Taking it easy to make your car last and last

You can keep your super-duper, hi-tech new cars, says Paul Barnes.

You can keep your super-duper, hi-tech new cars, says Paul Barnes. - Credit: Archant

A new car is not high on Paul Barnes' agenda. After all, his current one has only done 181,000 miles...

Long ago, when I was a student and a smoker, I read that a certain jazz musician took to smoking a pipe because girls' mothers were inclined to trust a man with a briar clenched between his teeth, eyes twinkling as a fragrant cloud of Virginia rose above him. I played the trumpet in a jazz band in those days so I thought pipe might be worth a try. Alas, it didn't work for me. For a start, it was the devil's own job to keep the thing alight, striking match after match, dripping saliva as I did so. I failed to achieve that kind of suave and confident look of the man in the advertisements for television sets: 'Fine sets, these Fergusons'.

The other thing that caused me to ditch the pipe was the disturbing prickling sensation it gave me in the back of my neck. These days, TV advertisements for cars often have the same effect. As slim young people turn their heads, eyes agleam with lust at the sight of the latest all-singing, all dancing models, the neck starts warming up for a prickling session.

Why the prickling? Because modern cars are full of stuff I would never want. They don't seem to have much to do with motoring; they are more to do with 'life-style', full of electrical and electronic gimmicks that divert the person at the wheel from the actual business of driving, or even acquiring the skills to do it properly. Watching some of them trying a spot parallel-parking is a laugh a minute. 'It's OK; I can walk to the kerb from here,' said Woody Allen to Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.

My own car is 22 years old, with more than 181,000 miles on the clock. The lads at the garage know every inch of it. Year after year it sails through its MOT. The proprietor says, 'The way you drive, it should go on forever.'

The trick is to treat it tenderly, oil it like a baby, use premium-grade petrol, always double de-clutch (try explaining that to anybody under sixty), go easy on the brakes, and seldom do more than 45 miles per hour. That's how its last set of tyres rolled up over 50,000 miles.

Of course, it has to have a few quid spent on it now and then, fair wear and tear, but says the proprietor, 'No matter what you're spending, it's still cheaper than a new car.'

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I wonder if anybody might one day make a frill-free, unpretentious car like the 1933 Austin Seven, the one I learned to drive on. The cable brakes were a bit dodgy but you kept a sensible distance from the car in front. If brakes like that were standard we'd cut tail-gating at a stroke. My proprietor friend agrees, up to point. 'What about the man with a red flag walking in front? Would he come as standard or an optional extra?'