By MARY K. NOLAN
The Hamilton Spectator
Thursday, March 23, 2000
(Desmond Miklòs is close to turning over a half-million kilometres on his 1993 Chevy Cavalier.
Photo by Ted Brelisford, The Spectator)
Car rental agencies know it. Auto leasing firms, taxi drivers, parents with teenagers and people who maintain fleets of vehicles know it, too.
They’re all well aware that multiple drivers take their toll on a car and that the more people who regularly climb behind the wheel, the greater the likelihood of the vehicle’s early demise.
So how to explain the longevity of Desmond Miklòs’ humble 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier, a used vehicle to begin with and now very well-used indeed?
Hundreds of different drivers would be bad enough, but the drivers who have heaped five years of abuse on this car are student drivers – brake-happy ones, curb bashers, flicker clickers, gas pedal leadfoots, nervous Nellies, gear shift maulers, sweaty test-takers, Paul Tracys-in-training and all manner of hopeful motorists.
The long-time instructor can’t even begin to estimate how many students have learned to drive on the long-suffering little sedan.
The odometer registered 75,000 kilometres when Miklòs, a diehard GM fan, drove the car off the Nethercott Chev-Olds lot in 1995. It’s up to more than 499,600 today, and given the way Miklòs racks up the mileage, he’ll be at the half million mark by week’s end.
He works 52 weeks a year, spends about 42 hours a week in the car, and sees at least 40 students a week – you do the math. He figures about 25 per cent of his students have taken their driving exam on his car and wonders how many people have been influenced to buy their own Cavalier because that’s what they learned on.
Owning a driver-training car is not without risk. The 55-year-old Miklòs admits he goes through “an awful lot of brakes,” replacing them every three sets of pads. Ditto for headlights, because they’re always on. He puts on new tires, “cheap ones,” every 60,000 kms.
The wheel alignment is done regularly, thanks to students who have trouble gauging the proximity of the curb. He has been to the wrecking yard three times foraging for a new heater and is on his third battery and second rounds of alternator, fuel pump, starter motor and hand brake, which his drivers use “more in a week than most people do in a lifetime.”
A 450-pound student finished off the driver’s seat springs. Three times he has had to replace the turn signal handle, broken by students who jam it down with such force it breaks off its mount.
When the spring broke on the floor-mounted gear shifter, Miklòs was back at the wreckers where he bought an entire handle for what the parts department wanted for the spring alone.
The car’s a little short on aesthetics. Factory blue with two turquoise pinstripes along the sides, it has been rustproofed, so it is not too bad in that department, but it sports its share of stone chips along the front. The elephant gray upholstery became so worn with all the drivers sliding in and out that Miklòs had to resort to seat covers.
The rear window ledge is lined with numerous driver training licenses issued by the different municipalities in which he teaches.
Miklòs, who teaches in town and throughout southwestern Ontario, goes through a tank of gas a day and treats the Cavalier to premium Sunoco 94 about every 10 tankfuls. He washes it whenever he gets a chance, religiously takes the car to a place at Centre Mall for a $13 lube, oil and filter change, and gets the alignment done by a fellow nearby on Barton Street.
But he swears the credit for prolonging the vehicle’s life belongs to his mechanic, Reno Casalanguida, at Hamilton’s Brucedale Garage.
“That car should be dead by now,” Miklòs says. “I owe my soul to him.”
The factory-blue Cavalier – with vanity plates “5GEARS” and a dashboard sign reading “No Smoking: Oxygen in Use” – made him an instant convert to ABS brakes.
“It’s a wonderful car. I’m very happy with it,” says Miklòs. “It’s taken a lot of abuse – some of them drive like Stevie Wonder – but I’ve got no complaints.”
Still, all good things must come to an end and Miklòs was cruising around the auto show in Toronto last month, just to see what’s out there. He’s thinking of something like a Chevy Malibu.
“Reno’s on the verge of telling me to get rid of it,” he says. “With the high mileage, he’s worried about it turning into a bottomless pit.
“But it’s like an old pair of shoes. You don’t want to get rid of them.”