behind the wheel

Behind the Wheel: A smokin' hot Taurus worth fighting for

(Timothy J. Gonzalez/associated Press)
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

We've invited you to tell us your stories about cars and driving.

My father is a quiet, dedicated NIH scientist. He has spent most of his career researching a deadly disease affecting women in their last trimester of pregnancy. Through the years, my father has made steady progress toward a cure, but unlike most people in the District, my father never talks about his job. Instead, he considers the day his car passed D.C. inspection one of his crowning life achievements.

My father's 18-year-old Ford Taurus should not have been allowed on the moon, let alone in the capital of the free world. The car rattled and banged down the street, and after rain got into the door panels, whenever my father accelerated you heard a distinct and unnerving splash.

When the Taurus was 10 years old, my father was warned by two mechanics to get rid of it immediately. The car was unsafe. Instead, my father saw their diagnosis as some sort of disease to beat -- similar to his research -- and kept driving his Taurus.

The fact that the Taurus was still going eight years later was something Dad would frequently remind the rest of the family with one-sentence e-mail updates:

"Just put new tires on the Taurus."

With the exception of my father's car, I don't think the D.C. inspection station has ever seen a truly bad car.

This is a city where people buy a new car every five years. The biggest repair these people ever have to do is replace a brake light. Although mechanic after mechanic told him the Taurus was a bad car, my father continued to pass D.C. inspection because, engine aside, the brake and dashboard lights were functional.

A couple of years ago, before the expiration of one inspection, the "check engine" light came on in the Taurus.

This is definitely something that will keep a vehicle from passing D.C. inspection, and my father flew into hysterics. Although I was surprised to hear that this light was actually working, I felt bad for my father.

We went out to the Taurus together and examined the dashboard. After some trial and error, we found the correct fuse and I pulled it. The light went out, and my dad sprang to his feet and threw his fist into the air -- a move I associate with athletes breaking a finish tape, not my father in his wool socks and polyester pants.

Dad sped off to the inspection station, and I went into the house and had lunch with my mother. I knew better than to tell her what I had done.

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