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My 1999 Camry: just an old car or a classic in the making?

Way to go, ancient Mayans (if that is your real name).

You predicted the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, or at least you were reported to have predicted that by mainstream media (which I believe without hesitation), but last time I checked (around 6-1/2 minutes ago) the world was still there. Just to be sure I'll check again right now.

Yep, still there, the world she keeps a-spinning.

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Not that I craved the apocalypse. Sure, it would have eliminated the interminable wait for the next season of Breaking Bad, but mostly it was all downside. I like the world. I like the fact it's always there when I need it (which is all the time). Without the world there's be no parenthesis (which I really like using). Say what you will, but when it comes to the world it's "Can live on it. Can't live without it."

Yet there was one significant upside to the Mayan apocalypse – if the world had ended on Dec. 21, then I would not be sitting here in 2013 trying to decide what to do with my dear 1999 Toyota Camry XLE. Like the world, my Camry has always been there for me. It has given me years of faithful service. When I was down, its V-6 pepped me up. When I was feeling fragile, the grip of its leather steering wheel gave me strength.

For most of our time together, I kept the Camry safely parked in a garage far from the wearing hands of the elements. The last few years, I've been compelled to keep the Camry out on a car park. Service repairs have grown. The occasional strange noise has become more frequent and, for the first time, I've begun to wonder if it's time to make a change – which is car euphemism for vehicular euthanasia.

Yet, even considering this potential parting sends me spinning. To get rid of my beloved Camry would be like doing a remake of Old Yeller's ending as directed by Quentin Tarantino. This is the Toyota that my kids lovingly refer to as the "sports car" – since it's not a bloated minivan with an interior encrusted by crushed Cheerios and mucus. To be offered a drive in the "sports car" is a cause for celebration. Offer them a trip in the Caravan and it's business as usual, but offer them a trip in the "sports car" and it's an instant special occasion.

That's all sentiment, of course. The fact is that the mileage is at a little more than 188,000 and the slight chip on the right-side passenger door has grown into a bare patch the shape and size of Australia on a world map. It has a CD player, which in the iPod Age is the same as having a boom box duct-taped to the dashboard. There's a lighter, in case I ever decide to take up smoking again. It's paid off: the only costs associated with the "sports car" are fuel, insurance and upkeep.

So, should I stay or should I go?

It's mighty tempting to stroll into a dealership and purchase a shiny, bright automobile. I could buy a new car, one with an iPod dock and all the latest gadgets. Nothing too crazy, maybe I'd get a Hyundai Veloster Turbo or a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA. I could always pick up a 2013 Dodge Dart.

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An old car is like an old habit. You reach a point every decade or so where you have to ask yourself: "Is this still working?"

Normally this moment comes at the 10- or 20-year mark. If the answer is yes, then you have to double-down and invest. You have to make a place for it in your life and give it the attention it deserves. You want to play competitive hockey into your fifties, then you'll need to train harder and with more discipline than you did in your thirties.

You want to keep that 1999 Camry well into the 2030s? You can't just commit to driving it. You have to commit to keeping it. That means love, attention and care. Each vintage car you see started out as someone's everyday ride. Then its owner decided they were in for the long haul and, 50 years later, gearheads stare in wonder as that 1957 Chevy Bel Air cruises by with the top down.

Granted, a 1999 Toyota Camry XLE is no 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

Not yet anyway.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More


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