Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Nettiemobiles, Through The Years

My buddy Tal has written a very good story about the cars of his childhood, and his eventual journey to Ford (there's a story there). Anyway, it made me pause to consider the cars of my driving life. I'm trying to remember the ones from my own childhood, and when I get all the details straight, I'll post about those as well.

By 1986, I had gotten my permit, and tried my hardest to drive our family car -- a very small car with a standard transmission. I was hopeless with a four-in-the-floor. I consider myself an intelligent girl, but I could not (and still cannot) get the hang of it. So Dad felt there was no choice but to find me a reliable car with an automatic transmission. And that was how "The Bomber" came into my life.

The Bomber was a 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic in light metallic blue. You could seat 6 people and have room for a full-court basketball game in there. When I got it in the summer of '86, it had about 90K on it. It had power EVERYTHING .... seats, mirrors, steering, brakes, everything.

I drove it my entire senior year, and it became legendary then..... I hit a tree with the car; not a scratch. A big truck bumped my back bumper on the way to work one day; nothing. This car was indestructible -- and I felt great in it. I didn't care how old it was, how big it was, or anything else. It was my baby.

I left it at home when I went to college. We were told that you couldn't get a parking permit for our dorm (the apartment complex). Massive bummer. When I moved on campus, I found out I could get an on-street permit from the City for the massive sum of $7.50 per year. So the first weekend I went home, I got a ride up from Claudy Fewell, and brought the car back with me. It stayed with me all through my college days, my first job, and my second job.

Everyone in college had the same thing to say about The Bomber .... "It has character." It did. It was hit the day before Thanksgiving 1987 and banged up badly. The body was never the same after that, but oh, it drove like a dream.

When my second job ended, due to a massive shutdown of a facility, we got very nice severance packages, based on how long we'd been with the company. As a less-than-one-full-year employee, I got the bare minimum, but it was enough to get another pre-owned vehicle. I'd had The Bomber for nine years. While it still drove beautifully, it was now 19 years old and getting harder and harder to maintain. The body wasn't holding up well either. As much as it did pain me to let her go, I did ..... My dad sold The Bomber for parts -- because honestly, it was worth more that way. I didn't shed a tear, but now, I kind of wish I had.

Dad told me about another car he found: a 1985 Olds '88 Royale in dark grey. The price was right, I could pay in cash with my severance, and it ran fairly well. All I can say is HUGE mistake. The body was fantastic -- never had a problem with it. But the engine was a nightmare. It was the Anti-Bomber. There was this problem, that problem, eventually rebuild the engine or transmission (I forget which). I sank way more money into maintenance on that car than I care to admit. After only four and a half years, the CV joint went. I was not about to sink another $500 into a car not worth that much. So I took my tax refund and used it as a down payment on.....

Goldie, the 1995 Ford Escort. I had passed this car lot at least 3-4 times a week and they always seemed to have nice, well-cared-for pre-owned vehicles. So I stopped in, said, "Okay, here's the monthly payment I can afford. What do you have?" 3 cars. Goldie, a white Olds (and I did not want another Olds!) and a hot pink Mercury Topaz. Goldie or a hot pink Topaz. The choice was obvious. I ended up walking out with a payment a little higher than I really wanted, but still manageable.

Goldie ended up being a great car. All the factory parts were still in it, and for a four-cylinder compact car, it was incredible. I first had an issue with it about 6 months after I got it. I'd driven to Savannah to see the Glecks, and coming back through Columbia, it just quit on me. Turns out I'd broken a timing belt. That was it. The real cost was the towing to get it both off the interstate and then home from Columbia (YOW!). And the only other mechanical problem I had with it was that the transmission just died on me one day. We installed a rebuilt one, but other than that, nothing but regular maintenance.

I was driving Goldie when the church job went south. On February 1, I turned in my resignation. I was lining up interviews and doing some other things during that time. On February 8, I left work, cranked the car, and it started doing this weird chugging-jerking thing, like a Magic Fingers bed gone way loopy. I called my favorite mechanic (a/k/a Daddy), and he had me drive it (as much as I could) to a nearby mechanic -- honestly, just down the street from the church. The next day, the guy called to tell us it was something where it would be about $1000 to replace. Again, I was faced with the prospect of sinking more into a vehicle than it was worth.

In five years, I'd put about 80K in mileage on Goldie -- trips to Savannah, Atlanta, Biloxi, genealogy trips all over the Upstate, just the daily grind. And now, I was soon to be jobless, possibly for the long haul. I was also deeply in medical debt, thanks to that lovely little cholecystectomy I'd had 17 months earlier. I needed a terribly reliable car in the worst way possible, at the cheapest rate possible, and for the best deal possible. It wasn't looking good.

On the way home, as I was sitting in the truck with Dad, despairing at what to do, we passed a different car lot...... I'd seen them a few times, and pondered going to them. They were just a local mom-and-pop thing, with just a few cars at a time, and their sign offered "We Finance - No Interest - No Credit Check." Okay, that was promising. I admit that faced with tough decisions, sometimes my response has been typically Scarlett: "I'll think about it tomorrow." And that was exactly what I did. I just needed to get through the next few days and worry about it -- later.

That Saturday, my dad said, "Come get in the car." And in a way that told me I had better. He'd gone by the little car lot, and found one for me to look at. It was a 1997 white Ford Taurus. The car looked fantastic, only had 60K on the odometer (not bad for an 8-year-old vehicle!), and had a nice interior. They had another white Taurus there, but Dad said he just didn't like the looks of it. When I went to talk to the people, my heart sank a little. It was a repaired salvage car. That gave me tremendous pause -- I surely did not want a lemon on my hands. But I drove it around, and some of my fears were alleviated. Apparently, the damage must have been strictly to the body. After some discussion with my Dad, and a couple of days to round up the down payment, I left work early on that last day to get it.

I haven't really given it a nickname, like I did with the other cars. It's a good solid car. So far, there have been no major problems, just regular maintenance. I've put over 100K on it-- unfortunately, having a 65-mile round-trip daily commute will do that. But it's been great! It needs a real car-wash (not just the "let me hose her down to knock off the pollen" routine), and is getting another oil-change tomorrow. I need her to last a little while longer.


Last summer, I started thinking about getting another car -- a small SUV, for that matter. Maddox fits somewhat comfortably across my back seat, but God forbid we have him AND other people in the car. I could get one person and that would be it.

There was a used-car place in Greenville where you could check out their inventory online. Great!!! So I looked, with some criteria in mind: small SUV (Ford Escape or Toyota Rav4), less than 60K in mileage, no more than 4 years old, and if at all possible, under $15,000. Much harder than it looked, but I saw a few potential ones. I even did the "contact us!" and never heard a response.

I even (God help me) called the one place I never wanted to deal with. Ever. Those of you who know me well know exactly which dealership I mean: "(BRAND NAME) OF (TOWN!!!!!!!)" yelled just like they do in their radio/TV ads. They suggested I submit my credit app online, and I said, "Oh, okay!" But I thought, "Oh hell no, I will do that in person, and you may pull it ONCE, not 19 bazillion times."

By August, a little voice in my head said, "Wait until October." Now, I claim absolutely zero psychic abilities, and I don't imagine myself to be Joan of Arc and hearing the voice of God. But my intuition is usually fairly good, and so I decided to wait. A few days later it hit me that my review is usually in October, and it might be good to see how that would turn out first. By early October, I looked at their website inventory again, and the little SUV's were hardly around -- surprising, since gas was continuing to rise. But okay, whatever. I eventually decided to hold off a little longer myself......

Imagine my shock when our local news reported a few weeks ago that this particular used-car lot was forced to close to due lack of business....... and the next day that several recent customers couldn't get their titles. And the next day when some reported that their credit reports are showing them owing the full amount (still) of their trade-ins. BIG issues. And I am so glad I listened to my inner voice that told me to wait .... and that their inventory wasn't as good later as I expected.

And as long as gas prices are hovering where they are, I'll maintain my Taurus as best as I can!

1 comment:

Talmadge Gleck said...

What? You passed up a HOT PINK TOPAZ?!

Yeah, you made the right call there. Escorts were far more reliable than the "Tempaz Twins."

Re gas prices (and don't I wish we had yours in the Upstate!), what kind of mileage do you get out of your car?

And no, you do NOT want the (BRAND NAME) Sorento. Latest Consumer Reports indicates below-par reliability and terrible gas mileage (13/23 - 17 overall).

We get anywhere from 20 to 27 MPG in our Escape (4 cyl). Average I'd say is 23.

"Budget Auto Sales" (talk about dirtying up a rent-a-car brand). Why am I not surprised? There's a big BAS in Montgomery, and their advertising has always been a bit on the sleazy side. Almost bought something there in 1993 and it didn't feel right.

Maybe you can find a good used smaller SUV yet, preferably from a "real" used car lot and not a bottom-feeder like Budget or a we-tote-the-note outfit.