2012.03.07 Good-bye, loyal Buick; Hello, car of the future

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

I can hardly believe I’m writing these words, but after nearly eight years of meritorious service, my faithful Park Avenue has gone to a better place. At least, I hope it’s a better place. At just under 179,000 miles, it certainly deserves a rest.

Last Tuesday, it went into the car dealership for a simple oil change and received a death sentence—well, almost. It turned out it needed one major repair with another quickly bearing down on it.  That’s the kind of news that keeps people away from doctors—the fear of hearing “You really need a heart transplant. And if you don’t get it, the lung cancer I diagnosed will kill you instead.” And neither I nor, I assume, my Buick saw its demise coming.

 Either repair was in the neighborhood of the total value of the car to an unbiased onlooker. It really didn’t make sense for me to repair it, no matter the Buick’s sentimental value. It would be up to someone with more mechanical skills than I to take it on as a project, or (and it horrifies me to think about this option) part it out, one nearly new Goodyear tire, $100 hubcap and 3.8 liter V-6 engine at a time.

Yes, I know I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than I should. I can almost hear someone saying, “It’s only a car!” But after seven less-than-ideal vehicles in a row, the Buick was a nice change. 

For one thing, it often went months, even a year or more, with no professional attention needed other than oil changes. It didn’t rust away before my eyes, like my 1987 Ford Aerostar. It didn’t have a steering rack nearly drop out on the road, like happened to my 1981 Plymouth Reliant on a trip to Toledo. 

It didn’t spend days (even two weeks on one occasion) in the dealership while factory engineers ran experiments on it, like my 1985 Ford Tempo. And even though it had a bit of an oil leak the last few years, the Buick never went through two quarts of 10W40 a month like my 1985 Chevy, the storied deer-smacking Caprice.

The toughest part of letting the Park Avenue go was emptying it of my personal possessions. I never let it get full of empty pop cans or fast food wrappers like some people, but you still tend to accumulate a lot of stuff in eight years.

Take, for instance, the bottle of Tums in the glove compartment. I remember having a roll or two in most of my cars. Apparently, the reliability of the Buick must have cured any stomach upsets caused by previous vehicles. The bottle was two years past its expiration and still unopened. 

And one final surprise from the Park Avenue. Several years ago, I lost a half dollar between the seats. For months afterward, I would sometimes move the power seats forward, hoping the coin would have worked its way free, but always to no avail. This last day, under the passenger seat lay the half dollar, with a penny for a companion, a final gift from a fine automobile.

In turning the car over to the dealership, I told one of the service technicians there was a cassette stuck in the stereo that I wouldn’t mind having back if they were able to extricate it. “A cassette?” he asked. “What is it, Jimi Hendrix?”

No, not Jimi, just a one-hit wonder from the early 1990s. Probably more desirable than the music itself was the RCA “Nipper” logos printed on each side of the cassette.

I did remember to retrieve my Billy Idol compact disc from the stereo, so the last CD played in the Park Avenue became the first one played in my latest car, a 2006 Buick Lucerne.

The Lucerne was Buick’s replacement for the Park Avenue, so I’m staying with a close relative as its successor. It doesn’t have a cassette player like the Park Avenue, but the stereo has 36 radio station preset slots, at least 26 more than I’m likely to use.

It’s also the most polite vehicle I’ve ever owned. When you start it, the digital readout changes from a totally lit screen to reveal the words “Buick Lucerne,” just in case you forgot its name.

Even better, when I started it Saturday, after introducing itself, it warned me of possible icy roads. That was pretty impressive. While I was sleeping, it was apparently studying the weather. I’m still going to miss the Park Avenue, but so far, the Lucerne is doing its best to prove itself a worthy replacement.

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