Book Review: ‘Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel’

At a time when a day without mention of electrification and/or autonomy is like a day without sunshine in the automotive news cycle, a book like Never Stop Driving verges on anachronistic. A collection of essays about car culture and the ways cars have affected our relationships to our own lives and with others, Never Stop Driving is, as the back cover states, “equal parts how-to and philosophy”. It’s also just as much a bittersweet remembrance for the rapidly-fading connections automobiles have made central to American life of the last century or so.

In one way or another, each essay included in Never Stop Driving touches on these connections: with a particular car, with the road under you, with competitors in a race. Some of the most affecting portions of the book touch on the bonds we share with family and friends through the automotive experience, and the bonds we relive through a car long after. Chapters five and six are particularly moving if you’re a parent who has shared driving or wrenching time with a child, spent time wrenching or learning to drive with a parent or loved one, or sought the memories evoked by a particular vehicle. While the entirety of Never Stop Driving is worthwhile, the essays that relate cars to these ties are where the book really shines.

Fortunately, the essays that focus more on the car or how the car relates to one’s sense of self are also compelling, if less sentimental. Your mileage might vary of course, and the more individual-centered pieces, such as the sense of focus described as the “cold eye” in chapter four’s discussion with FCA design chief Ralph Gilles, are an insightful pleasure to read in any case.

One connection examined from different angles in several of these essays is the sense of confidence and mental clarity that arises from wrenching on your own car. Rob Siegel points out in an essay titled ‘The Joy of Problem Solving’ that “when we fix something, we get to assert some degree of control over a world gone mad.” This is generally timely, given how absurd the world at large feels at present, an important message when society has come to treat things so disposably that many things we used to own are now offered “-as-a-Service” free of the “hassles” of knowing or even caring about how to properly maintain them.

These words felt especially prescient the morning after I read them, when my own car sputtered and shook a block or so from home as my daily commute began. With this essay in mind, I calmly thought about the problem as I turned back for home, considered my prior experience with the car, pulled into my driveway and replaced a faulty ignition coil maybe half an hour later. Had I not just read Siegel’s prose, the experience might have been significantly higher-stress. Successfully doing your own wrenching brings a kind of Zen feeling that few other things provide. It’s good to be reminded of this from time to time.

The bitter meets the sweet less in the prose compiled within Never Stop Driving than the realization that so much of what the book eloquently celebrates is being lost at an exponential pace. Whether the reasons behind these changes are for the best is another topic altogether, but the feeling that, as a culture, we might be losing yet another conveyance for human connection is palpable. Of course, parents and kids will find other things to bond over besides wrenching or driving lessons, and maybe the experience of the road trip will remain, if slightly altered, when we’re transported by autonomous vehicles in the middle-distant future. It won’t feel quite the same, though. I have to, in good conscience as a fan of Tom Waits, dispute Jack Baruth’s chapter seven assertion that “nobody ever wrote a love song about a subway.” I might agree with him, though, that “nobody has ever felt a deep, personal connection with a city bus.” For over a century, ‘life behind the wheel’ has been a cornerstone of American life. Here’s hoping that when the automotive future finally overtakes its past, it’s not so far removed from the experiences Never Stop Driving relates so well.

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