The Rockwood Files: The Three-Year Itch

 the rockwood filesBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Every three years or so, my husband Tom gets a certain look in his eye. It’s unmistakable. He’s got the itch again. And he’s been looking – prowling – for a model that can help him scratch it.

But thankfully it’s not the kind of model in high heels and a designer dress. It’s the kind with four wheels and six cylinders. The kind with sales tax and monthly payments. The poor guy’s got new car fever, and he’s got it bad.

New car fever is great when you can afford the cure. But when you’ve vowed to “drive the wheels off” your current car, a case of new car fever can make you miserable. Suddenly every other commercial on T.V. is a glamour shot of that sleek, stylish beauty you’ve been eyeing from across the car lot. Every time you come to a stoplight, there it is in the lane next to you.

Tom and I can’t indulge some crazy new car whim. We’ve got three kids – three possible sets of braces to finance. Three college funds to save for. Parents need to be practical. The last time we drove a new car off the sales lot, we said we’d drive it forever – 100,000 miles or more.

Of course, we were too light-headed from that new car smell and giddy about the spotless floor mats to realize what we were talking about. When we said “drive the wheels off,” what we really meant was “drive the new off” and then trade it in for something else.

But that’s financial foolishness – a surefire way to lose money. So we strengthened our resolve not to buy anything, and then we promptly did the dumbest thing we could. We went to a car dealership “just to look.”

Going “just to look” at a new car is like popping open a can of Pringles just to smell it. Soon you’re seduced by the lure of unmarked leather, the cup holders, the fancy dashboard. It’s a fresh start – a car with no dried apple juice on the floor mats or fragments of chicken nuggets skidding around under the seats. And it’s the smell – that glorious new car smell.

For Tom, car shopping is about the body style, the engine, the new features. But mostly it’s about the hunt. He loves the nuances of negotiation and the dance of the deal. But we had three solid reasons not to take our new car flirtation to the next level. Those three reasons were strapped into their car seats, asking for juice and chicken nuggets. So we thanked the car salesman, looked back longingly at the shiny new car and climbed back into our sticky, crusty minivan.

When we got far enough away from that intoxicating new car smell, we began to think more clearly. So what if our vehicles have a few dings and scratches? I’ve got a few dings and scratches of my own, but I’m not about to be traded for a newer model.

The sticky apple juice and chicken nugget crumbs will vanish with a trip to the car wash. But the higher payment on a new car would reappear every month. There’s nothing like a big bill to kill a new car buzz.

So we went home with no new car. I fed the kids while Tom washed the cars in the driveway. He aired it out so it wouldn’t smell like a combination of middle age and the Chick-fil-A drive-through. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have a new car with that incredible smell. Perhaps when the kids go to college? Or maybe when the itch comes back in three more years.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Author Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography