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Revelations From Daily Driving a 15-Year-Old Car

A lot happened in the year 2002. The world was introduced to the Euro, the very first HD cable channel began broadcasting (now known as Velocity), Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Golden Jubilee, the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Michael Schumacher dominated the F1 season with Ferrari, and my Lexus IS300 was assembled in a placed called Kanegasaki, Japan. I’ve been driving it for a few weeks, and already have some revelations from driving a 15-year-old car!

Now let me get something out of the way up front: I drive a lot of new cars. In this business, I’m fortunate enough to have manufacturers loan me a car for a week to see what I think — a good gig if you can get it. As a result, my day-to-day commuting is done via pretty modern vehicles — so I don’t want you to spend your time in the comments or on social media proclaiming that the new nincompoop DeMuro hired at Oversteer thinks a 15-year-old car is old. I know there are older cars out there. With that said, when you spend as much time as I do in new cars, you start to notice some interesting things about a 15-year-old one when you begin driving it all the time.

Back That Thing Up

Exactly one year from now, by May 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has deemed that all new cars will have backup cameras as standard equipment. (Little-known fact, the first backup camera was used in the 1956 Buick Centurion concept car.) But back in the year 2002 — the same year that Mr. Big, Stone Temple Pilots, NSYNC, EMF, Men at Work, Savage Garden, Alabama, Run DMC, Hole, Midnight Oil, Supertramp and The Presidents of the United States of America all broke up — backup cameras were not that common!

My typical trip in and around the D.C. area has me transiting numerous parking garages, so I’ll admit, I do miss the backup camera. Not just that, but most new cars also have some form of backup sensors in place, too. Combine those with your trusty backup camera, and your bases are pretty well covered. Well, unless they just don’t work all that well. My very first press car was a 2016 Kia Sorento, and I backed it into a wall. It could have had something to do with the angle at which I was approaching said wall, but the sensors went from green, to yellow, to re…CRUNCH. Oops, sorry Kia.

Suffice to say, my IS300 has none of these things, but its lithe size and shape make it pretty easy to park the old-fashioned way, using mirrors, ability and prayer. Nonetheless, it takes some getting used to.

We Have Ignition

The key to getting my 2002 Lexus going is, well, an actual key. Back in 2002, you weren’t likely to get a push-button starter, even on an entry-level Lexus. So each morning I have to do some planning, especially if my arms are full. There’s none of this namby-pamby sauntering up to your car, which enthusiastically greets you by showering the ground in light and preparing to unlock the door when your hand nears it.

No, you keep your keys in your hand, drop them, lean over to pick them up, drop something else, and repeat until you get to the car. Kudos to Lexus for having the keyless entry feature built into the actual key itself, a feature that I very much appreciate from a pocket-real-estate perspective. Push the button once for your door, twice for all the doors, hold for the trunk, you remember. Don’t you? As I think about this, I realize some of you may not. Wow.

2002 Lexus IS300

Get into the car, shifter goes into neutral, clutch, key in, turn, ignition. It’s pretty much the same process you go through to engage a push-button starter on a more modern car, except it’s a little harder on your wrist. I can’t say that I prefer one over the other: A button is easier, but having a real key means one less thing to go wrong. For example, my 2007 Infiniti G35S sedan had a proximity fob instead of a real key, and it left me stranded in a very crappy part of New Jersey overnight when something inside the mechanism failed. That said, I like the feeling that I’m firing up a rocket or something with the push button.

Range Anxiety

It’s difficult to recall the days before your car told you how far you had to go before you ran out of gas. I’ll admit, I appreciate range meters in newer cars. In a complex, congested commuting environment like D.C., where you may not have a gas station along your route — or you may only have one that spitefully prices their gas at over $4.00 a gallon — it’s nice to have a constant reminder of how much further you have before you’re stranded. Well, not stranded like you would’ve been before cell phones, or before you could just click on the Uber app and get home. No, today you’re just generally annoyed and mildly inconvenienced that you ran out of gas.

I don’t like math, and the idea of doing the maths to calculate how many gallons my car holds, its rough MPG and the implications of such a complex equation on my range, all while trying not to get sideswiped by the aforementioned, and woefully lost, Uber driver, isn’t exactly ideal. So yeah, I miss that bit, but I’ll get used to it. I guess.

Less Smart(phone)

I’ll say this bit up front, I don’t typically use the Bluetooth feature in modern cars. I don’t talk on the phone all that often, and when I do, I just leave it on speakerphone sitting on my lap or nearby. That is partially because I feel like the microphone in most cars isn’t very good. I find myself yelling up towards some electronic gatekeeper who sends every third syllable down to my iPhone to process and send to whoever I’m talking to. Add Siri to the mix, transcribing talk-to-text, and I might as well speak Swahili. So not having connectivity for my phone in my 15-year-old car, at least to use as a communication device, isn’t much of a loss to me.

However, I do miss the ability to connect to my phone to use it as a music player. Those of us with older cars still have a few options. There’s the ole FM modulator, which, let’s face it, never worked. Not even back when you used it to connect your portable CD player. Especially if you live in a major metropolitan area where most of the FM band is taken, it’s just not very good at reliably playing your music.

Enter the cassette deck! Some may look into my 2002 Lexus and scoff at its tape deck — but for $20, Amazon will sell you a Bluetooth connectivity adapter for it! Does it work? I’ll let you know, since I just bought one.

Lexus IS300 Tape Deck

So in summary, it’s an amazing commentary on the automobile to think through a few of the things we take for granted on (more) modern cars. While my 15-year-old Lexus IS300 isn’t that old, it’s still got a few foibles that I’m getting used to. Let me know in the comments what’s missing from your old, or older, car. Like a fourth wheel for your Morgan. Find a 2002 Lexus IS 300 for sale

Based in Northern Virginia, William is professional writer and editor and acts as the Editor-in-Chief of Right Foot Down. He misspent most of his youth on tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as killing cones in parking lots, and he once taught at a teen performance driving school.

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  1. It’s an interesting thought….not having back up cameras. My 15 year old may never know a car without one. Both our cars have one…but what if they didn’t? Suppose it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have her practice with out it…just cover the screen.

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