When the Car of My Dreams Became a Nightmare

I was reading one of the local newspapers yesterday and came across a letter that had been sent in by a reader.  It was from a woman who was complaining about the bad roads in her county and the fact that it is ruining the Mercedes-Benz that her husband had given her.  She was extremely upset because due to the long drought we have been experiencing, and the terrible conditions of the roads, it has to be washed at least twice a week.  

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to have any empathy for her.  Sure, I understand that some of these roads, especially the back roads that have never been paved and are nothing but limerock, can be very dusty at times, and even dangerous with all their potholes.  But complaining because she had to wash her $100,000 luxury car twice a week seemed a little petty. 

Thinking about this made me remember a time a few years back when I was having a run of bad luck with my own pride and joys.  I had purchased a new Chevy Cavalier in 1985, using my husband’s beloved Ford Pick-up as a trade in.  Larry was heartsick over doing this, but he loved me enough to part with it.  I had this car less than a year.  I used it to get to work, which meant I had to travel the interstate twice a day.  As anyone who uses these highways knows, you have to get up that entrance ramp and jam your accelerator to the floor in order to avoid being rundown by a semi. The little four cylinder just wouldn’t get out of its own way.  I drove this car for eight months before I admitted to myself that it just didn’t have any “get up and go”.  One afternoon we decided to go car browsing.  I spotted a 1984 Pontiac Firebird SE in the used car lot, sitting alongside the cars I was supposed to be looking at.  I don’t know what happened exactly, it was as if a fog came over the lot and completely obliterated everything around this one car.  It was charcoal gray and had T-tops.  That’s all I remember, except for some very deep sighs coming from my husband.  He argued a good case.  It wasn’t economical, or cheap, considering it was a used car.  But with a little begging and pleading on my part, Larry agreed to co-sign with me, although he would never have traded a new car for a used one.  We picked it up a day later and I was silently doing the dance of joy as I drove it home. 

As with any used car, I knew there would be repairs needed, but within six months I started to experience a run of bad luck and felt as though the whole world was against me.   

It started when I accidentally ran over a sensor-lever at an Amoco car wash.  I put numerous scratches on the side and a dent on the left front fender.  I tried to guard this car with my life, so this was not a happy event.  The following week the lever on the steering column, that controls practically everything in the world, fell apart and was left dangling by a few wires. ($$) 

The week after that while I was at work, my car, which I always parked at the University Police Station lot for safety reasons, was rammed from the rear by a towing company truck while the driver was in the building.  His emergency brake had slipped and the only thing that stopped his truck was…. you guessed it. ($$$) 

One week later my brakes gave out and I was told I would need a master cylinder. ($$$) The day after my master cylinder was replaced my fuel pump died a tragic death. ($$$) The day after that, while driving through a heavy rain in the middle of rush-hour traffic, my windshield wipers went on strike, permanently, and their motor had to be replaced. ($$) 

After everything that had, would or ever could possibly go wrong with this car was repaired, I thought my bad luck had run its course.

I was driving through our little town of Bell one sunny morning six months later, and as I came to an intersection I slowed down, even though I had the right of way.  I was just about to pass the intersection when out of the blue I suddenly felt a jarring blow to my car, and it started to spin out of control.  It came to a stop barely 5 inches from a cement utility pole.  I sat there for a few minutes as I had hit my head on the inside of the door and was really stunned.  The woman who worked at the post office across from where it happened saw me and called my family. (In Bell, everyone knows everyone else.)  Meanwhile the Highway Patrol arrived and asked me if I was ok.  He helped me out of the car and the first thing I did was look at the side of it.  The entire right side had been totaled.  The only good thing about this was that I knew the other driver had to have insurance and this would be taken care of without any $$ on my part. 

I looked over to where the other driver was standing by his car.  There was absolutely no damage to his vehicle.  He was a little old man, and I hoped that he was ok.  The trooper took all the information and the tow truck was called to haul away my car.  After he talked to the other driver he came back to me and told me that this man was 101 yrs old, a WWI veteran, and didn’t even have a license, let alone any insurance.  He never saw the Stop sign because he was blind as a bat, which explains the non-existence of a driver’s license. I laughed at this, only to keep from crying.  The car was repaired once again and I kept it for another two years. 

Time went by without any other major problems, until I was told that I needed new brakes.  The shop I took it to also sold cars.  While my car was up on the lift, the owner came over to me, shaking his head, and told me this car of mine would eventually drive me to the poorhouse.  He said he happened to have this little 1979 Datsun 280ZX for sale.  It was in mint condition, as he had it checked out himself and had bought it for his own use, but no longer needed it.  He suggested I just take a quick look at it, as this wouldn’t cost anything.   I now know that I was the sucker this man had been waiting for all his life.    I walked over to this shiny metallic red sports car and all the good sense my mother gave me flew out the window. 

It was wonderful, the paint job was brand new and the interior was done in light tan leather.  I sat in it for a few minutes, then he suggested I take it home to show my husband, while they worked on the brakes of my car.  So I took it home.  I won’t go into any of the details, but I got the car, even though my husband wasn’t thrilled at all. 

If I had only known all the problems I had experienced with the Firebird were mere drops in a bucket compared to what I would go through with this Z-car.  Because the repair shop was family owned and had been at the same location since the year One, I knew that he would take care of anything that went wrong. During the first month I had it, I had to replace two fuel injectors.  Then after that it just never ran right.  It stalled at red lights and going uphill.  Then the oil and engine lights came on and never went out.  I continued to return with the car to the repair shop, but it seems this guy kept repairing things that later proved to NOT be the problem.  When I finally asked him why he couldn’t get it right the first time he got very defensive and confessed to me that he’d never really worked on these types of cars before, but he was going to school at nights to learn and was doing the best he could. It was a true Maalox moment.  

My husband refused to work on it because there was not enough room for him under the hood.  So I continued to drive back and forth to work, kept getting stuck and calling the same repair shop to tow me home, because by now, they were doing it as a courtesy since they already had so much of our money.  Soon the oil pressure became non-existent, even after we took it to a specialist, and I had to keep a supply of engine oil in my trunk.  

In 1993, after I left UF, the engine blew up a block from my home.  We towed it home and it sat next to our garage, where eventually little wrens built their nests under the hood.  Larry called the Boys Ranch and asked them if they needed a car to work on.  They came out picked it up, and thanked us for our donation. 

I don’t expect any sympathy for having gone through all of this.  I should have known better.  I have chalked it up as all part of a mid-life crisis.  Some women have affairs, so I tell Larry that he got off cheap.   

We bought an ’86 Buick LeSabre from a professor at UF four years ago.  It runs good, isn’t bad on gas, and has some rust on the back fender, but it’s dependable and as far from being a sports car as I could get.