A FEW weeks back it was my 40th birthday and also that of the good lady indoors, so to celebrate we’d saved up to go on the holiday of a lifetime.
Herself, me and the ankle-biters spent the Easter holidays in Florida, where she and the kids got to do the whole Mickey Mouse thing, while I focused on space stations and American pick-up trucks.
We stayed in Daytona Beach because a) it was a lot cheaper than Miami, b) it wasn’t Miami and c) it was within spitting distance of one of the USA’s most famous motor-racing circuits, the Daytona International Speedway, though of course it was ‘pure coincidence’ that there happened to be a major race taking place on one of the weekends we were there.
But I digress. While my family were happily making memories in the theme parks, I was spending much of my time admiring the cars on the roads out there, as the mild Florida climate means they tend to last a long time. Indeed, some would argue that the Ford Taurus taxi that took us from the airport to our hotel had been on the road for far too long already, but a lot of that goes on out there.
Florida, you see, like other states such as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Arkansas and Iowa (there are others…) doesn’t have any form of vehicle inspection other than to check a car’s VIN plate when it changes ownership. Otherwise, that’s it – you can drive around unimpeded by the need to take your car for any kind of annual roadworthiness check. To a qualified MOT inspector, that’s insane…
When you consider that Daytona Beach is an upmarket resort, itself allied to one of the wealthiest cities in the USA, it’s amazing to see the sheer number of ‘beaters’ there are driving around. But with no means of checking a car’s roadworthiness every year, it’s perfectly normal for even a well-heeled family to run their car until it dies.
Old-school American cars take some killing, too, as while the interior quality may be, on the whole, truly dire and the exterior often a bit flimsy, the Yanks sure know how to build a decent engine.
Most US V8s and straight sixes will rack up the miles without shrugging a shoulder. Indeed, I got chatting to one guy in a bar and when I told him that Brits were wary of buying any car with more than 150k on the clock, he burst out laughing and proceeded to tell the whole place.
But then, that’s the American way. As, indeed, is driving your pick-up truck with so much corrosion on the outer wings that you can see the extent of the corrosion on the inner wings without even lifting the bonnet. Or driving a Chevy Caprice with absolutely zero sill corrosion, which I could tell from a very quick glance as there were simply no sills left to corrode.
And this was a wealthy town in Florida. Imagine the same laws applied to rundown parts of Michigan and Indiana, where they salt the roads in winter and where there’s still a huge unemployment hangover from the end of the car industry’s boom years.
It doesn’t bear thinking about what kind of dangerous horrors there are hurtling down the highways. But then, these are states where, for some reason that just does not compute in my head, they suggest that wearing a crash helmet while riding a motorbike is simply ‘recommended’. Very few people do.
While I’m prepared to put a lot of the premature road deaths in these states down to natural selection – after all, why WOULD you want to drive around in a deathtrap? – there’s a more serious question here.
How can the world’s biggest superpower and the strongest economic nation in the entire developed world think it’s okay for its citizens, the vast majority of whom know nothing about cars except how to drive them, get around without ever having to take their car to be looked over by a trained mechanic?
Not only that, but if you have a car that you drive every day, you tend not to notice the wear and tear.
The rattles start off as slight squeaks and get progressively noisier, the suspension gets softer and saggier, the steering less responsive and the brakes that little bit less sharp as time goes by, but because the process of wear is gradual then if you drive a car daily, you tend not to notice immediately.
But you will do when a ball joint fails, a wheel bearing goes bang or a brake pipe bursts, and the consequences don’t bear thinking about – either for the driver or for the unfortunate other road user they may hit.
Quite frankly, for a country as outwardly civilised as the USA to have no form of MOT equivalent in some of its biggest states is sheer lunacy, and I find it hard to comprehend.
But then, this is the nation that elected Donald Trump as its leader, so maybe that adds a bit of context…
Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we’d have to kill you… What we can say is he’s been around for longer than he cares to remember so certainly knows his stuff…
On CarDealerMag.co.uk: The Peugeot with an electric bike in the boot!