I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent sitting in the passenger seat of a tow truck.
You’d think I wouldn’t, since hoisting yourself into a tow truck means your disabled vehicle is hanging from the back like a muskie on a gaff. But I associate that ride with rescue, salvation: I’m no longer stranded by the side of some desolate road, steam pouring from under the hood or the shattered bits of my transmission laid out behind me like the tail of a comet.
Or I’m no longer staring out my living room window at my 20-month-old car — still “new” in my mind — wondering why it refuses to start.
That’s what happened last week. I watched as the tow truck driver expertly slid the wheel lift bars under the front of my Kia Soul, then I climbed into his truck, my warranty book in hand, and we headed to the dealer.
The driver’s name was Maurice, and this was his domain. It was spotless. His smartphone was suction-cupped to the dashboard, its screen displaying the GPS program that had directed him to my house. A clipboard held the form he would need me to sign after he had unhooked my car.
As the truck rumbled forward, Maurice told me he liked jobs where he didn’t actually have to tow the car, where he could give it a jump-start or otherwise get it running without having to hook it. He said this particular job — a tow that, because of the warranty, wouldn’t cost me anything — wasn’t very popular in the business. Tow companies don’t earn a lot from them.
What brands of cars do you tow most frequently, I asked. Well, Maurice said, that was interesting. They went in cycles. For example, he’d started off a recent morning by towing a Honda Odyssey, then had towed four or five more Honda Odysseys in the following days. He’d had a spate of Hyundais all in a row, too.
Wait a minute, I said, are you suggesting that manufacturers can schedule the breakdown of their vehicles, pushing a button that somehow remotely disables a bunch of Honda Odysseys all on the same day?
He wouldn’t put it past them, he said.
We arrived at the dealer, and Maurice gingerly backed my car into a space, lowered it, unhooked it and was off to his next job. My car started right away. Nothing wrong with it, said the dealer after probing its computer brain.
I did take the opportunity to pay for an oil change, though, which made me wonder whether there was something to Maurice’s timed obsolescence theory, after all.
And what do we think of our Kia Soul after 20 months of ownership? I like it more than My Lovely Wife does, but then again I like everything more than My Lovely Wife does, with the possible exception of cilantro and Colin Firth movies.
It’s a fine car in many respects, more fun than the minivan it replaced. It is spartan in some areas. Not surprising, given its relatively low price.
It can be frustrating, though. As cars have become technologically smarter, automakers assume that drivers have become dumber. And maybe we have. Would cars need collision avoidance systems if we were better at avoiding collisions, rear cameras if we could be bothered to look behind us before backing up?
Our car automatically locks the doors as soon as we put the car in gear and unlocks them as soon as we put it in park. The most maddening thing is that you can’t turn on the radio when the car is in reverse. I guess Kia figures the radio is a dangerous distraction. But you can’t turn the radio off when the car’s in reverse, either. You can’t do anything to it.
Silly human, it seems to be saying. I know better than you.
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For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.