A thousand dollar car is gonna let you down
More than it’s ever gonna get you around
Replace your gaskets and paint over your rust
You still end up with something that you’ll never trust
— the prophets bottle rockets
That’s it, I declare to Mo. We’re done.
The battery in my car is dead. That was the last straw. Which is lucky, since straws are going to be banned soon.
It’s been a couple of months since I decided to opt out of the Sensible Decision of buying a new car, and instead getting my car restored. If everything is replaced, it’s a new car, right? Drive with confidence! No worries!
It was in the shop for a couple of weeks, and they replaced pretty much everything. What had started out as a $3,000 estimate ended up as a $6,300 item the social media kids would give the hash tag #um you know this car is only worth a thousand bucks, right? Damn kids.
But it’s my car. So I drove it out of the garage with confidence. New suspension, new motor mounts, new radiator, new all sorts of Weird Engine Parts I Never Knew I Had. And the air conditioner worked!
Until, of course, it didn’t. Two days later. Oh, well. It had been an enjoyable two days in a particularly hot Phoenix summer. I rolled down the windows and soldiered on. 6,300 bucks. At least That Was All. My budget to have the interior and exterior re-done had gone the way of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, but that was OK. The car was finally cured.
I went out the next day, and the windshield was cracked. Like all the way across the windshield. As in overnight, for no reason. I shook my fist at the car gods. Why? What are you trying to tell me? Is THIS the sign from the cosmos that I should have just gotten a new car? Cosmos signs are hard to decipher, and I was always embarrassed by their sex-tip lists, so I’m on uncertain ground.
I figure what the heck. Runs fine with a cracked windshield. Life goes on.
I was driving late at night, and the engine started to rev uncontrollably. It’s the dreaded idler. Longtime readers will recall it’s been causing adventures for years. But now it’s worse than ever, making the car virtually impossible to drive. Although cars in virtual driving games always seem fairly easy to drive. I take it back to the shop.
The nice mechanic guy says not a problem. He’ll get that fixed and the A/C running. Nothing to it. A week later, he says it’s fine. I make it all the way from the shop to the first red light before the idle is so bad that I have to push it back to the shop. Advantage small car: Easily pushable. Apparently the fix-for-free option isn’t viable.
I can fix anything, he says. But it costs money. The Bottle Rockets chorus drifts through my brain.
Two weeks later, he calls. A measly 500 bucks. New idler and a hose for the air conditioner they hadn’t replaced earlier. Good as new.
So I’m now at $6,800. A new Honda Fit is around $17,000, and comes with such crazy extras as a radio and air bags. But at least I’m done.
Which brings us to a few days later. I get in the car to drive to the track for my morning run. I turn the ignition switch, and nothing.
That’s it. I’m so tired of never knowing if the car is going to start when I get in it. How does one go to Big Bend in a car that may double as a coffin (remember the time the brakes went out while going down the hairpin turns from the top of the mountain?) I’m a sentimental fool, but enough is enough. I tell Mo I’m finally done. She pretends to hide her relief. It doesn’t work.
But, I figure I need to get a battery anyhow to allow the car total embarrassment when I give it to the local public radio station.
The AAA guy drives up. WOW, GREAT CAR, he exclaims. SURE DON’T SEE MANY OF THESE AROUND. PEOPLE MUST DRIVE YOU CRAZY TRYING TO BUY IT ALL THE TIME, YEAH?
And then it hits me. It IS a great car. And it makes me happy. We’ve got money to pay cash for a new car painlessly, but I’ve never found a new car I wanted. I just want this one.
He puts in the battery, pats the hood, and drives off. I’m up to $6,950, roughly the cost of a year’s worth of running shoes. But for the first time in a while, I feel OK about it.
I google car interior people. I find a shop in deepest, darkest South Scottsdale and drive over to check them out.When I see the van across the street.
It’s totally a cartoon character. I can see Peppa Pig’s family piling into it for an outing. I LOVE THIS THING!!!
And it hits me. I love old cars. Maybe it’s from growing up on the farm, where trucks drive until they’re retired to the car graveyard in the pasture. Maybe it’s the Guy Clark stuff that works theory of life. Find something you like and stay with it.
I’ve always worried about what I would do if I got in a car crash and against all odds lived through it. I would have to buy a car. At least I know now where to look. I’m sure my mechanic could get it running. He can fix anything. It just costs money.
Today, I’m at the glass joint. New windshield, 250 bucks. So we’re up to $7,200. Still need interior, exterior (hello, Corpus Christi rust), a fancy radio (I hear they come with FM now), and a smattering of upgrades. Luxury items like a rear-view mirror.
I’m resigned now to paying more for my car than it would cost to get a new one. And I’m at peace with it. It’s my friend. And you can’t put a price tag on friends.
And if I ever get a new car, it’ll be an old van.
Life is funny …