Second thoughts on cars
I can't, in all conscience, write another review of a new car this week without acknowledging a burgeoning reality. I feel it would be an insult to thousands of you for me not to take one week out to write about something other than shiny, new chrome.
I do feel this quite deeply and strongly. Maybe I have a conscience after all, what?
Journalists are often accused of over-heating, over-hyping situations.
But I don't think anyone can take me to task for unwarranted hyperbole over highlighting what is now becoming, or already is, a genuine crisis for tens of thousands of families.
These people need their cars so much it hurts. Please don't talk to me about public transport, or car-pooling or such. Such options don't exist for the majority of those I'm talking about.
And so for them a tough decision darkens the horizon.
Believe it or not, in many cases it is a question of not being able to continue with their lives as they are with a second car. In some, it is a case of struggling to hold on to even one.
A second car in an urban setting might have been regarded as a luxury given the proximity to public transport. But down the country the second car has become part and parcel of the way many couples have developed and built their family, social and community lives. Look around you in 'middle Ireland' and you see hard-working busy parents, especially those living out in the countryside, strategically pooling their motoring resources to meet family commitments. These stretch from bringing children to school, football/piano practice and all the little forays that knit the fabric of their lives. As well as going to work, of course, if both are lucky enough to have it.
But the bills for motoring have grown heavy these days when you add everything up: fuel, road tax, insurance, wear-and-tear, maintenance, depreciation etc.
The taxman is taking more from the earnings and there is no lump sum sitting waiting to be spent, while looking for another loan is simply out of the question.
You know better than I do how the situation evolved. In the good days -- remember? -- it made sense to have the second motor. Indeed with the way families and lives and lifestyles expanded, it became central.
Now three, four years on one of the cars is beginning to look, feel and drive like its age. Sound familiar?
The other, newer car, may not be too bad but after a couple of harsh winters, a lot of heavy driving, the constant to-ing and fro-ing and age are taking their toll, so it too is looking a bit shell-shocked.
The odd additional repair bill is creeping in and every day both cars are worth less than they were the day before. Under normal circumstances the older car should be replaced.
But these are not normal circumstances. The irony is that with the children getting older the two cars are needed more than ever: what with different pick-up times from primary and second-level school; more extra-curricular events to go to, each at awkward times; and having to visit an elderly parent more often. Life's fabric is stretching but is becoming frayed at the edges as it does so.
It's possible to juggle for another little while maybe but it's tough, especially if one of the parents is forced to drop to working three days a week or gets fewer hours in the part-time job.
Bills for education, food, clothes are getting bigger as the family grows. So, slowly, a crisis is crystallising.
There is no money to buy a new or newer car. Simple as that.
Realistically they should be trying to get by with one. Frankly, the majority will have to and are slowly coming to that realisation.
I know I risk being accused of being absurd by saying that a family giving up its second car represents a crisis at a time like this.
But, whether we like to admit it or not, it is going to inflict a lot of extra stress and strain now and in the future on parents and children. It will be replicated thousands of times and reveal, in microcosm, how a society and an economy contract violently to the detriment of all -- garages, repairs, road-tax, income etc.
People have to prune expenditure. It is as simple as that. Even where there is little to excise from the burden of making do in Ireland 2011. They have to cut, cut and cut more. It is a brutal time for them but there are no other options. A new car? You must be joking.
Solutions? I don't have any. I did not set out to either criticise or offer a way out. I merely highlight the crisis to make an appeal of sorts.
I know there are all sorts of fears and speculation about the Government taking even more from what we boringly call 'the motoring sector' to replenish bare Exchequer coffers.
For once, I would urge those civil servants not to let historic perceptions of 'motoring sector' fat cats cloud their judgment.
This is about real people in perilous predicaments who, for as many reasons as there are euro in Bertie Ahern's pension pot, desperately need a car. Any more taxes, duties or costs will tip the balance for too many.
There is a social as well as economic responsibility on those who govern.
And I think they need to be aware of the implications of heaping more costs on cars.
Doing so would threaten to remove an integral element of family life. Who ever thought anyone would write about the implications of the demise of the 'second car'? Yet, whether we like it or not, it has become an institution in the lives of many.
It is not easy for me to say all this because I am inherently conservative in matters of such expenditure but I believe the removal of 'second car', enforced by additional expenditure, would do a lot of damage.