Ah, youth. You remember it, right? Those carefree years, warm days and cool nights, the freedom that came before bills, rent and taxes. Two days ago, we asked you to send a message back to those years — your sixteenth, specifically, detailing how your past self should improve their driving habits. These are the tips you came up with.
Get Your Wires Autocrossed
Get into autocross as early as possible. Learning vehicle recovery, quick reflexes and calm thinking in hectic environments does wonders for your ability to avoid the chaos that is driving in public.
It’s always good for kids to learn the fundamentals of car control. Doing so in a racing environment is just icing.
Smell the Roses
Enjoy the idle miles. They disappear one day.
Do they have to, though? You can still hop in your car, turn the radio on, and cruise out with no destination in mind. What’s stopping you?
Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself
Slow the fuck down. Seriously. Take it from someone who had three speeding tickets by the time they were 18. Number three came after I turned 18, so I dodged the state of Ohio suspending my license for a year.
Still. I know youthful exuberance is sometimes hard to control. See if you can invest in a track day or autocross. You’ll get the speed fix in a controlled environment AND learn about your car and improve your driving. A bonus is realizing all that shit is way dangerous to do on public roads.
Every speeding ticket I’ve ever had, those court dates, fines and trips to Good Boy Driving School, can all be traced back to that very youthful exuberance. As the years passed, I slowed down.
Not So Grand
$6,000 is not too much for a Grand National with 100,000 miles on it. Just buy it and take veeeeeeeerry good care of it.
For years, a muffler shop up the road from my parents had a Grand National on the lot — just sitting, unappreciated. They were asking something like $8,000. I should’ve bought it.
1) Dude, you’re gonna lift weights and grow. Skinny and short is not your forever; sell the fucking Triumph.
2) The ‘69 Camaro your uncle gave you? Just put it somewhere safe, because broke is also not your forever.
3) Dude, if I may repeat myself, you’re going to lift weights and grow. In a hugely surprising and welcome turn of events, you’re gonna get girls. Always, always, always put your gym bag in the trunk if you want the girls you can suddenly get to want to ride in your car, and better yet, park in your car.
At first, you said “Triumph” and I thought “Yeah, the rider triangle on a Thruxton isn’t super comfortable for taller riders.” Then I remembered that Triumph used to make cars, and it all started to make a lot more sense.
The One That Got Away
My uncle gave his 1966 Impala Super Sport to my grandmother. She drove it around for awhile until it wouldn’t start one day. Sat in her driveway where I would wash it every weekend and just sit behind the wheel, waiting to turn 16 and claim it.
Went to Big Ma’s house one weekend a couple months shy of my 16th birthday and it was gone. Some guy knocked on her door and offered to buy it. She said, “If you get it out of my driveway you can have it!” Last seen being pushed up her street. I was physically sick for days after.
I really should had raised my hand and claimed it...Damn.
You would that caring for the car, washing it every weekend, would count as raising your hand. But, my grandmother pulled a similar move with a Harley-Davidson Sprint in my younger years, so maybe she was actively trying to keep it out of your hands for some reason.
Account For the Physics
Slow down. You are in an ancient car with drum brakes and bias -ply tires.
Technology marches onward, and today’s kids don’t understand just how much worse drum brakes and ancient tires are. If they never get behind the wheel of a classic car, that lack of knowledge may be for the best.
Check Your Light
At the time of my first driving test, the inspector did a full walk around of the car and told me the car did not pass inspection because the right front indicator was blown out. So no driver’s test that day.
Thus, I was denied a DL on account of an 0.89¢ bulb.
I had to wait nearly a month for the stars to align to retake the test.
In the meantime I had to put up with all the crap from my buddies for ‘failing’ my test.
So my advise would be “Do the walk around of the car yourself the night before.”
Were you just out of blinker fluid? Make sure that’s topped up.
Your Nose Knows
“That smell is the clutch. You should not smell that smell.”
Really, any acrid smell from your car is probably a bad sign. That should be fixed.
No One Cares
No one will ever be impressed by your car or what you do with it, so don’t do stupid things to impress people.
I learned this the hard way, taking people out snow drifting in my old station wagon. Turns out most people don’t love sliding sideways through the snow. Especially when you don’t warn them.
Even Back Then, You Must Have Known This Was a Bad Idea
When I was 17 I let my 15 year old, unlicensed friend drive my brand new car because...reasons? Anyway, with me in the passenger seat, he decided to floor it and got it up to 70 MPH in a 25 MPH residential area. Because traction control was still a decade or so away, he easily lost control around a turn, knocked a tree over, hit a pedestrian, and finally planted the car in another tree (this one did not budge) accordion-style. We all survived, miraculously.
My advice to my 16 year-old self? Simply trading in that crappy ‘95 Dodge Neon instead of having your buddy total it is a much easier way to get a new car.
There are easier, safer, more comfortable ways to get rid of a car. I promise this isn’t the best option.
The actual coolest car is the car that starts and drives every time you turn the key. Most of your friends haven’t been working 3 jobs and socking money away so your car will be the cool car no matter what it is. No land yachts either. Get a van, shag carpet the interior, tell everyone the carpet prevents your buddy’s drums from getting scratched and cuts down on the exhaust noise and no one will question it (Dad will know, but he won’t say shit). Trust me, you will thank me in Senior year. You’ll thank me a LOT.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think shag carpeting in vans was a real thing. I thought that was made up by movies and TV, not something actual people ever did.
Don’t Trust the Signal
If you are turning left from an access road and across a divided highway, pay no attention to the right turn signal from the car that is approaching from your left. That driver is 87 years old and his right turn signal has been on for an hour and a half. He is not turning onto your access road and he is very much not slowing down. As you pull out he will hit you squarely at the B pillar at great speed, and your car will be punted down the road, rolling twice.
A state trooper will pull up almost immediately, and you will have to quickly turn off still-playing the Jimi Hendrix, because you are not a druggie and the music had nothing to do with the accident, but you are not quite sure that the trooper will see it that way. You will climb out the passenger window and the trooper will drive you home, because rural troopers do things like that, or at least they used to.
Your Mom will race to the door when she sees the cruiser pull up to the house. She will cry a little with relief when she sees you get out. Later you will go visit the car at the wrecker’s yard, and it will look like nothing so much as a torn and crumpled wad of foil. She will take one look at the scrap Corolla and begin shaking with her sobs.
Don’t look at that turn signal. Don’t put your Mom through all of that.
I’ve had similar situations, and let me tell you — some signals are not to be trusted. If the car isn’t slowing down, they either aren’t turning or they’re planning an incredible sick drift. Either way, stand back.
Account for Understeer
“Mom’s car (1980? Datsun 510 Wagon) is a death trap! Do NOT drive it fast, slow w-a-y down around turns. Borrow dad’s car: (also 1980? 1979? Toyota Celica GT) It’s got a stick and it’s quick and fun to drive!”
One afternoon, I borrowed my mom’s car. It had been raining and I was driving to visit a friend. I took a turn too quick (at least for that car!) and the front end just pushed and I ran into a telephone control box (basically, there were only landlines back then and this is what part of the whole neighborhood was connected to). I damaged the left front end, only let my friend know what happened (or did I? It’s been over 40 years), called my mom (again: I’m hazy on this) and took it to a service shop (that was actual).
Moments later, 5-0 rolls up on 17 year-old me (I’m 5'3" at the time) acting all aggressive like I’m the most wanted. Fortunately my hit-and-run (“What? Me? That did not happen, honest!”) did not result in handcuffs and tears. But, wow, my mom was pissed off at the way the police behaved.
It could have been worse: I could have been a young, Black male in the San Fernando Valley...
Also: my parents didn’t get mad at me, they were just grateful that I was uninjured. Phew!
The worst part of this, given that you weren’t hurt, is that the Datsun was. They aren’t making any more of those, y’know.
But That Fresh Breeze
1. Get the 5 speed.
2. Always have tread on your tires.
3. I know it’s Florida, but don’t put your arm out the window during your driving test.
I get it! It’s sunny out, it’s Florida, you want the wind on your arms. Save it for when the instructor leaves the car.