the attachment that you as an owner have to it.
2. The life that the vehicle itself has lived, regardless of the owner.
As I said before, while each car is something unique by itself, the longer that you own your car, the more of an attachment that you form with it. You learn all of it's little secrets, and what it can and can't do. You know what feelings are normal when you're behind the wheel, and when something is wrong. You know what noises it makes, and which ones are worth listening to. Sometimes if you whisper sweet nothings to it, it listens and magically starts to run better. But more than all of that, you share moments with your car that nobody else can take away from you. Traveling to far away lands, sliding sideways through snowy roads, and making friends (both of the human type and the machine type) along the way. But like real people, cars have flaws too. A Toyota MR2 would love to kill you on a daily basis if you're not careful, but yet there's people that still love them for their faults. Hell, people even give their cars human names too. If that's not some form of attachment, then I don't know what is.
So through it all, a car begins to take on almost a life of its own. When I first bought my Subaru in 2009, I didn't know diddly squat about anything. I couldn't drive stick, I've never owned a turbocharged car, let alone any kind of foreign car. But not long after I bought it, we started to share moments. I got the hang of shifting down pretty quickly (after being honked at a lot), started leaning more about what makes these cars tick (and just cars in general), and because of the Subaru community on NASIOC, I met a lot of great people who would become equally great life-long friends. No matter what we did though, we did it with our cars. Cruises through the back roads of Wisconsin, weekend retreats in Michigan for Sno*Drift weekend, and taking turns going down the drag-strip for the Subaru Shootout. Next thing you know, I'm standing up in these people's weddings and I'm doing motor swaps in their garages for the first time. It doesn't take much for things to snow ball into something bigger, but I can trace everything back down to a single decision to buy my car, which is pretty remarkable.
The other aspect of a machine with a soul is the physical aspect of the car itself. While a new car is beautiful and pristine to look at with it's shiny paint and rust free body, it's almost a blank canvas in a way. The vehicle hasn't been used. It hasn't lived a car's life. There's something to be said about seeing a survivor classic car, or a 20 year old machine that's still chugging away on the road, caked in rust and dirt. A car like that earns my respect in my book, and all of the door dings and chipped paint along the way is just a way the car shares its life story with anyone that comes in contact with it.
For example, I'm pretty sure the hood of my car has more craters in it than the surface of the moon, but that's because I don't let it sit in my garage. My car sees a lot of highway miles because of my travels to work and other little road trips. I have door dings galore because the previous owner had kids and liked to ride their bicycles, and that just so happened to also be in the garage next to the car. You can do the math with how that worked out.
The dent in my front fender is from an accident I had when someone cut me off, just a few months after that exact same fender was repaired because I pulled a car out of snowbank and it wanted to thank me with a kiss. My roughed up front bumper is from hitting a snow bank while attempting to do a standing 180° turn at Sno*Drift last year - my bumper is evidence of how well I executed it.
The fact is that if you look at my car, you can see all of the imperfections, but they tell a story. While my car is no show car, and I still try my best to keep it nice, these things happen. But when it's all said and done, it's what makes my Subaru, my Subaru. And the best part of all of this is that when I decide to sell my car, those little imperfections stay with the car as if to say "This is what I've accomplished". The next owner will be able to make new memories with it, but it can't take away the moments I've already shared with it.
And it's the memories we share with our cars that leaves the most lasting impression. It's the stories you'll tell your friends or your kids someday. It's the reason why I've written about my beater car and why, despite its flaws, it was such a memorable vehicle to own. Because after you give up your keys to some new owner and say goodbye to your 4-wheeled friend for the last time, that's all that you'll be left with. So enjoy the moment, savor the memories, and drive it like you love it, because there isn't any shame in letting your car live a fun life too.