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A Tribute To A Family Member: Toyota Corolla Altis

Here in Singapore, the concept “a car is a part of the family” is lost on most people. To most, a car is simply a means of transportation. A way to get around, a daily runaround to ferry the kids, to go to the shops. This is also hampered by the fact that cars here are slated for the scrap heap after just 10 years, less you renew your COE to extend your car’s lifespan by another decade. The notion that a car can be considered a family member may seem insane to many.

But for the select few sentimental people that really do give a damn about this sort of thing, a car is a crucial part of their lives. And in my case, my old beloved Toyota Corolla Altis had a huge part in my upbringing. It was with me through my formative years since I was 11. It was the first car I drove after I got my licence. It was the first car I took my friends out in. It was the first car I drove out on dates. Its been with the family for more than half my life. But it isn’t the only car my family has owned.

Almost two decades back, my dad had an 8th generation E110 Corolla, the old LX Saloon with a full fabric interior and loads of tacky black plastic trim. I was far too young to remember anything more back then. A couple years later, he got a 7th generation Honda Civic. This time, I could remember more. I remember that it was the pre-facelift model with the red-tinted plastic housing for the tail lamps, reverse lights and indicator lamps. That was the car that made me notice the little differences between refreshed and facelifted cars. That Civic stayed with the family a little longer. And then came the E130 Toyota Corolla Altis my dad bought around the time I was finishing Primary school. I remember the first time my dad pulled up and I was impressed by the chrome trimmings and leather interior. Seemed like a big thing back then.

Now obviously, the car was fully paid for by my parents, I had no concept of money back in those days. Of course, when started driving it I forked out the gas money (from time to time, whenever I felt guilty about emptying the tank). Back when we first viewed the car in the showroom, my parents let me choose the colour of the car. It started out in life with a medium silver metallic paintjob, but after my dad renewed the car’s COE for another five years, we repainted it black. And we had the engine overhauled, and replaced some of the weaker corroded bits of the car. For what it was, it really stood the test of time. We’ve had a minor few scrapes and dings here and there, but nothing major.

Not until it broke down on me once while I was out visiting friends on the first day of the Chinese New Year earlier this year. The 14-year-old alternator finally gave way, and my friends and I had to push it off the road to get it charged up just enough for me to limp it home. That was the beginning of the car troubles. Soon after, the gearbox started to go too. Putting it in reverse, the car just stays still as if the gears haven’t been engaged. But when I start depressing the throttle, it eventually bites and engages with such a surge that the whole car rocks as if I just stalled it. Driving over bumpy cobbled roads feels as if the bolts on the strut towers are coming loose. And worst of all, the air conditioning system leaks so frequently that we had to go for a freon charge every few weeks.

No denying it, the car was on its last legs. It really was in dire need of some TLC, or a good fix. And that was just too expensive for a car that was coming to the end of its cycle. The combined problems were more than enough to make my dad venture into buying a new car. But issues aside, the car’s still got a lot left in it. The 1.6L engine’s running fine, the seats are slightly worn but comfortable enough, and the bone-stock sound system still sounds amazing for a car of its class. And to me at least, it still does deliver decent fuel economy and just enough power. The familiarity of it, the weight and feedback of the steering, it is still a very capable car. Despite clocking over 300,000km on the odometer. But ultimately, i was time for it to go.

According to statistics, the average life expectancy of any Singaporean person is 82.9 years. A decade ago, that number was 81.54 years. And year by year, that number is getting higher. Given proper care, a good service history and decent driving habits, an average family sedan in Singapore could easily last 10 years. Or 15, if you’re stretching it a little.

So, consider this; even if you live to be a nonagenarian or god forbid, you live to be a hundred, would a tenth of your life be considered a big part of it? Would a decade be significant enough to be considered a big part of your life? Fourteen years in my case, I think that’s a pretty long stretch.

With that, goodbye my beloved old Toyota. Sorry for mistreating you at times. Thanks for keeping me safe all these years. And thanks for all the memories. You will be sorely missed.

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