My gravestone will be emblazoned with “He made bad decisions surrounding cars.”
Over the years I’ve grown amazingly skilled at making the wrong decision when it comes to cars. I’ve consistently bought crappy cars, sold off great cars, spent money to keep cars going that only fail me later, and ignored cheap maintenance that turned into big problems down the figurative road.
In fact, I’m so good at doing the wrong thing, I kind of wondered if I should just…stop…using cars.
VW is for Very Wrong
In 2009 Naomi’s Saturn SL2 took an almighty beating from baseball-sized hail for half an hour. Being that Saturn built inexpensive cars by using lots of inexpensive materials, the car was more-or-less demolished. We went hunting for a replacement.
We bought a VW GTI. These are seriously cool cars. They have lots of power, lots of storage, great styling, nice interiors, and we fell in love. In fact, we fell in love just like you do with a crazy ex-girlfriend. Over the years we became accustomed to her…misgivings. I mean, it was a sweet car. It just had some commitment issues.
Specifically, it had issues committing to being reliable. Or starting.
For a whole year, the car beeped constantly anywhere we drove. The same beep you get when you don’t buckle your seatbelt, but it never stopped. A random blown fuse was the completely-logical culprit on that one.
Years of seemingly-small abuse became sort-of the norm for our family. “Oh, the VW needs a new radiator fan” wouldn’t have been an odd dinner topic any given Tuesday.
In fact, I remember one time the check-engine-light turned off on its own. I called Naomi immediately, I was so excited.
It came back the next day.
Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem
Years went by where the norm was driving a car with some random “personality” problem.
My wife was 9 months pregnant in 2013 and the timing belt snapped, basically toasting the engine. I rebuilt it myself over several very-stressful weeks. I started to think “is this car really worth all the trouble?”
Of course it was. If we rebuilt the engine, we’d have a car with a new engine. That’s like having a new car right? In 2014 the shop informed me the engine needed rebuilt because the cylinder head I’d bought used was trashed. It was going to cost around $3,000.
The car was barely worth more than that, but if we did it, we’d have a car with a new engine….RIGHT.
I started loathing the car. I’d see it in the driveway and shudder. I knew, somehow, that car was starting to get malicious. I knew it was trying to hurt me.
The transmission started acting up. $500 and a week in the shop, the next day the same problem returns. I swear I heard the VW say “whatever, it’s not like you have the guts to leave me.”
Step 2: Run Away From the Problem
I knew I we had to cut off this relationship, but I had to plan it. If we let the VW know what was going on…well…there’s no shortage of imaginative scenarios that end in my fiery demise.
We called the VW dealership to ask if they were interested in buying the car, as those cars tend to be pretty desirable. That was a mistake. They wouldn’t. Stop. Calling. Me.
We contacted a friend who works at Subaru of Wichita, where we actually have a ton of connections, and he got us the name of a salesman we could chat with. I looked at their listings online to find several cars we would be interested in and I did a great deal of research on them. Mind you, I did all of this out of earshot from the VW.
I knew that awful, conniving, mean-spirited VerrucktWagen would self-immolate at even the hint of betrayal.
The following Saturday we drove the VW to the dealership, parked in the corner of the lot, and combat-rolled away from it to find a salesman before the car knew what was going on. I think it knew, though. That morning I had to jump-start it.
Anyway, four hours later, we drove off the lot with an awesome 4Runner.
We returned to the lot a few days later to drop off the keys and it felt like the equivalent of picking up your CDs from an ex. It was awkward and I avoided eye-contact as much as I could.
The Best Car I’ve Ever Owned
We’ve had the 4Runner a month now and so far it’s completely failed to be stupid. In fact, I can’t stop telling Naomi how much I love it. Seriously. I think she’s getting really frustrated with me.
Sure, a good portion of my love for the new car is basically a pendulum-effect of cutting off the most dysfunctional relationship we’ve ever had, but beyond losing the bad-thing, the Toyota is a really good vehicle. It’s even the low-end SR5 model with almost no additional features. It’s not even 4WD. I don’t even care. It’s so awesome.
So that is the story of how we got out of an abusive car-relationship. I hope it can be an inspiration for someone else someday.