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I Learned Contentment From Driving a Chevy Caprice

“I don’t ever want you to drive a car that someone else would covet.”

This was my dad’s mantra when it came to cars. And he did a great job of living it out.

Case in point: My first car was a gray Chevy Caprice. It had been my great grandpa’s car and we inherited it when he passed away.

I didn’t have the money to buy a car and had just gotten my license, so my dad designated the Caprice as my car.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was in great condition (my great grandpa had taken meticulous care of it) and had low mileage (my grandpa bought it new and had had it for a number of years but didn’t drive but within a 20-mile radius of his home).

We called it the “Gray Boat” — because that’s sort of what it looked like. It was a big car, it was gray, and it didn’t really fit young and petite me.

But it was a car, it had four wheels, it rarely ever had issues (I can only think of one time that I ended up stranded on the road with it — and that was because of a simple little issue with wiring!), and it was incredibly trustworthy for all the driving I did while I was in my late teens.

(I taught violin lessons to a number of different students and drove to their houses to teach, worked as a waitress, and worked as a mother’s helper and babysitter. So I spent a lot of my day driving from place to place!)

I learned so much by driving the Gray Boat and I truly believe that my dad’s desire to “give us cars that no one would covet” was one of the best things he could have done for me as a teenager. Here are three powerful lessons I learned:

1. It Taught Me to Worry Less About What Other People Think

When you drive a “clunker car”, you quickly have to check your pride at the curb. And honestly, if people judge me by the car I drive, they are not the kind of people I want to be close friends with.

Learning this lesson at an early age meant I went into marriage with a lot more freedom and a lot less need to feel I had to apologize about or give an explanation behind the cars I’ve driven or the frugal lifestyle choices we’ve made.

2. It Taught Me Gratitude For What I Have

My dad was kind to let me use the car as my own. Other than paying for my gas, he paid for any car repairs (or did them himself) and paid for my insurance. I’m grateful that he was generous to do this.

I drove that car with gratitude both to my dad and to my great grandpa. And it was a little way I felt a connection to my great grandpa even though he had passed away.

3. It Taught Me That Contentment Isn’t About Stuff

The biggest lesson I learned from driving that car was that you can be plenty fulfilled and happy while driving a car that isn’t all that eye-appealing. Contentment is a state of the heart that is unaffected by your outside circumstances. You can choose to be content even when you are driving an old car, wearing very used clothes, and eating lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Knowing this to the core of my being has been a huge gift to my life. It’s caused me to have so much more joy, to embrace life exactly where I am, and to make the most of right where I’ve been planted instead of wishing I could be in someone else’s shoes.

I drove that Gray Caprice up until marriage — when my husband and I bought his family’s old white mini van and that became my new mode of transportation! And I went into marriage a firm believer that Old Used Cars can be a blessing in disguise — to the tune of thousands of dollars in savings!

photo credit

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42 Comments

  • Allyson says:

    Excellent post – and great lesson! My grandmother drove a Caprice so this made me think of her :).

  • Jen says:

    Great post.

    I drive a 2010 Honda Odyssey. It’s not a clunker, but it has 125,000 miles, one window will roll down but not up using the driver’s side window controls (the passenger control will roll it up and down) and one of the overhead lights just stopped working. [I do plan to get both of these fixed, but since it’s not causing me issues while driving, it’ll likely wait a while.]

    That said, when we bought it used two years ago we paid cash. So…when I whacked the passenger side mirror by smacking into my garage wall, I simply stopped, pushed it back into place (yeah for these newer mirrors that can be pushed inward) and went about my day. I didn’t stress about scratching the paint.
    About two months after I bought the van, I went back to Honda and bought their touch up paint so it sits in my glove box. I have used it to touch up a few places and it looks almost good as new.

  • Cheryl says:

    We owned that same model/color of Chevy caprice. I remember when my dad bought stick on racing stripes for it too!! It sure jazzed it up! Have a great day, this post made me smile. We also owned a chevette and a Vega growing up!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Good advice, Crystal. My dad was an auto repairman by trade…and a part time small rancher on the side. So we always had something to drive…but as cars have gone through the years they have become more complex to fix…something to be said for an older car…also with low miles…they could last forever!! My dad wanted to give me money one time…but I asked instead to have the old 1970 Chrysler that my grandparents had owned. They were gone by then…and it was all that was left that kind of felt like “visiting them”…and I loved driving it. Had great AC too…and when our son was a teen, he asked if he could use it with his best buddy to drive the streets in town (they had one evening a year where everyone who wanted to could drive the main street of town up and down and “show off” what they were driving). They had a hilarious time and got lots of people admiring the car actually as it was considered kind of old by then. I think they did that 2 years in a row…thanks for the memories!! (And it was used too at our son’s wedding for the initial “get away” car…was good at blowing black smoke by then…so hubby revved it up good waiting for the bride and groom to get in).

  • Mrs S says:

    Thank you! I had a much less gracious attitude about my first auto. It was an old work truck with no bed, but a relative made a bed out of scrap lumber (yes, think “Beverly Hillbillies”!). As a teen, I was terribly embarrassed to drive my loud beat up clunker, and had to pop the hood and spray starting fluid into it every time I started it, but looking back I am very thankful for it! We lived rurally and it gave me the opportunity to work full time to save for college (and an updated ride!). I still don’t drive “nice” cars, but I think having a clunker as my first ride makes me much more appreciative of the truck I have now!

  • LeAnne says:

    I love this, Crystal! What a great story and a great lesson. My first cars were used and not super attractive but they got me where I needed to go and I was thankful for them. Last year, we passed my old car (8 years; 100,000 miles) to my teenager and she was glad to get it, even thought almost all her friends got more recent, sportier cars. I think it’s a great lesson: a car can take you where you want to go regardless of how it looks. Thanks for sharing this. It made me smile at my own memories. 🙂

  • I love this post!

    I currently drive a 1998 Honda Accord that I paid cash for about 10 years ago. I have close to 250,000 miles on it, and although it has caused me a bit of stress over the past year or so, I am extremely grateful for its dependability.

    When I was pregnant with my 4th child, everyone I know tried to talk me into financing a new car, telling me I’d need the extra room. Although it would be nice to have some of the fancy features and additional cargo room that a newer, larger vehicle would offer, it’s even nicer to have no car payment. 🙂

    I’ll continue squeezing my family into our “old” car until it decides it no longer wants to work. Then, I’ll probably buy another “old” car, simply to save money for things that are more important to me.

  • Sarah says:

    This was my first car too!

  • Kandace says:

    Yes! Also my first car. Also gray. I finally got an upgrade after the driver’s side door handle fell off and the passenger seat stopped sitting upright (always reclined so that it was touching the backseat). Ha!

  • Joa in Iowa says:

    I too drove a Caprice nicknamed “The Tank Mobile”. Mine was a 1976 so it was the body style before the one in the picture. It was my grandpa’s and I got it after he passed away. I am also petite and could barely see over the dash. In high school I was on the golf team and hauled all 7 of us and our golf clubs quite often out to the golf course. Wish I had that car yet, now it would be an antique.

  • Angela says:

    That was a wonderful story and reminded me of mine. I got married after my freshman year of college in 1985 and we didn’t have a car. It work out ok because we were walking distance from the college we attended and the grocery store. My husband car pooled to work and I was home with our newborn child. My great uncle passed and my father gave us his car for a couple hundred dollars. It was a 75 Buick LeSabre. It was even bigger than your Chevy Caprice. lol It too, was well taken care of and rode so smooth. Now that I look back on it, I learned the same lessons you did which has thoroughly enriched my life. Since that time some 31 years ago, we have had a total of 7 children and those lessons I learned were taught to our children causing them to ‘not despise small beginning’ and has made all of us richer.

  • Brooke says:

    I drove a 1993 Ford tempo that my husband and I referred to as the “beater”. He got the car while he was in college and when we got married in 2002, I drove it for 12 yrs. It had a lot of character. Old cars are nice. You have no car payments and who cares about dents and scratches. I almost cried when we got rid of it.

    • Laura says:

      I had a Ford Tempo too! It had tan corduroy seats. Although it was pre-owned, that was the “nice” car, haha.

      My first car was the huge station wagon Dad let each of us drive when we got our license. The old station wagon got 6 mpg. Seriously. One friend ducked down when she “had” to ride with me. I never forgot that. I was so happy just because I was driving! I had to walk 3 miles to school until I got to use the station wagon. It is all a matter of perspective.

  • Rosanna says:

    Humility is such a good lesson, isn’t it? I’ll be honest and say that I sometimes still wish (for a moment) that I drove a nicer vehicle. Mine is a 2005 GMC Envoy and I actually really enjoy driving it, but there are moments I get “stop light envy.” It passes quickly when I remember that mine is paid for (for years now) and there’s likely isn’t.

  • Elise says:

    Love this!

    My husband has a “thing” for old cars, and it has driven me a little crazy from time to time, but right now, we have a 12 year old for focus for our family of four, and *I’m* the one not wanting to let it go because we paid cash for it, and it’s never given us any trouble. Isn’t that the important thing in a car? lol

  • Megan B says:

    My grandma’s tan Chevy Caprice Classic (’78 I think) was my first car, given to me after she passed away. At first I was terrified driving it because i felt like i was taking up both lanes of the road! Once i got used to driving more, I loved that big hunk of metal. Somehow it made me feel safer, and the memories of riding in it with Grandma and my cousins were precious.

  • Sarah says:

    These are excellent tips. Not worrying about what others think is perhaps the single best way of cutting down your discretionary spending.
    Sarah – enrichmentality.com

  • Becky says:

    Your post brought back great memories! My parents had a Caprice that my brother and I drove. We nicknamed it “The Ca-Precious.”

  • Christina says:

    A grey chevy caprice like that one stood between my dad and almost certain death in a horrible car accident. Those things were built like a tank and I am thankful every day to still have my Dad around.

  • Charlotte says:

    Be content with any wheels. I didn’t have any until after high school. I worked and fortunately, a woman that lived near me worked the same hours. I paid her to ride with her. I paid someone to drive me to school and saved money for college as well as paid all my high school fees, lunches and bought all my clothes.

    Things were different then. It didn’t cost a fortune to go to college. When I graduated high school, I had saved enough for two years of college with books, room and board. That summer I worked and bought a car and paid a years payments with that money since I had enough to go to school. Then I worked and went to school and was debt free and my car was paid off.

    My dad died when I was a teen and there was no money except for one car. And believe it or not, I bought a new car. I don’t buy new cars now and drive them until they fall apart. I have over 200,000 miles on my current one. It is 10 years old and one advantage is that insurance is cheap.

  • Natalie Stachon says:

    This post was absolutely lovely!

    My first car was a used Honda Civic that I got at age 17…and drove until age 31! I would have happily kept that car if the repairs hadn’t become so expensive.

    While I have always been good in the “clunker car” category, this post has challenged me to look at a few other areas where I could improve and exercise great contentment with what I have been blessed with.

  • Julie says:

    My first car in high school was a 1986 Toyota tan Toyota minivan. It had about 250,000 miles by the time it was passed to me. It was embarrassing to drive: multiple dents from where my brother had hit deer on the road, a broken side mirror (my fault) that dad fixed with duct tape, and the AC broke all the time. I regularly drove in South Texas summers with only the windows down. But it got me where I needed to go, and then I was very grateful when my dad put a few thousand down to buy me a little coupe my senior year. Driving old cars definitely teaches humility and gratefulness.

  • Megan Beggs says:

    My first car was an 1981 Impala. A very similar car. I loved it! ❤️

  • Leigh says:

    I was 18 in 2008 when my grandmother’s best friend passed away, and I ended up with her 1995 Corolla. I drove it until just last December when I was finally able to buy a new (to me) car for myself. That old car was not pretty, but it was the most reliable thing ever. I literally never had any problems with it. After almost nine years of driving it, I was considering it almost “disappointingly” reliable 🙂 But whenever someone decided they needed to make remarks about it, I reminded them it got me from here to there the same way theirs did, and it had been in the shop much fewer times than their luxury brand 😉

  • Shawnda says:

    My first car was also a 1983 Chevy Caprice Classic in two-tone light fern green/dark fern green. I loved that car and was able to drive a bunch of friends to see drum corps shows and solo/ensemble contest. That car saved my life in a head-on collision with a pickup truck. Once you learn to drive in a vehicle that size, you’re never intimidated if you have to drive a moving truck or…anything large. I now drive a 2005 Town & Country that we acquired in 2007. It has been paid off for years now and I really don’t want to go back to having a car payment.

  • June Rostad says:

    Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly why I drive a 2008 Toyota Corolla – the “no frills” car. Good gas mileage, good maintenance. I love my car. <3

  • Darcie says:

    We only drive used vehicles! I used to really worry about what people thought, but not anymore. We are getting out of debt and believe me, a new vehicle is the last thing we need. We own an ’04 Expedition with 195,000+ miles, rust, and the back window is caulked shut (my idea, because it leaked and the fastener was rusted off lol.) We also just bought an ’05 white minivan with 145,000+ miles off of my dad. He didn’t want it anymore because it has a little rust on it, the front heater blower doesn’t work and he didn’t want to put the money into it. He said he would rather buy a newer vehicle! We gladly bought it for $200.00 🙂 It runs great, and my husband needed it for work. It is so freeing to drive vehicles that are paid for, and not be slaves to the extra debt and worrying about getting a scratch on it every time you drive it!

  • MamaMurrey says:

    Crystal, I drove the Oldsmobile version of your Caprice, only blue. We called it Clyde. There was no pride in driving it, but then, no regret either when it got a little scraped up on a bad parking job as a young driver.

    Despite its size, it felt pretty nimble after driving our 12-passenger Chevy Beauville van.

    It was good, real-life training for being a young wife and mom, currently driving a 2003 Odyssey. I would like an upgrade, but there’s so much more to life than a new vehicle.

  • Danielle says:

    My dad never bought a car that he couldn’t pay cash for either, so for many years, our family car was a gray Caprice Classic with burgundy interior (we felt fancy with the leather seats and power windows lol!). He too, felt that we didn’t need a vehicle that would draw undo attention or seem flashy. As a teenager, I was mortified by the nicknames “Land Barge” and “Tank” given by some of my friends, but years later, I cherish the memories and lessons learned from that car. Several of my vehicles over the years have been “grandma” cars (Buick LeSabre, Mercury Sable to name a few), but it always felt good to not have a car note. To this day, my husband and I only buy vehicles for which we can pay cash. Thank you for reminding me of this memory!

  • Heather C says:

    Thanks Crystal- while I am late to respond, this post will benefit my oldest daughter greatly. She is almost 16, adopted, and really believes that she is “entitled.” Perhaps she will value her grandfather’s car when he stops driving and she can get herself to school!

  • Crystal says:

    My husband’s first car (in 1997) was a ’77 Chevy Impala that was brown, he loved it and no one understood why he was willing to drive it. To me it showed how self confident he is. We just picked up a baby blue ’88 caprice classic wagon for our kids to learn to drive in. I figure it will motivate the kids ro work hard and get their own car.

    • laura says:

      “I figure it will motivate the kids to work hard and get their own car.” That’s awesome! I never thought about it that way, lol.

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