One ‘foot’ in the grave
When driving through campus, or fighting for a parking space, students see vehicles of different makes, models and years. Whether a shiny new car or a hand-me-down, each car has something that makes it unique.
Cooper Chay-Dolan, a senior communication major with a focus in film, television and production, drives a blue 1989 Toyota Corolla sedan, a car that is five years older than he is.
“Initially [my car] was my grandmother’s car. She had it for about 10 years,” says Chay-Dolan. “She drove it for about five minutes once a week to get to her nearby Wegmans [grocery] down the street.”
After his grandmother passed, Chay-Dolan says his father inherited the car and then gave it to him.
“I had just dropped out of school and I needed a new car,” says Chay-Dolan. “My initial car was a Volvo station wagon 1994—same age as me. [There] tends to be a tendency within my family to get really old beat-up cars. I like it.”
When he received the car, Chay-Dolan says he found old non-working lighters, moldy lipstick and a huge number of cigarette burns on the passenger side seat from where he presumed his grandmother “tried to put out her cigarette butts.” Chay-Dolan says his grandmother was 89 years old when she passed away and was an avid smoker.
He also discovered a popped spare tire in the trunk of his inherited car when he was checking the tires.
Although pushing 30 years, Chay-Dolan says his car gets upward of 30 miles per gallon on long distance trips and about 20 miles per gallon in the city.
“I buy gas maybe once every three weeks,” says Chay-Dolan, “if not once every month.”
As a college student, Chay-Dolan says that it is a very nice factor, especially living locally in Hamden.
However, although the gas mileage is efficient, like any 30-year-old’s body, the car is also starting to deteriorate.
According to Chay-Dolan, one of the biggest issues is oil changes.
When Toyota initially manufactured the car, they didn’t think about the idea that when changing the oil, it should come down from the top down perspective and not from a side perspective.
“So, when I change my oil it screws off from the side as compared to the bottom which has been a consistent issue,” says Chay-Dolan.
The car also doesn’t have a right-side mirror, as Toyota manufactured the car with only one mirror on the driver’s side.
“I’ve had to resort to using my rearview to look and check my right side more frequently.”
According to autotrader.com, the base MSRP or value of the automobile in 1989 was $9,198 compared to a Honda Civic of the same year, which had a MSRP of $9,190.
Inside the car, Chay-Dolan says he keeps a few keepsakes as remembrances of his days living in Bethlehem, Pa.
“I have three Frisbee discs for disc golf that I keep in the back,” says Chay-Dolan. “I also have a Japanese bamboo hat that I keep in the back as well. I also have a few lighters in the back for keepsakes.”
The interior is sparse and simple in the Corolla; no fancy bells and whistles, nor modern electronics. But just like the exterior of the car, the interior shows signs of aging, too.
“I turn on the radio and about 75 percent of the time it doesn’t work,” says Chay-Dolan. “I’ll have it on during a long drive and all of a sudden, I have sound. It comes out of nowhere.”
The finicky radio might be a deal breaker to some, but Chay-Dolan says he perseveres by utilizing Spotify on his phone or making a game out of it.
“It’s actually kind of fun,” says Chay-Dolan. “I like spooking my passengers with it on occasion. Quite enjoyable.”
Another issue Chay-Dolan faces with his car is the steering wheel.
When he got the vehicle, Chay-Dolan says he discovered that for him to drive straight, he must hold the steering wheel at “about a 15-degree angle.”
This angle has saved Chay-Dolan from some sticky situations on the highway, he says.
“I was kind of spacing out on one of those long drives,” says Chay-Dolan, “started to straighten the steering wheel and all of a sudden I see a truck just barreling down on my left and it starts to turn into my lane.”
This truck barreling down did not change directions, so he says he was forced to make a quick decision: get off the side of the road or get hit by the larger truck.
Chay-Dolan travels to new exciting places.
“The car has made a seven-hour journey,” says Chay-Dolan. “[The car has driven] from Bethlehem, Pa., to Vermont.”
The car has also made trips from his home in Connecticut to Portland, Maine, which is about a four-hour drive.
“It can handle a long-distance trip,” says Chay-Dolan, “but at this point it’s starting to show its age and I want to make sure it’s fully repaired before doing another trip like that again.”
Chay-Dolan says his future with the car is uncertain due to the possibility of yet another hand-me-down car from his father on his upcoming birthday.
“My birthday is in March, so I likely have only two more months with her,” says Chay-Dolan, “and honestly I’m going to miss her. She’s been through a lot. She’s gotten me through thick and thin.”
Bonds are often formed between drivers and their cars. It seems like the car becomes a member of the family, and this is true with Chay-Dolan and his Corolla.
“No matter what, when you look at these cars that I’ve had, you probably think ‘how does that even run?’”
Chay-Dolan attributes his long-time attachment to his family.