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Ode to a Subaru: 288,923 Miles and Counting

Our Subaru Forester is on hospice. At nearly 300,000 miles, it has bearings in the transmission and the rear differential that are too expensive to fix.

I am not sentimental about cars. I named only one car, in high school (Fifi the Fiesta), and I loved only one car, an Isuzu Trooper that I bought in 1993 with my own money. I put a bumper sticker on the back that read: “This is what a radical feminist looks like.” I sanded and repainted the rusting bumpers myself. I learned how to replace the oil and change a tire. I drove the Trooper around proudly, like it was an extension of myself.

A year later, a driver blew through a red light in front of me. The Trooper was totaled. I was unhurt but devastated.

After that, cars became tools. Sentimentality for a car is doomed.

In 2001, Mike and I were in the market for a new vehicle. Not new-new, of course—who buys a car new? They lose half their value when you drive off the lot; everyone knows that. But something a little bigger than our Volkswagen Cabriolet and not quite as janky as our Toyota LE van (which had been broken into and/or stolen so many times that you had to start it with a screwdriver). Five-grand-ish.

Lacking enough savings, we went to our credit union only to find that financial institutions had essentially stopped lending money for used cars. We could have put a car on our credit card, but the interest would be ridiculous. Our best option was … a car dealer. We found a salesman who was experimenting with an “Internet special.”

The Subaru Forester we ended up with was absolutely luxurious compared with what we were used to. Six-CD changer! Power sunroof! Power locks! Power windows! (We actually asked for crank windows; which we couldn’t get if we wanted the sunroof, which we very much did.) You could drive on the highway and have a conversation, rather than listen to the roar of the leaky window seals.

My dad was leery; he and my mom bought a four-wheel-drive Subaru wagon in 1978 that was a “total lemon” (this is a cleaned-up version of my dad’s description of the car). I grew up believing Subarus sucked, but my high school friends who had ventured west after graduation, to rustic places like Colorado and Alaska, all swore by them. By 2001 Mike and I had been in Oregon for six years, long enough to have ridden in dozens of friends’ Subarus, and realized it was the right car to balance road trips with gravel logging roads.

When we moved to the Columbia River Gorge in 2003, our neighbors asked, “Do you have a four-wheel-drive?” When we moved up Alder Slope last fall, our neighbors asked, “Do you have a four-wheel-drive?” Yes, we do.

Since 2001, this Forester has been in every Oregon county except Lake; back and forth to Minnesota; down to San Francisco; up to Seattle. It busted us out of our snowy driveway in the Columbia River Gorge a hundred times. One of its first road trips was to Hat Point in Wallowa County, 21 miles from the remote town of Imnaha, on a one-lane dirt Forest Road with 1,000-foot drop-offs. It has never broken down on us once.

Now, I used to do community outreach for a hospice, so I can’t pass up this teachable moment to clear up a common misperception: Hospice is about quality of life, not crisis management. Being on hospice means there is something wrong that can’t be fixed; it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) mean imminent death. If it’s done right, comfort care can make the last few months of life comfortable, less stressful, and even enjoyable.

Okay, back to the program. So the Forester probably won’t last the rest of the year. It’s fitting for its life to end in Wallowa County. We’re still gunning for 300K. The engine has some leaky gaskets but otherwise is fine. We’ll keep putting oil in. Living up a rocky dirt road certainly isn’t doing the bearings any good. We’ll see. Whenever the time comes, I will have nothing but respect for this tool that has served us well.

Living up a dirt road=perpetually dirty car!

Living up a dirt road=perpetually dirty car!


I ❤ Wallowa County

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