Give your car to a good cause — the Sun-Times

You can lessen the sting of losing a favorite vehicle by giving it to the Chicago Sun-Times Vehicle Donation Program.

SHARE Give your car to a good cause — the Sun-Times
Juma Hamideh of Husky Towing in Waukegan drives off with the 2005 Honda Odyssey that Neil Steinberg donated to the Sun-Times through its Vehicle Donation Program.

Juma Hamideh of Husky Towing in Waukegan drives off with the 2005 Honda Odyssey that Neil Steinberg donated to the Sun-Times through its Vehicle Donation Program.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

God, it was a good car. The term “van” always stuck in my throat, with its implication of a rolling crackerbox shifting overindulged children from one soulless suburban nowhere to another.

No, the 2005 Honda Odyssey was a car, in my mind. With a certain crouching, brawny beanishness, a V-6 engine that could punch the thing up to ... well, let’s just say, if another owner, not me, said he once got an Odyssey up to 120 miles an hour on a stretch of deserted Wyoming highway before some kind of electronic inhibitor system kicked in, I would tend to believe that anonymous, irresponsible person.

The Honda never needed repair — change the oil, fill the tank, and we were good to go.

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And go, go, go we did.

We took the Honda from Malibu to Nova Scotia. It parked in New York City and Los Angeles, navigated the Smoky Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, Venice Beach and Virginia Beach.

For five weeks in 2009, when the recession rattled the country and everybody at the paper was forced to take two weeks of unpaid vacation, the family drove from Chicago to the Redwood Forest, down the coast to Santa Monica, then back. Five weeks, 7,000 miles, nine national parks, 13 states, including a 20-minute nip through Idaho.

Not to forget the 10,000 tiny journeys, to the supermarket and chess tournaments, football practice and viola lessons.

In 2009, Neil Steinberg leaves for a five-week road trip with sons Ross (center) and Kent. On Saturday, he gave the van to the Sun-Times Vehicle Donation Program.

In 2009, Neil Steinberg leaves for a five-week road trip with sons Ross (center) and Kent. On Saturday, he gave the van to the Sun-Times Vehicle Donation Program.

Al Podgorski/Sun-Times file

In recent years, the Odyssey began to need repair. Every six months it seemed something else went. No biggie — still cheaper than buying a new car.

Until it wasn’t. Something was off in the electrical system. A hard right turn would turn the lights on, briefly. The mechanic at Horcher’s said it needed a new engine mount. Or two. Plus a new exhaust.

Suddenly good money was chasing bad. My wife and I bought a new car in January — a 2023 Mazda CX-9, turbocharged, with red leather seats. I thought I’d keep the Odyssey for collecting free mulch from the village of Northbrook — the chips get everywhere.

But then the Honda wouldn’t hold a charge. I’d jump it, drive it around, and an hour later it was dead again. A new battery didn’t help. Meanwhile, the Sun-Times started up its car donation program.

The newspaper is owned by Chicago Public Media Inc, which is a 501(c)3 charity. Meaning money you give to it comes off your taxes. Give the paper $1, pay 25 cents or so less in tax. It sweetens the pot. As if the reasons for supporting a paper weren’t sweet enough. If you haven’t noticed — and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you — there are forces afoot that would strip you of your freedoms: to have your vote counted, to find a certain book in the library, to have children when you wish to, to allow those children to grow up following their natural inclinations.

That’s a lot to put on a publication’s back, particularly when people want all their news free. Every penny counts. Every car.

Still, it sat in our driveway for months. Where did we put that title? A neighbor considered taking it — her son coaches youth hockey. I’d be happy to give it to them — they’re good neighbors. But I warned her. “This is the death of a thousand cuts.” And I did drive it one last time, felt the mushy brakes, the crunch of the transmission clunking into gear. I got out for the last time, grateful.

Neil Steinberg checks out his Honda Odyssey one last time.

Neil Steinberg checks out his Honda Odyssey —with more than 180,000 miles on the odometer —one last time. Saying goodbye to the family ride can be difficult. Giving it to a good cause helps soften the sting.

Photo by Edie Steinberg

I phoned the Chicago Sun-Times Vehicle Donation Program, at 855-500-RIDE (7433). The people were polite and appreciative. My wife and I said goodbye to the car. I peeled the Virginia Law magnet off the back, stuck it on the basketball pole

On Saturday, Juma Hamideh showed up from Husky Towing in Waukegan.

He jump-started the Odyssey, rolling it down the driveway one last time, exactly 18 years after it first rolled up. We had thoroughly emptied the car, but he reached down into a low storage compartment we had overlooked and produced a handful of compact disc cases. Then the Odyssey disappeared around the corner, down First Street.

Giving it to a worthy cause softened the sting. Actually, it meant there was no sting at all, just relief, plus the quiet assurance we had divested ourselves of an expensive, unnecessary burden and done something good in the process.

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