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Of Volvos and tanks

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on June 8, 2007

I drive a 1990 Volvo 740 GL. I’ve owned the car for five years. It’s a tank. I’ve driven Volvos like it for the past fifteen years, ever since my tiny 1987 Honda Civic was totaled by a 4×4 with those monster truck tires as it ran over my car’s front end in running a red light. I was in LA at the time, playing the tourist, and I had to tow the car up to my parents’ house in Ventura to store it while I arranged to dispose of it.

I bought my first Volvo station wagon after that incident on the basis of a story I’d heard. The Loma-Prieta earthquake in 1989 caused the collapse of the multi-level Cypress Freeway in Oakland. A couple managed to survive, buried under tons of freeway rubble, because their Volvo station wagon held under the weight until rescuers managed to dig them out. Rumor has it that Volvo bought the car from the couple, and it’s now on display in a museum in Stockholm. After having a near-death experience in my flimsy Honda, I told myself, now that’s the car for me.

I’ve been pretty happy driving Volvos ever since. Sure, they have problems. Their heater/air conditioning fans invariably break down. And they cost more, in both parts and labor, to work on if you go to mechanics that specialize in Volvos. But it’s been worth it in peace of mind alone. I’ve had three fender benders, all three involving cars that have run into me from the rear. In two of those incidents, while the car owners wailed over crunched front ends, I casually noted a scratch or two on my rear bumper. When a massive old Chevy Impala rear ended me at a stoplight and drove my car into the vehicle in front of me, I found only a bent license plate on my front bumper. The driver of the Chevy had a dent in his chrome bumper. The car I hit, again some tiny Japanese import, had a torn-off bumper and a dangling wheel well panel.

What brought this up was a little accident I had recently. I was driving my wife’s 2006 Lexus IS 250 last Wednesday when I was sideswiped by a woman driving a Ford Focus. Her side mirror smashed up the side mirror on the Lexus, and left a long black streak down the driver’s side of the car. I won’t go into how the other driver fled the scene and how I chased her down. Nor will I describe the shit she gave me just for wanting her insurance information or the fact that her car suffered almost no damage. The whole process of dealing with insurance companies is such an incredible hassle.

I’m pretty confident that, had I been driving my Volvo at the time, the damage ratio would have been reversed; virtually no damage to my car, and a fair amount to hers. Just the look of my car – fifteen years old and clearly a junker – usually keeps other drivers steering clear of me on the road. Indeed, when I drive my wife’s Lexus around, folks driving vehicular equivalents of my Volvo blithely pull out or change lanes right in front of me, assuming that I don’t want my new car to tangle with their junker. They’re right on that score.

Well, my Volvo has issues. It needs a new muffler, and a complete brake job. I’m looking to get another car, and while I’m not interested in something brand new, I’m tired of owning a vehicle that’s a decade or more old. Unfortunately, Ford Motor Company purchased Volvo in 1999. Call me an American hater, but I’m not at all confident that the newer Volvos are any good. I certainly don’t think they measure up to the pre-Ford Volvos. And I’m not willing to put my life in the seat of one of those tiny plastic Japanese numbers again. So, unless I can find a make of car that’s as sturdy and durable as a pre-1999 Volvo, I may get stuck owning another ten year old car just to feel secure.

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