Good-bye, Old Friend

Bill Tune

Ending an 11 ½ -year relationship can be tough.  While the memories will live on, turning the page on a final chapter is not easy.  It was with a flood of mixed emotions that I watched my white, 2001 Toyota Tacoma leave my driveway for the last time.

In a way, it was the end of a 15-year era for me and the Tacoma, Toyota’s smaller pickup truck.  It all started in 1997.  My 17-year old son was using the 2nd car more and more, and as any good American family
knows, 3 driver’s licenses require 3 vehicles.  We were living in the country at the time, and as any good Texan knows, country living by definition necessitates a pickup truck.  As usual, money was an issue, so, being a long-time fan of Toyota, the best I could do was a basic, no-frills Tacoma: stick-shift, small cab, and while the radio did boast both AM and FM reception, it did not have a cassette tape player (what’s a CD?).  I had to enroll in a lease program in order to afford even that.

The ’97 Tacoma served me well, but at the end of 4 years, I wanted something with a few more perks.  In 2001 I was serving my second sentence as a high school band director, and if I thought owning a pickup was handy in the country, it was a necessity as a junior high/high school band director in a AAA school.  If I wasn’t toting drums and tubas across town, I was hooking up a U-haul trailer to take instruments to a Saturday competition.

As I looked over my options at the local Toyota dealership, the RAV4 caught my eye.  I don’t really understand the attraction, but I had a deep desire to NEED a RAV4.  Sadly, I had no such need.  In fact, I needed another pickup to maintain my “unofficial” duties as a band director.  I did, however, upgrade to a larger, better-equipped Tacoma.  I wanted a silver or blue truck, but the only one my dealer could locate sold before he could request it.  (At least that was his story, and he stuck to it.)  He gave me a choice of red or white.  I chose white.  I’m not a very pushy person, and I was just happy to be getting a new truck – again on a lease program. 

My white, 2001 Tacoma had an extended cab, cruise control, automatic transmission, and in addition to the AM/FM radio, a cassette player! (Still no CD player for Bill.)  I thought I could be happy with this vehicle for a long time, and I was right!

As nice as my new pickup was, it still lacked one basic feature that was also missing in the ’97 – a clock.  I had purchased a small digital clock in 1997, but never did successfully attach it to the console, so it worked fine – until I turned a corner.  It was not visible at night, but the rest of the time it served the desired purpose.  This clock was transferred to the new truck with similar results.

The most amazing thing about the new truck was the long life of the battery! (Yes, guys talk about these things.)  In most of the vehicles I’ve owned, I had to replace the battery at some point in the 4th year.  I always knew it was time when the car wouldn’t start.  Occasionally, adding water to the battery would buy me some more time, but 3 to 4 years was the expected life of a factory-original battery.  When I started to celebrate the 5th anniversary of my “new” truck’s purchase, I suddenly realized that I was still using the original battery.  True, I was always fortunate to live close to my work, so I did not put a lot of miles on my vehicle, but FIVE YEARS????  I was both elated (Yes, guys brag about these things.) and paranoid.  As impressive as this record was, I knew no battery lasts forever, so eventually it would fail.  The more I thought about this, the more I wondered, “Will it happen at a convenient time?” (Insert guffaws here.)  I finally decided the wise course was to give thanks for 5+ years of dependable service, and proactively purchase a new battery, never getting the answer to my naïve question.  However, I bought an Interstate 5-year battery to guarantee continued long life.

Fast-forward 5 ½ years:  I notice that my “new” truck is starting to struggle ever so slightly on startup.  I realize that this is the beginning of the end of my long-life battery, but I’m still pleased.  In fact, in 10 ½ years (at that point) my truck had failed to start only once.  A couple of years earlier I had a “surprise” procedure at the hospital that required an over-night stay, so a good friend drove my truck home.  Somehow he must have accidentally turned on an internal light.  I didn’t drive for over a week.  The next time I tried to use the truck, the battery was completely dead.  However, after a jump-start it gave me no more problems.

So I suspected my battery was failing, but things were a bit different now.  I was retired, so the chances of being majorly inconvenienced by a dead battery were not so intimidating.  I added water and decided to wait until it gave up the ghost.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, either.  I got a call to come to Dallas to help take care of my Mother, who had once again gone into the hospital.  It was January.  Once again, logic prevailed.  I was not going to spend a week in cold Dallas weather with a failing battery, so, content that this battery had set yet another record for longevity in one of Bill’s vehicles, I purchased another Interstate.

At the end of the 4-year lease in 2005, I gladly entered a purchase contract to pay off the remaining balance.  In 2006, I finally took my “new” truck to Best Buy and had a CD player installed with the only problem being, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”  Not only did I now have a CD player, which read to me all the Harry Potter books, but it also had a clock – that could be read at night! 

At this point I would like to regale you with amusing anecdotes about things that happened in and with my Tacomas.  Sadly, I can’t think of any.  Over the past 15 years they served me (and my friends) well. Among the highlights: one friend borrowed my truck to transport his brother’s ashes; another friend used it to carry a generator to his Dad after a hurricane; and I’ve used it to move our plants when moving to another city, haul instruments for my band, pull U-Hauls all over the state, haul trash and debris to (usually) approved areas, and last Easter I pulled the trailer that was “instrumental” (pun intended) in transporting an organ between two area churches.  On one of my trips to Dallas, my truck was Mom’s transportation home from the hospital.  She forgot to brag on how comfortable it was, but it got her home!

My “new” truck and I had eleven and a half wonderful years.  I bought several tires over that time (and did I mention only TWO batteries?), but never had a major mechanical problem.  However, God wanted me to have a RAV4.  He revealed this to me through my wife last Thanksgiving when she commented favorably on a RAV4 we saw on the road.  My brain instantly started “discovering” the logic that would create a NEED for a RAV4.  Not being mechanically inclined, I’m not that good with older vehicles; a new vehicle now should easily last another 10 – 15+ years; I can pay it off before the wife retires (no more lease programs for me); a low-mileage (80K miles), economical, small pickup has value, at least in Texas; the RAV4 won’t carry as much as the truck, but what it carries will be protected from wind and weather – I won’t have to worry about large pieces of cardboard blowing out of the back on my way to recycling; and perhaps I could get the color I want – a new BLUE RAV4 would look perfect in my driveway, wouldn’t it?

I started with some Internet research to determine the approximate value of my “new” truck, and after checking out the RAV4 options, I quickly fell in love with the Pacific Blue color.  On my first trip to the dealer my trade-in was valued at a fraction of what I expected, so I said, “No thanks.”  Beverly was very disappointed that I didn’t come home with a new car that first day, but I knew that the only chance I had to make this transaction feasible would be patience on my part. 

I knew I could get more for my truck if I sold it myself, so I consulted my brother, who is an expert (nay, I say, genius!) at handling such matters.  Due to taking some time off for the Christmas / New Years holidays, it was nearly a month before I sold my truck – for more than double what the dealership offered.  I had several interested parties examine my precious jewel.  I told each one about the amazing battery life, and while they managed to hide their shock and awe, I’m pretty sure they were impressed.  Finally the day came when my truck’s new owner drove off, taking my long-time companion with him.  I think she went to a good home, but all I know for sure is that the check cleared.

I’m still not a great negotiator, but I have learned a few things over the years.  Finances dictated that I look for a basic model or a “slightly” used one.  Fortunately, even the basic model comes with lots of cool stuff – so much more than my “new” truck had.  I requested Pacific Blue, and later, when asked if I would consider another color, I quietly, confidently, and with only a hint of “Hell no!”, replied, “no.”  Long story, short (oops! Too late!), with the recent unveiling of the newly redesigned 2013 RAV4, I was able to get a decent deal on a new, 2012 RAV4, Pacific Blue, for close to my target price.  It looks perfect in my driveway. 

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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