When I was a young boy in the 1930s our family always rode in a used car.
My father worked in a steel factory at a time the United Steelworkers of America had little bargaining power. As a result, he had little money to buy Detroit’s latest models, or even a reliable used car.
We rode in some real clunkers. Usually the tires were nearly bare. None of the cars had an automatic transmission, so that when I was a teenager learning to drive it was left to me to discover how to hold the car on a hill at a stoplight with the foot brake, and then quickly take my foot off the clutch and shift into first gear.
I learned to do it, but there was a problem. The cars we drove usually didn’t have good brakes. The brakes then were mechanical brakes, controlled by cables.
I know little about automobile mechanics in the 1930s — or even today, so I’m not sure about the mechanical function then in use.
What I remember is that the brakes were poor and that sometimes the car wouldn’t stop even when the brake pedal was pushed to the floor. Perhaps the cables had stretched. In any case, the driver often had little success in trying to stop by using the foot pedal and was forced to rely on the emergency brake. It was a sort of metal post, usually near the transmission box, that one pulled franticly in a moment of peril.
We also drove cars that had a worn shifter located under the hood. In order to proceed after stopping, the driver often had to get out of the car, lift up the hood and jiggle the shifter to loosen it so it would operate properly.
We at times had cars with faulty transmissions. As a result, shifting into a higher or lower gear was like pulling the lever on a slot machine and hoping to hit the jackpot.
Speaking of emergency brakes, I recall when I was in my teens pulling the emergency brake on an icy highway. (The foot brakes weren’t working.) The car promptly spun off the road onto a shoulder, missing a telephone pole by the width of one of its wires.
I also remember the family starting off on a road trip of about 40 miles to an uncle’s house. Before we got there, we had three flat tires, my father cursing, punching the fender and throwing the tire repair tools on the ground. After the third flat the trip was canceled. We had gone about 20 miles.
Remembering cars of the past, we once had an old convertible. The roof didn’t come out of its shelter at the push of a button, instead had to be manually lifted out of its container and a series of metal supports locked in place, but that was not the main disadvantage. The principal problem was that in a rain the roof leaked badly and dripped water over the passengers. My father tried using tar or similar material to stop the leaks, but nothing worked. Finally the convertible was junked.
Most people on our block bought and drove similar cars.
I still buy used cars, but they are modern, more reliable, longer lasting and much safer. Some have been still under new car warranty, and the tires are almost new. They have proven to be reliable. In fact, dealers sell many more used cars than new. Understandable since they are thousands of dollars cheaper than new cars.
Notice I didn’t say “pre owned cars.” Used cars, the term most people and car dealers used for generation to describe cars that had been driven for several thousand miles.
“Pre-owned” is short for previously owned cars. It apparently has been thought up by used car salespersons to imply that the car being sold has not been owned by anyone. I doubt that such a car exists. Even a car fresh off the assembly line is owned by someone, in that case the manufacturer.
I often fancy going to a used car lot. The salesperson asks if I’m interested in a previously owned car. “No,” I reply. “I’m thinking of buying a car you own.”