The worst thing about the GTI is that everything works properly. With all the previous cars I would turn the key, more in hope than expectation. In every tangible, reasonable way, the GTI is the best car I’ve owned thus far. But it’s not interesting like the 1991 Civic hatch that wouldn’t start, or the 1997 Jetta that wanted to kill me. It has airbags (lots of them), anti-lock brakes, traction control (make sure to turn that off), AC, radio, power everything, and heated leather seats. Most people would see these features as good things, but I’m not so sure. Yes it is nice to have an audio system that works so that I’m not listening to my iPod via earbuds. Having seats that aren’t leaking foam is another positive aspect. However, all these things make the car very heavy which means worse fuel economy (30mpg instead of 42mpg), and a less engaging driving experience. While the turbo does add some excitement, I have to drive this car differently than the Civic which was light but had no power at all. Also, the GTI runs on premium gas which disagrees with my student loan payments.
However, the GTI does actually work, which is convenient. The only reason I replaced the 1991 Civic was because it just wasn’t reliable anymore. If I couldn’t count on the car to get me to work on time, then I needed something that would. The main reason the GTI is in better shape is because it’s much newer, only had one previous owner, and it cost SO MUCH MORE. For the first four broken cars, I hadn’t spend any more than $2000 on the car itself. The GTI was $7000 which makes a huge difference in how many warning lights are on the dash. Even though the running costs and insurance are much more (which is annoying), it is a reliable car, with much more power than I’ve had before, so it balances out in the end.
Something to consider is that driving old, cheap, broken cars builds character and perspective. It changes what’s deemed a “real problem” and what you could live with. For example, if the car burns oil, and the check engine light is always on, that’s not a real problem, just add oil when needed and you’ll be ok. However, when the car won’t start, and will stall itself if it does manage to start, that’s more of a problem. Similarly, broken cars change what features are really necessary and what you could live without. The 1997 Jetta was the first car I had with power windows and in the first week, the back two had broken and fallen off the track. Now I only want crank windows since they are far more reliable. Having no radio really isn’t the end of the world, you can focus more on the driving and save a bit of weight as well. You don’t really need power steering, airbags, anti-lock brakes, or traction control, just don’t crash and you’ll be ok. In fact, I don’t like the fact that the GTI has so much safety equipment on it. If you have lots of airbags, ABS, traction control, and a non-rusty frame, you feel much safer. The 1991 Civic taught me a lot about driving awareness because I didn’t have anything standing between a poor decision and my certain death. With no safety equipment at all (no passenger side-view mirror either), I had to actually pay attention when I was driving. Now with much safer cars, people feel that they can text, take pictures, drink, and whatever else behind the wheel because in the back of their mind, they think they’re safe. More safety features leads to less safe drivers.
If you’ve never owned an old, cheap, broken car, I’d highly recommend it. It will make you a better person.