Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wrecks Appeal

Is there any activity more unsettling than buying a car from a dealership?

Last week I found myself at a local Volvo dealership looking at Certified Pre-Owned Volvos for my oldest daughter. The oily salesman wasted no time telling me all about the different grades of metal used in the manufacture of these Swedish wonder cars. He played right to my paternal instincts and pounded me with everything I'd ever want to know about air bag deployment, whiplash protection and even the actuarial death rates for teens driving Volvos.

He was good. I was about to pull the trigger on a 2007 S40 but then asked to see the Carfax. Turns out the previous owner of this particular cream puff was a car rental agency in Milford, NJ.

That's when I slammed on the 4-wheel anti-lock brakes.

A car rental agency? Listen Mr. Let's-step-into-my-cubicle-and-hash-out-the-numbers, I didn't just fall off the caveat emptor truck, I know all about people who dish out daily abuse onto rental cars.

Hell, I was one of those people.

Many moons ago, my sole transportation was a 1969 Honda CB 450 motorcycle. When the drive chain snapped and needed a week in the shop I found myself without wheels. With no disposable income in my pocket I decided to visit the local Rent-A-Wreck and picked up a 1972 Mercury Comet. It looked remarkably like the car pictured above, in that the rear quarter panel did not match the color of the rest of the car. I'm not even sure it was perfect match, as the seams were reinforced with duct tape.

Perhaps angered by my position in life, I took all my frustrations out on that Mercury Comet. I accelerated wildly through corners until the tires screeched. I paralleled parked by braille. And I went after speed bumps, with extreme prejudice.

One morning on my way to the office in Century City, I was tearing through the backstreets of Cheviot Hills. Coming down a steep incline, I revved the engine for maximum speed and launched the Comet off a drainage cut in the road. To this day I am positive I caught air. The Comet landed with a thud and then slowed to crawl.

I had bottomed out. I ruptured the oil pan. Corkscrewed the front wheels. Cracked the crankshaft.
I wrecked the wreck.

Many angry phone calls were exchanged over the following few days. And I received notice that the folks at Rent A Wreck were suing me in small claims court. They wanted $3000 to cover all the necessary repairs.

Well, I've never been one to shy away from a good fight, particularly one that had a built in stage for theatrical effect. I arrived at court and, acting as my own attorney, proceeded to show the judge the latest Kelly Blue Book figures. The book value of a 1972 Mercury Comet with 179,843 miles, even in mint condition, was no more $599. There weren't just looking to replace the car, they were going to buy 5 others.

The judge did not take too kindly to this blatant attempt at profiteering. I won the judgment and was refunded the cost of my rental. Of course, now in the retelling of this story I feel guilty.

Though not too guilty, because I know when I finally do buy a car for my daughter that I, like anybody else who has ever stepped foot on a dealership lot, am going to get reamed.

It all equals out.
That's the nature of Car Karma.


george tannenbaum said...

That's a Mercury Cougar. Nice car.

I went through the same thing with my now 24-year-old.

I went as far as to check the curb weights of various vehicles.

I wound up buying her a used Mercedes for $14K.

I'm a student of history, and if I recall correctly, the Germans made a pretty good tank.

Leah said...

Nooo! You're not really making good on your promise to buy R a Volvo?! You cannot, cannot do that to a 16 year old. There must be something else safe among the other 10,000 car makes and models on this planet!