Dear Tom and Ray:
I trust your judgment and need your opinion. My daughter and son-in-law drive a 1996 Acura Integra (two-door). It continues to have a lot of pep and has had little need for repairs other than ordinary things and regular maintenance. The odometer reads 178,340 at this point. They have a 15-month-old child who is regularly stuffed into her car seat in the back of this car. I want to get them a new car. I am concerned that this vehicle is past its prime and is asking for an accident. Yes, just because it's old. I think it is unsafe travel for my grandchild. My son-in-law thinks I'm being neurotic. What do you think? -- Annette
TOM: Of course you're being neurotic about your grandchild, Annette. That's a grandmother's job.
RAY: But there's nothing inherently wrong with this car just because it's old. As long as it's not dangerously rusty, and the kids do the regular maintenance and keep up on the brakes, tires, etc., there's no reason to think that the age of the car will lead to an accident.
TOM: Now, it is a rather small and lightweight car. And it's a two-door. So the kids have to twist and contort themselves to get the baby in and out of the back seat. And it IS likely that someday soon, your son-in-law will throw out his back doing that. That'll cause him to lose his job, then his house will get foreclosed on, and they'll all have to move in with you. So you certainly have an incentive to get them into a larger four-door, Annette.
RAY: Would the kid be safer in something larger and heftier? Sure. But you can't meddle. Speaking as a new grandfather, I know it's very, very difficult to NOT butt in when you see something you would do differently. But we grandparents have to let our kids be the primary decision-makers in raising their own children. If they want little Duckworth to eat nothing but organic, free-range string beans grown by farmers in French maid outfits, you have to learn how to say, "Oh, isn't that nice."
TOM: And by stepping in and buying a new car for them, as wonderful and gracious as that seems to you (and to us), you may be making your son-in-law feel inadequate, or that he's not doing a good-enough job of taking care of his wife and child.
RAY: So here's what I'd do, Annette. Tell them that you know their car is getting old, and "whenever they're ready," you'd like to help them get a new car. Then don't mention it again. That way, you make it their decision. But knowing that financial help is available will probably move up their timeline.
TOM: In the meantime, as long as your granddaughter's car seat is in the middle of the back seat, where it belongs, she'll be reasonably safe back there until you can persuade them to go for the 2008 Sherman Tank.