Out of Warranty

I've driven a dozen or so cars in my motoring career, and only a couple would really have qualified as roadworthy, strictly speaking. So I've become intimately familiar with the mechanical characteristics of various vehicles - mainly the ways in which they die.

Due to their tighter internal engine tolerances and small-displacement, high-revving nature, Japanese cars seem to run perfectly forever and then suddenly seize, like a blender caught on a butter knife, and the hundred or so feet the car coasts off onto the shoulder are as far as that particular auto is ever going to travel. You glance down, notice the temperature gauge is pinned into the red and the oil light's blinking desperately, and seconds later you're climbing out and flinging the door shut, its tinny slam resonating off the guardrail.

American cars, on the other hand, tend to be loping, lumbering hulks, capable of shrugging off years of neglect and full-throttle impacts with municipal curbs. They'll limp, sure - brakes squealing, wheels out of alignment, dribbles of oil speckling the roadway in their wake, but they keep going. Why, in a few moments here I'll head out to my sorry Pontiac, heave the door off its misaligned hinges, settle into the matted upholstery sagging over the broken seat springs and fire that sucker up. It won't start right away, of course - the starter's been going out for a couple months now - but eventually it will. Until one day, when the last ounce of usefulness has been strained from its iron heart, it will ultimately surrender, and the tow truck will come to take it home.

I'll leave it to the historians to decide whether it's best to go out with a bang or a whimper.

And, at least for now, continue with my assumption that Hiroshima was whirring with precision when the atomic bomb was dropped, and that the last U.S. helicopter to finally pull out of Vietnam had at least one loose rotor blade.

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