Right now, thousands of Americans can’t wrench on their cars because landlords think disabled vehicles are “eyesores.” But that’s a steaming mound of bullshit, and it’s an idea that needs to change.
When I was in college, I had 2005 Saturn Vue on a jack stand for about a week while I waited for a CV axle to arrive at my local car parts store. Between that repair and my engineering finals, I had a lot of stuff on my plate, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I saw on the windshield this note from my landlord calling my car an “eye sore”:
The key passages from the note read:
This vehicle has been out of use for over a week and is causing an eye sore for the complex. ..a lack of response within 3 days of this notice will possibly resort to the need to tow the vehicle.
Yes, you read that right: my landlord threatened to tow my vehicle, and saddle me with a huge impound bill all because he didn’t think my exposed front suspension was aesthetically pleasing.
I later learned that this “eye sore” rule isn’t isolated to just my ignorant Virginian landlord, it’s something that permeates the entire country, as property owners include clauses in their leases preventing tenants from wrenching, in part because the mechanically-challenged cars aren’t considered pretty. But that’s just a bunch of unfounded, subjective nonsense.
First of all, car parts aren’t ugly. Landlords who think exposed car parts are “eyesores” need to take a closer look. What about an exposed suspension is an “eyesore?” Is it the precisely machined steel rotors, the beautifully crafted cast aluminum knuckles, the stamped steel control arms or the carefully-wound coil springs?
And that’s just the suspension. Have you seen the inside of a transmission? That valve body is pure art:
The most beautiful aspect of your car is the meticulously engineered and crafted mechanical bits under its skin. They’re anything but eyesores, and yet, around the country, dismantled cars are considered unsightly, and probably for the wrong reasons.
I haven’t gotten a straight answer from anyone on why a partially-stripped car is considered an “eyesore.” But I have a suspicion people subconsciously think a dismantled car suggests an owner who doesn’t have enough money to have the car fixed at a shop, and heaven forbid the neighborhood looks “poor.” That’ll drive down property values, and we can’t have that.
So yeah, the idea of an incomplete car being an “eyesore” is totally subjective bullshit.
I’ve heard the argument “But what if someone dumps their trash on the front lawn. Isn’t that the same thing?” No, it’s not. Someone who throws trash on their lawn is just being lazy, but someone who works on their car is anything but.
Chances are, the owner of the broken car just doesn’t want to take the car to a shop and get completely clobbered by a huge repair bill, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Working on your car can save you loads of money.
So why not support someone who’s trying to build skill and save hundreds of dollars in repair costs instead of imposing a rule based on the completely subjective idea that a broken car is somehow hideous?
I’ve got a huge pile of broken cars sitting in my driveway at all times, and my tools are often scattered all over the place. Readers know this, and they often comment things like “I’d hate to be your landlord.”
But my landlord has no problem with my wrenching. I called her up last night and asked what she thought about my antics, and she responded that she likes to see that I’m being active and doing something productive. She appreciates that I’m out there learning a new skill and saving money.
I asked her what she thinks about landlords who bar their tenants from wrenching, and she said: “I’m not sure why people think that. Somebody has to fix it and do something about it.”
My landlord did acknowledge that sometimes, she worries about my safety, so she could see how property owners could worry about liability, but as for the cars being “eyesores?” That doesn’t make sense to her. She says: “As long as the rent is paid, you’re being safe, and there’s no criminal activity going on, it should not be an issue.”
Every landlord should be like mine.
To be sure, if a landlord is worried about oil stains on his driveway, I can understand why he’d be concerned about tenants wrenching. And if he doesn’t want lessees to get hurt while wrenching—lest he somehow gets sued— I could almost understand that concern, too. I could also understand if the broken cars create some sort of hazard for pets or children.
But if a landlord is going to prevent his tenants from saving money and honing their wrenching skills solely because he thinks broken cars are “eyesores,” then he’s a total asshole in my book.
Just let us wrench, okay?