I, Satish Kondapavulur, was born a gearhead. There's no other explanation for being the only one in the family who— can drive stickshift, still buys Hot Wheels cars, wakes up early to watch Monaco, and knows the differences between every generation and variant of the Porsche 911. Jalopnik likes to give tips on raising gearheads, but provides little about the downsides of non-gearhead parents. As a result, I've decided to highlight what a budding car enthusiast goes through in a car-indifferent household, with the best way I know how: a list.
This disregard for cars will be something you'll never understand about your parents, and will most probably result in automotive decisions you won't like and might never understand. For instance, almost never going karting. Getting a sweater instead of a Maisto model car at Christmas. Being told to go to bed instead of watching the Australian Grand Prix. Constantly being informed that a car is a depreciating asset and the birthday money is best spent on gold. Not taking your car recommendations. (This hasn't been a problem in our household. Yet.) Life as a gearhead does get better though. Unfortunately, it generally happens once you leave the house.
Author's Note: As you may have noticed, this list won't involve making lists of what cars you should or shouldn't buy. This is because on average I get one thing spectacularly wrong on every single list. In fact, I'm in the process of naming a new law to describe it. I'm open to recommendations. And also: Sorry mom and dad!
The Automotive Conversations
Usually car conversations with non-gearhead parents stem from articles in the business section of the newspaper or an ad during a Seinfeld rerun. So you get questions like "What do you think of this Jeep recall?" or "Is that really a good deal for a Corolla?" To which I reply, "It was expected" and "Probably."
But the worst comes when to make conversation, mom or dad will ask you about a certain car, only to tune out in less than a minute. The most recent example involved a trip to the grocery store driving dad’s E39 [530i] with dad in the passenger seat. He asked whether he should replace his car with a new 5-Series. Of course, me being me, I go into how the E39 5-Series was the best 5-Series ever made, how the new one doesn’t have good steering feel, and the current GS350 F-Sport is better. About a minute in, he started checking e-mail on his iPhone. (And they say millennials care more about smartphones than cars.)
Meanwhile, the automotive-related things my mom talks about involve the family Odyssey (LX, since manual sliding doors build character) and Tesla Motors, since we live in Silicon Valley. So both parents truly don't care much about cars, except when it involves the mechanic's bill.
Trying Your Hand at a Career in Racing
There is a very high chance that a racing career isn’t possible without gearhead parents. My only time karting before college was at a Malibu Grand Prix, and even I wouldn't call it actual competitive karting. The primary reason for a quashed racing career is cost, which tends to be insane, even for karting itself. Mine would put the kibosh on a racing career once they knew how many racing series I’d have to jump through. At that point, they would rather spend money on polo lessons than engage in competitive karting. After all, it's cheaper to care for the horse and at least you can think of it as a family member. The best bet is to get very good at playing Gran Turismo. And then when GT Academy comes around, make sure to beat everyone else and get a shot at a race seat.
Danger, to a now-lesser extent, is another reason. The death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001 and Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas in 2011 did not help my racing cause one bit. And the injuries sustained by professional racers do make your parents think whether having a child in motor racing is worth it.
Before you could stream races, I had to watch whatever paucity of races were on the major networks, since we didn't have cable. This mainly consisted of NASCAR, CART, IRL, Champ Car, and sometimes ALMS on Sunday afternoons. When there was only one TV in the house, this posed problems, and I usually lost, as you can imagine. As for F1, living in California, you can only watch at two times: 5:00 AM or 11:00 PM. One time was early enough to make the neighborhood think I was watching televangelists, while the other was way past my bedtime.
There were even issues with attending motor races, though there were two racetracks close to home, because there was always some other commitment, or I couldn’t get a ride there. As a result, I’ve only been to two races so far in my life. I didn’t actually attend my first motor race in person until my sophomore year of high school. This was only because the Champ Car World Series came to town. And also because I had gotten free tickets. The second race involved the World Touring Car Championship when they came to Sonoma last year. And that's it. (On a totally unrelated note, I’m holding Michael Ballaban to his acceptance of Robb Holland’s challenge at Sonoma this year.)
Learning to Drive
You will learn to drive in an automatic car. This will be because automatic cars are the only ones in the house. And driving schools don't have manual cars. You will have access to nothing else. And nobody else will want to teach you on their own cars. The exchange with friends with manual cars usually went something like this:
Him/Her: "Thanks for lending me your Bible."
Me: "No problem. Would you mind teaching me stickshift?"
Him/Her: "I drive you places since you don't have a car."
With family friends, the conversation would be me essentially answering three questions:
- "What are mom/dad up to?"
- "What colleges are you applying to?"
- "What are you planning on majoring in?"
Of course, I had different answers every month, which would prompt a flood of follow-ups. After twenty minutes, I'd ask, "Will you teach me stickshift on your car?" as a sort of reward for responding to their questions. The two standard responses were: "Oh, I need to say hi to him/her!" or "Would you like a job at my start-up instead?"
So automatic was the only transmission I knew when I got my license. In fact, it wasn’t until a trip to India two years later that I learned how to drive a manual car when I absolutely had to.
Getting the First Car
If you’re already out of the house, you’ll have the freedom to pick the first car. But living at home, your parents will ensure they have a say in what you get. And they will influence the decision by the best means they have: money. This happens quite a bit in the SF Bay Area. You'll usually have $2-5,000 saved up from working summers and weekends. Then your parents find out the car options on a sub-$5K budget. Which means your first car is going to cost five figures and your parents will have a bigger say than you originally thought.
Also, your car is bought as a third car, so it must have good insurance rates, be fuel-efficient, and your parents (and siblings) must be able to drive it. Which results in compromises, such as an automatic and no V-8. Additionally, preconceived notions become a factor. For instance, my mom would not allow any BMW. Apparently, the service bills and insurance rates for one BMW were enough to handle. (In retrospect, neighborhood perception may have been an issue as well.)
But being "misinformed" can sometimes work in your favor. Little did mom know that the Jetta 2.0T I ended up getting was faster than our 530i...
So what other drawbacks are there to growing up with parents who don't understand your car obsession? I suspect there'll be some good stories.
Image credits: First image courtesy Stuffpoint. Rest are either me or Wikimedia.