I\’m getting ready to put together yet another \”Help get my ass out of financial dire straits due to my piece of shit car\” campaign again.
Let\’s roll back the clock, shall we? Because this is only funny in context.
Early June 2003: I had been driving a 1989 Nissan Sentra for years. The car was a piece of shit, but it was mine, all mine. It had no air conditioning, no power steering, no air bags, and speakers that only occasionally worked. It was missing a few rims on my tires, was rusting, covered in tattered bumper stickers and perpetually smelled like Thai food. It was a real old lady car, as I had acquired it from my grandparents.
The joy it brought me due to the independence it granted me while still living in Bumfuck was immense. The electrical system failed and had to be replaced twice, the brakes once, and a variety of other issues. The car was worth less than $500, and yet more than $3000 went into it in repairs during the two years I had the car. It was always just cheaper to keep fixing the dumb piece of shit than it was to try and buy a new car.
Then one morning last June, I accidentally drove over a curb while going thirty miles an hour, and it totaled my tank. (Lesson: do not drive in the morning while still woozy from the sleeping pills taken the night before.) Everything in the car just up and gave out on that curb. Pieces of my car fell off as I drove it to my trusty service station. Bye bye, baby. And that was that. The tags were taken off and the car signed over to a mechanic there for free — he\’d fix it up for his kid sister who also happened to like The Mission UK, which was fortunate due to the huge TMUK sticker on the back of the car.
The quest then began to find a new car. By the end of the month, I had myself a birthday present. The day before I turned 22 I acquired a shiny new-to-me silver 2000 Dodge Neon. From the start, the car and I had issues. Yes, it had air conditioning, power steering, and some actual modicum of bass in the sound system, but the damn thing was big enough for me to consider it to be a land yacht and it got shitty mileage. However, it only cost $5000, which was all I could find for all the assets I liquidated in order to get the new wheels.
Within a week of having the new car, my boyfriend and I drove to JFK airport in New York to pick up his daughter. I felt like the bomb, cruising around the Bronx in my new car with a forty-year old man next to me and his ten year old daughter and sixty-plus year old ex-father-in-law behind me. Keeping in mind that I had never even been to New York before, let alone then driven through Manhattan during rush hour, I felt like pretty hot shit in my shiny new vehicle. The feeling, however, was not to last.
Upon arriving back in DC the next night, the car started making strange puttering noises on Route 50. By the time we reached New York Ave and 9th St, the beast was sputtering, expelling blue-grey smoke from the exhaust and under the hood at phenomenal rates. It was chugging, stalling, and all together not doing what it should have been doing at one in the morning on a Sunday night/Monday morning in Chinatown. By 11th St we knew we were doomed. My lover got out of the car to push while I floored the gas. We managed to get the car around the corner at 12th and no further. It was completely dead and unable to move. AAA couldn\’t come until the morning, so we hailed a cab home.
The next morning I was greeted with a parking ticket and a tow truck driver who charged me (\”Cash only\”) to release my car from his truck, even though my AAA coverage covers hauls less than 100 miles for free. But if I wanted my car back, there it was, so my last $50 went to the man. A complaint was filed with AAA and they refunded my money after several weeks. In the meantime, the dealership insisted it had no idea what was wrong with the car and that it was not in any circumstances a lemon. They wouldn\’t take the car back. After a week of deliberation they finally decided to rebuild my transmission instead of replacing it. Fortunately, that was covered under my warranty. The other $350 of work was not. That was paid for from a loan.
After three weeks of driving a borrowed car, I got my car back, transmission rebuilt and all. A few days later it was stolen from the parking lot of my apartment building. The police found it in Hyattsville a week later with my gimp tags stolen, as well as my tool kit from the trunk. The kids had also had the courtesy to smash in one of my doors, toss my clean laundry all over the dirty trunk, rip up a few of my books, and literally shit inside of the interior. Joy of joys.
Another two weeks with a borrowed car and then I had the vehicle of doom back. It was now August, and there was now something very, very odd with the car. Some strange transmission problem that made the car jerk around every time the car was accelerated after a complete hault. The dealership said it wasn\’t happening, but everyone else who rode in the car confirmed that there was something jerking the vehicle around.
The second week of September came, and with it, the GW students returned to the neighborhood. One morning I went out to my car to find the front windshield cracked by a thrown bottle. As the temperature dropped, the crack spread, so in October I took the car to a body shop to get the windshield replaced. Upon pulling into the lot, there was only one space available between two expensive SUVs. I kept driving by, figuring I would park in the back, but a man stepped out from behind one of the cars and motioned for me to come into the space. While he gabbed away with his cell phone pressed to his ear with one hand, he used the other to direct me into the spot. Stupidly, I followed his directions and the left side of my land yacht crunched up against the corner bumper of one of the SUVs. Great, just great.
I backed the car off, re-centered without watching the guy, and parked the car properly. I got out and was immediately confronted by the owner of the SUV, who also happened to work at the body shop. The man with the cell phone who had directed me into the spot was still there, this time with no cell phone in sight. I explained what had happened to the owner of the SUV, and he said that it was impossible the man had guided me into the spot while talking on the phone, because the man was a friend of his, and the man was \”deaf and mute.\” However, the guy could take care of the damage on both his car and mine right there at his body shop if I paid in cash. The scent of scam was full on in the air, and it reeked like the scat that had only been recently cleaned out of my car. I took my car to another auto body shop and got the windshield replaced for $200. I left the dent in my car. At that point, I didn\’t care. The car was bad luck. I didn\’t know that the luck was going to get worse.
In late March or early April (can\’t recall the exact time right now) I came outside to find my car mysteriously covered in some sticky substance from top to bottom, front to back. No other car around me had the same odd slickness. That afternoon I tried paper towels, Windex, soapy water with a wiper from the gas station, and two car washes, but to no avail. The strange liquid was still covering my entire vehicle, making it nearly impossible to see out the windows. When I popped the hood to clean off the muck that had dripped inside, I found that my oil cap was missing. A call to the dealership told me that \”every now and then Dodge Neons blow their oil caps off.\” I have yet to find anything to corroborate this excuse. An oil change and a new oil cap later, and I headed home. My boyfriend spent an hour scrubbing the windows down with commercial paper towels in order to get the oil sheen off the windows so that we could see out. Mission mostly accomplished, we headed off that night to Philadelphia for a photo shoot.
Around ten in the evening we pulled off the highway to refuel. We were only twenty minutes outside of downtown Philly at that point. As soon as we restarted the car, however, the exhaust started to spew blue again. The engine light came on and would not come off. The car could not accelerate over 20 miles an hour, and when it came to a complete stop it then refused to move again. It chose to do so over the massive bridge over the Schuylkill River, leaving us suspended and motionless among the oncoming traffic. Fortunately, the engine caught and we managed to make it the next ten minutes to the hotel, where we left the car in the garage for the rest of the weekend.
Sunday morning, the engine light was still on and the car still wouldn\’t go above twenty. We managed to teeter it from Old City across Philly and back over the river to Powelton, just north of University City, where the one and only docking bay in Philadelphia was open that Saturday morning. Three hours, $400, new radiator caps, new belts, another oil change, and a voided warranty later, we were back on the road, only to deliver the car directly back to the dealership. Keeping in character, they once again claimed there was nothing wrong with the transmission, the radiator belts, the engine, or anything that had anything to do with them. $900 of work out of pocket and a week later, I had my piece of shit car back, and it runs no better now than it did before. In fact, the damn thing hasn\’t run well at all since it died on New York Ave on the way back from Manhattan.
Tomorrow my boyfriend\’s daughter is arriving once again for the summer. We were planning on a little family road trip up to New York next week to visit the family and maybe get in a little bit of tourist time, because, like, in the words of an airhead friend of a friend of mine, \”Like, how can you be YOU and never have been to New York?\” It was time for an oil change on my beast and it could use a check up before I take it on the road, so I put it in a trusted independent shop instead of the dealership this morning in order to have it back by next week. Well, I just got the estimate in: $950. Once again the damn thing needs new radiator belts, new caps, new sockets, electrical work, transmission draining, new front brakes and fixed up back brakes, not to mention all the minor little details.
I know Mercury is the god of travel, so I wonder if there is a patron saint of cars. I feel doubly cursed. Time to start whoring myself out for a new car. Thankfully, in the meantime I have my moped for local adventures, but if I try and take my Hobbit over the Whitney, the motorists will run me off the bridge. No car, no work. Whore time.