A learning experience: Standards, stalling, and never going back

I was the third person in my family to have the same first car. My father bought my mother a brand new 1981 Toyota Corolla Tercel to haul my sister and me around town. It was a solid car, dependable, easy to work on, great gas mileage, but pretty basic. My sister got her learner’s permit right around the time my father decided it was time to get my mother another new car, so the Toyota became my sister’s first car. She drove it for a few years and, while she took good care of it, it was showing its age, so eventually my father helped her get her own new car. Then, it was my turn.

A 1980-82 Tercel. Credit: ToyotaReference.com

When I received my learner’s permit, I also inherited the Toyota. Gotta give it to Toyota, they make a resilient car. I’m sure that poor thing didn’t appreciate being handed over to a teenage boy in its old age, but there we were. It was the car in which I learned to drive because it was a standard, and as my dad always said, “If you can drive a standard you can drive anything.” He always assumed the worst, so by enabling me to drive a standard before I started going to high school or college parties, I was prepared in case I was stranded by crazy friends, or had to be the designated driver. But, I had to learn that thing first.

The worst episode that ever happened to me in that car was while I still had a learner’s permit and was still getting the hang of that manual transmission. It was a Sunday afternoon right after church, with my mother in the passenger seat and my best friend at the time in the back seat. We pulled up to a red light with a turning lane, so I took my place intending to turn right, and that’s when it happened: we stalled out. I started the car again and attempted to move, and we stalled again. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and I started to freak out. The light is green by this point, there’s a line of traffic behind me, and I’m holding everything up with a car that keeps stalling. I’m stressing out, my mom is trying to help, and my friend is just laughing, enjoying the melt down. Eventually, I realized I still had the car in fourth gear. Once I put it back in first, we went on our way to lunch. I’ll never own a standard again.

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