Life in New Zealand
Author: Inventunus

Chapter 7
Owning a Car

  Buy a car when it’s 5 years old. That way it’s relatively cheap and hasn’t yet gone round the clock (that the registration papers admit). Let’s say it’s the year 1983.  Go for the bright red Toyota Corolla, 1977 model. It only had one previous owner. Bright red is a good colour for several reasons: 1) other cars can spot you a mile off thus reducing the likelihood of you hitting them; 2) any rust that develops blends in nicely with the overall colour; 3) its a good colour to keep clean.

    Whilst on that last point, make sure you keep the car as close to its original condition as possible. Without sacrificing family time, clean the outside panelling at least every 4th Saturday and the inside every 8th Saturday. If anyone comments on it in the meantime, say you are conserving water and energy.

    After enjoying its company for 4 years, have a working holiday in England from 1987-1988. Sell your precious red Corolla to someone close. Say… your mother-in-law. She needs a car of your vintage to ply the roads of Waiheke Island. Say a fond farewell.

   Several countries and a few years pass. In 1993 you move to the bustling township of Taipuha in Northland where you discover that your new house is only one of two houses in the entire village.  The roads are a little wild and unsealed and you need a car suited for this. Whilst thinking this, your mother-in-law rings to ask if you could use a certain small “red” Corolla again, at no cost. Ideal!

   Welcome home your precious Corolla. Admittedly it looks a little different. It’s not bright red anymore. Actually it looks like someone dropped it inside a volcano and dragged it out kicking and screaming. (Prophetic imagery.) Its colour is now red with pink streaks, yellow smudges and rusty brown. But it’s your car! And it ideally suits the farming area where you live so on no account try to restore its former glory. (Impossible anyway.) Remarking to your mother-in-law as she hands it over about its new unique character (a sensitive alternative to asking what on earth happened to your poor car), you discover it sat for a long time at the beach home, well sheltered under a lovely old oak tree - that dripped!

    Unfortunately, the WOF (Warrant of Fitness) is due shortly. Before you go, get a feel for the roads round about and take the car for a spin. Metal roads, you find, make the car spin more than you intended (especially on bald tyres) so one hour later you’ve had quite enough. The car is now coated in a 2” layer of mud. Pity because the next job was to inspect the rust. Leave it. Book a WOF.

     The garage attendant smiles broadly as you drive into his garage for a WOF. “A WOF? For this car?” he asks with a look of dismay on his face. You bite your nails awaiting the result, instead of praying. Foolish. The result: your car fails miserably on 10 counts though only one is potentially serious. The attendant admits that he can’t fully check the serious condition because of all the mud.

     Go home and wash the car, even though its not the 4th Saturday. Book it in for a WOF at another garage. This time pray! (No nails left anyway.)  “A WOF? For this car?” he asks with a look of dismay on his face. Pray some more. The result: your car fails on 10 counts, all of them fixable. If you wait 2 hours, they’ll fix them and give you the WOF. Praise God! Ask what the 10 items were just out of curiosity: poor brakes, front and rear lights broken, horn out of order, rust barely holding the front and rear hoods together, 3 tyres bare and the 4th absolutely shot… All minor items, you deduce. Great.

    Back home you proudly pull in the driveway, all smiles. Closing the car door, a piece of rust flicks to the concrete garage floor. You notice for the first time, quite a gathering of rust at certain parts on the floor  round where you park the car. Try to park in the same place each time so you can do a statistical analysis of the build-up of rust on the garage floor over a space of say, 3 months. Make sure no-one sweeps the garage during that time.

   This reminds you of the 1st car you ever owned. A 1968 Hillman Hunter. It too had a problem with rust at the door base. Remember when your brother Dennis offered to paint the whole car transforming it from dull grey to brilliant blue? When he came to the rust hole in your front door he almost emptied a whole can of rust filler into the hole before deciding to bog it with something else. You never did find what he used. Something it pays not to ask about. Dennis did a great job.

  

    Take a trip to the local rubbish tip. There you will surely find rust filler and paint as well as some old cars. Hack off any metal logo plates you can find. Return to your car. The hole near the hood you can cover with the Rover logo plate and liberal rust-fill. The holes below the door will need a series of name-plates. Don’t just  stick any on willy-nilly. Have a plan. All vintage models. Or all Japanese logos. Or all European (to give your car some class.)

      On the roof, much of the top has little original red paint left. Wire brush it down or you’ll go through too much sand-paper. Stop before you get to the carpet lining on the inside. Throw on an undercoat. When you’ve finished, you may discover it was not meant for cars. Sandpaper the worst bits the next day (and when you have finished sand-papering the whole car) then apply the top coat. As you apply the nice red paint you found at the tip (wondering why anyone would waste paint of any kind), you notice that the paint when dry changes to a pinky red colour. Rejoice that the car now looks as good as new, though not quite like the almost new car you bought in 1983. The different shades of red, pink and yellow are still evident but at least your precious car has character.

 

      It’s ready for a drive in the countryside. Take the old Mareretu Station Road (NE of Paparoa). A one lane road the whole way, it meanders up a series of small hills with lots of sharp bends. You’re a good driver and though tempted to throw caution to the wind, you remember in time that this road is a milk tanker route. A head-on at 100km/h would surely reduce your favourite car to a small ball of twisted metal.

   The beauty of this particular road is its scenery though it’s inadvisable to enjoy it if you are the driver. At the base of the hill is a small stream meandering through plush green pasture dotted with willows. Sheep and cattle enjoy the rich feed. Old dilapidated sheds here and there are reminders of plans and schemes of farmers in former years. Blackberry vines string the roadside fences. Remember to pop back in the blackberry season. The morning dew has left the grass wet beside the road and later you will wish you had thought that through more carefully.

    Having enjoyed the road to its fullest, and seeing the end up in sight a few corners away, your defences drop. Up ahead is a blind corner. Honk your horn. (It goes!) Good. Go wide just in case the milk tanker couldn’t hear your bleat of a horn over the noise of his stereo blasting in his air-conditioned cabin.

    Your left tyres run along the wet grass verge as you brake and slow to 15 km/h. Oh oh! You are sliding! Continuing to brake continues the slide. Now you are unable to turn the car out of danger because the wheels have mysteriously locked with the slide. You are about to fall off the road, down a steep 8’ grassy bank on your left. You spot a fence beyond and then, horrors, a long roll down to a small stream about 100 meters further down.

     In a flash you realise that if the car rolls off the road, it will surely flip and, crashing through the fence, roll many times before hitting the stream a few minutes later. What to do?! …. Your life rolls before you as over the slope the car slides. Sure enough, it begins to roll. But… Miraculously, suddenly stops! You are hanging sideways in your seat-belt, your door above you. How…??

    Fearing the worst that the petrol will drip onto the engine and catch fire, quickly unbuckle your belt (with difficulty). How do you open a door that lies above you?  You don’t. Wind along the window and climb out. As you leap out safely, you remember your coat and wallet back inside at the far end of the car. Leave it in the car!

    Climbing the wet slippery slope, you see your poor car from the safety of the narrow road. There you discover the grace of God. Most farmers build their fences in New Zealand out of wooden posts. This farmer has used concrete posts just on this corner. One post has caught the front of the car. Another the rear of the car. It is held firmly by 2 angels who are not moving! Give rightful thanks to God.

    Now the problem is how to get your disabled car out of its miserable state? Miles from a garage. (The  nearest one being that which refused you a WOF.)  Over a few fields you spot a farm-house. Walk over to it. Reluctantly, Farmer Brown’s wife drags herself away from the TV soap (“Days of our Lives”). Pray for mercy.

    After explaining your predicament with profuse apologies, she decides you don’t need the phone. Her husband can surely help you. OK, now you get to watch the end of the soap whilst she trudges off to find her husband on the farm. Use the time to: a) do more praying; b) work out how you’ll explain all this to your family later; and c) make sure you know how the soap ends in case the farmer’s wife asks you.

     She returns with hubby in tow, in his tractor. “Hop aboard,” he says jovially. (Prayer works!) He assures you above the noise of his non-air-conditioned cabin-less cabin that this sort of thing happens all the time. However, he is a little mystified that your car is at the fence-line and not in the creek where most cars end up. (Perhaps he doesn’t believe in God or angels. Pray that he will.)

      Arriving at the site of the disaster area, he looks, scratches his head, mutters gasps of wonder and says, “Well, I’ll be!”  While you ponder this last remark, which hinted at a philosophy of eternal longevity, he inspects the damage.

      Unwinding the tractor’s steel tow wire, he attaches it to the rear bumper of your car. He yanks it hard to test it and the rust holding your bumper convinces him instead to attach it to your back axle. He is going to attempt to hoist the car and asks that you closely monitor the progress in case the wire snaps and you  indeed lose the car to the stream below. Be a fool. Get right down there with the car but look for the best spot to dive to in the event of an emergency (like if the farmer sneezes). The tow wire takes the weight. There’s grunting and groaning of wire and metal scraping off the concrete post. But, behold, your car moves in the direction intended. With some fine tuning here and there, within 5 minutes it’s back on the road the right way up. The fence-line unmoved by the incident!

     Now the moment you feared. Inspecting the damage… Well, it could be a lot worse. Yes, there is a large bend in the front and back left panels above each tyre. But no holes. Yes, it is pretty obvious you’ve been in a car accident though someone might lose “21 and out” guessing what kind.

    The farmer kindly checks under the bonnet for signs of damage or dripping oil or petrol. Nothing to be seen. He suggests you start the car. It starts. The cars inches forward. No problem with movement. Stop and silently give thanks that: 1) the farmer refuses any compensation; 2) the car moves and can be driven home; and 3) the car wasn’t baptised in the stream at the bottom of the hill. After shaking the  farmer’s hand with manifold thanks, wave goodbye and drive home. Carefully! Avoiding the grass verge.

    Since your car is so old and probably won’t get a WOF next time, forget about re-panelling the side. Let it be a perpetual reminder to you to drive even more carefully. You will find it’s also a great conversation opener, as well as a testimony of God’s grace.

     In 1995 you decide to be a missionary in China. Sell your beloved “red” Toyota to your good friend James for $200. He’s grateful to have a car that moves, in addition to the 3 on his farm that don’t. Visit James in 1997, home on furlough, and hear the sad story of the demise of your red Toyota. True to its unique character, it apparently burst into flames of its own accord at midnight one evening and was a burnt-out wreck before the fire brigade got there. It probably missed its earlier volcanic baptism by fire and just wanted to go home. (Now James has 4 cars that don’t move.)

 

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