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Once upon a time, driving was very different

Having been in the RV world for more than 30 years, we have met and shared experiences with more than a few, how shall I say, mature folks out there with whom we have lots in common.

WARNING: If you don’t know a Kaiser from a Frazer or think de Soto was just a Spanish explorer, you may be a little young for this. However, if you decide to read on, there is an important message here for you.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was standing at the corner of Western Avenue and Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, nose-to-nose with a car salesman, arguing over the $2,800 price tag he had on a brand-new Ford. If you’re one of those aforementioned mature types, this doesn’t sound all that crazy. But for the younger among you, yes, you heard it right twenty eight hundred (with an “H”) dollars for a new Ford. And, that was the big V-8 with all the trimmings!

The last time I looked, which was when I Googled it approximately 22 seconds ago, the average price of a new car in this country was (gulp!) $31,252. Wait, that can’t be right! That’s twice what I paid for our first house! Thirty grand for a way to get from here to there? Get outa here!

Of course you could get a gallon of gas for 31 cents then, and sit down to a good steak dinner for under five bucks.

Most of us drove big V-8’s then. You could open up the hood, look down and see pavement all around that engine. Plenty of room to work and most everything within reach of a wrench. At the risk of sounding uber-macho here, a couple of guys could unbuckle that baby with a crescent wrench (well almost), rack ‘er up with a chain hoist and go to work.

This was an engine a guy could work on without having a PhD. That was back before they started selling us toy cars from all over the world with so much garbage packed under the hood that you couldn’t find the dipstick. This was when you could, wait . . . I’m getting off the subject.

We were getting close to doing a deal on that Ford but I wasn’t quite convinced yet so, what does the salesman come up with? “Tell ya what I’m gonna do,” says he. “How about I throw in a three-year warranty?”

That closed the deal for me. Salesmen could do stuff like that to get us to buy. Oh yeah, they still talk to you about a warranties now. But, get this, we were looking at cars the other day and the guy wanted to sell (SELL!) us a three-year warranty for another $2,500 on top of the asking price. Again, if you’re one of the younger crowd, this probably sounds okay when it’s really just hocus-pocus to get more of your money.

That was the one and only new car I ever bought ever in my life. Even when I could afford one, I always bought my cars a year or two old. Why? Because among all the many other costs of owning a new car there is one that too many of us prefer not think about. It’s called first-year depreciation.

Jeez! Drive a new car off the lot these days and you just threw away three grand. Why would anybody do that? But, then I was a young family guy with a brand-new son, and every respectable young family man with a brand-new son just had to have a new station wagon. They call ‘em SUV’s now.

I know. You’re thinking, “This guy’s still in the dark ages.” You’re right, but let’s think about this for a minute. It’s just as hard for me to believe that you would pay over $30,000 for a new car as it is for you to believe that I once paid $2,800 for basically the same car, only better. Things have changed, but not always for the good. Stay with me now.

Applying the same logic, it’s just as hard for me to understand why you drive the way you do as it is for you to understand why I drive the way I do. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” That’s a semi-famous quote from a classic movie which, if you’re under 40, you may never have seen. We’ve got to do something about this generational failure to communicate.

I’m a traffic safety professional. I work with people of all ages to improve their driving skills. We spend a lot of time trying to explain why younger drivers, generally drivers under 40 and of both sexes, drive the way they do. We hear a lot about older drivers driving too slow, for example, but there’s very little talk about why younger drivers drive too fast.

Mature drivers, which I prefer to call “grown-ups,” wonder why, when they haven’t changed their driving habits, driving seems to be getting so much more dangerous in recent years. I explain the two principal reasons — aggressive driving and distracted driving — recent phenomena which were virtually non-existent when they learned the rules of the road. I’m often tempted to add “possessed” and “obsessed” to that list but that would be cruel. Again, things have changed, but not always for the better.

The next time you’re behind one of those grown-up drivers and you think they’re driving too slow, look at your speedometer. Chances are they’re driving the speed limit. That’s what grown-ups do. They say older is wiser. To you younger drivers: Do they know something you don’t?

If you have time click on my name above and read my story called “Some People Never Learn.” Then let me know what you think. Let’s learn to communicate.

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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