5 Things I've Learned From Daily-Driving an Older Car



Cars have been the transportation method of choice for over 100 years now, and technology has turned even the most bog-standard automobiles into complex technological masterpieces. The silicon chip has allowed us to invent cars that can park, brake, and even drive without any human input. However, I think that, if you really want to know what a car is all about, you need to strip down to the bare necessities, and drive a really old car that has none of that assistive technology on it. It's the gearhead's way of getting back to their roots, and a great way to learn about the humble automobile at its purest form. Here are some of the things you'll learn once you decide to daily-drive an older vehicle.


We Are Spoiled By Modern Technology

The interior of a Ford F-150, which is like a Rolls-Royce compared to the F-Series of 40 years ago.

The interior of a Ford F-150, which is like a Rolls-Royce compared to the F-Series of 40 years ago.

In 35 years, a lot has changed in automotive technology, especially in North America. Today, you can expect the average car to come with air conditioning, power windows, tilt and telescopic steering, power locks and keyless entry. Even in the most basic, no-frills automobiles out there, you’ll likely get airbags, ABS, cruise control, traction control and power steering. My 1981 Datsun 720 has none of these. As a result, you quickly become aware of just how much we take comfort in the modern car for granted.


Old Cars Make Better Drivers

You never realize how many safety features cars have in this day and age until you have to make do without them. This impacts your driving in two ways: you gain more technical skill when you don’t have electronic nannies looking after you; and you subconsciously become a more careful driver. After all, if you are lucky enough to have an antique vehicle, you’re probably going to try your hardest not to crash it.


Old Cars Require Patience

No matter how well-built it is, old cars are going to break sometimes. Although the drivetrain on my truck is essentially bulletproof, it takes a little extra care and attention to run it. You might have to play with the choke to get the engine running more smoothly. Or you might have to look after parts that have simply worn out after 35 years. But the real test of patience is the search for replacement parts.  If you drive something that hasn’t been produced for nearly 30 years, you are going to have to scour through websites and junkyards to get what you need. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you start buying parts well in advance so that, when it does break down, you don’t have to wait a month to get your parts shipped.


You Don't Have To Be A Wizard to Fix Them

Mechanics have long said that today’s cars are much more difficult to service than the old classics. Cars that are old enough are pretty much purely mechanical, which means you don’t spend thousands of equipment on diagnostic equipment or complicated electronic components. Most of the work done on my truck has been done with simple tools in my garage, and yet I have even less mechanical skill than Jeremy Clarkson (I sometimes have to remind myself of the “lefty loosey, righty tighty” rule”).


Old Cars Have Character, and Owning One Can Help You Build Some, Too


This one goes beyond the tired old adage that “standard steering builds character.” Whether you know it or not, certain aspects of driving an old car have effects that can spill over into your personal life, as well. You learn how to persevere. You learn how to take care of things. You learn how to appreciate the simple things in life, and you learn the value of hard work. Once you draw the parallels between the relationship with your car and your personal relationships, you’ll start to become a better person, too.  Most importantly, especially in my case with the Datsun, you’ll start to become less and less materialistic. Yes, I could have bought a car that was much cooler and faster, but I didn’t. And, yes, driving around my hometown in a tiny, nondescript rust bucket of a truck will definitely take a few chunks out of your ego. But it will also make you less concerned about what other people think of you. My Datsun is painfully slow, rusty and dusty, but it does all that I need it to do. And why should I care about anything else? I’m not quite there yet, but I hope that my experience with the Datsun will grow and shape me into that simple kind of man that Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about.