I used to be like a pet rescue shelter for cars. Since I had little money, I took over cars that other people couldn't deal with. I had to make them run so I could get to work.
There was the pitiful, rusted out green Plymouth Duster I picked up for a few hundred dollars. It was all I could afford after a drunk driver totaled my Corolla parked in front of my apartment. The seller for the Duster said it wouldn't start. If I could get it to start and drive it off his yard, I could have it at a salvage price. So I did.
There was the Chrysler Cordoba my Dad said was a lemon. He was so frustrated with it, he just gave it to me. I got it running and drove it home to Texas from Ohio. That car was gigantic. It had its own zip code. I measured its mileage in gallons per mile.
I had to get to work, accompanying ballet classes, singing waiters, and college students. Maintenance of my cars was up to me. Uncertainty was expensive, what with break downs, tow trucks, and missed gigs.
Mechanics were expensive, too, all the more so when they didn't even fix the problem. There was the time my car overheated and blew a head gasket. I think it cost me something like $600 for a mechanic to repair it. I drove it home and it overheated again. I walked to the library (there was no internet then) and learned my head gasket wasn't the problem, it was a consequence. Overheating blew it. My radiator was probably clogged. All you had to do find out was run the car for ten minutes and then carefully touch the fins to see if there was a cool spot. I did that and the cool spot in the center of my radiator was the size and shape of Nevada. I spent the afternoon removing it and a buddy drove me with it to a place that dunked it in acid and cleaned it out brand new. My car ran cooler than any cucumber after that and proved once again I was better off relying on my own education, motivation, and effectiveness. It was liberating.
It was fun, too. I liked it because it was logical. For example, an engine needs three things to run, fuel-air mixture, compression, and spark. I could run down the chain of causality and figure out what was going on. The moment I opened the car door, the diagnosis began. If the dome light came on, there was electricity in the system.
The constant attention cultivated relationships. I personified my cars. I never just drove anywhere. I went for a conversation. The car talked to me and I listened. I had to or I'd pay for it, like when we blew that head gasket. The road sound, the temperature, how the steering felt on a turn, the tire pressure, the color of the oil. I knew how my car felt at all times. I gave it what it needed, and when I did that, it did what it could for me. I had great affection for all of my cars.
And they taught me a lot. They taught me why they failed (and this is how all things work, not just cars). There was only one reason ever, and that was a failure of my understanding.