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Why a crap first car is the best first car…

Your first car is allowed to be a disaster.

A thing happened on Twitter today. I asked the masses what their first car was, and fundamentally, I also asked them how terrible it was. The responses were vast, with many a Twitterer keen to share their tales of automotive woe.

And that’s when it hit me. Nobody gives a crap if you have a good car. Where’s the fun in that? Oh look, here’s Dave in his perfectly reliable new car. No. That’s not the stuff of legend. It’s not going to shape minds or inspire others. A reliable, modern, 100% functional first car is, frankly, rubbish. At least in the context of the new driver.

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Your first car gives you freedom, it gives you independence. The world is yours for the taking. Or at least as much of it as you and your mates can cover with the fuel the collective shrapnel from your pockets can buy is. It’s just you and your machine, and it should also involve some breakdowns.

Getting from point A to point B with your own automobile is not a God-given right. You have to earn that. You have to skin your knuckles on rusty engine parts. You have to fill your lungs with oil that’s been turned into a dubious mist. You have to stand at the side of the road wondering where one of your headlights has gone? If you ask me, your first days of driving should be a challenge. They should make you question why you bothered passing your test in the first place.

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Now stay with me on this. I’m not being deliberately miserable. I’m not sat here wishing for your knuckles to be bloody and your lungs to be lubricated. I’m just saying that those things happening are good. They won’t seem good at the time, when you’re stranded on the side of the A62 at 3am. But when you look back, that’s the kind of stuff that you and your mates bond over. It becomes part of the tapestry of your life. A perfectly reliable new car on a low-interest PCP deal does not.

And I’m not talking nonsense here. That quip in the paragraph above, where I said you could end up wondering where one of your headlights has gone? That happened to me some sixteen years ago, and it still makes me laugh when I think about it. The car in question, my Mini 1000, was an abysmal machine. Truly awful from bumper to bumper. But man it has some hilarious memories attached to it.

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Just have a read of what that car put me through. Then ponder the fact that I have enough Mini-based fodder to write a three-part story. It’s still a car that my mates and I look back on and chuckle about. It makes us smile. A new car that never lets you down doesn’t.

Then of course there are all the moments of learning that come with an old crock. You learn about engines, you learn why things break and what you need to do to fix them. And in my case, you learn about the importance of making sure your bonnet is shut properly.And if it’s not, you learn what happens when your bonnet opens at 40mph.

And because it’s an old wreck, you can take to it with the spanners and you can have a go. You can get involved, you can build your understanding of how a car works, and that’s never a bad thing. Not only is a basic mechanical understanding a good thing to have, it also puts you in good stead for the future. Garage trying to overcharge you later in life? You’ll have some knowledge to lay down to question why?

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A crap first car also means you’ll value and cherish the next one. You’ll be a better person for not treating a car, which takes a huge number of resources to create, as a disposable white good. You’ll get to grips with the fact driving is a privilege, not a right. And when you adopt that mindset, you’ll enjoy every mile behind the wheel that little bit more.

But more than all that, an old beater that’s clinging onto life is fun. You’re young, you’ve just passed your test, you want something you can mess around with, you want something that will make you chuckle if you back it into a post at ASDA, not cry. You want something that, from the very moment you’re let loose on the roads, makes driving fun. You don’t want a valuable, stress-laden burden around your neck.

Fun. That’s what you want. Because that’s what driving is.

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