Being the parents of three children, all well over 16 and experienced (wha?) drivers, we are well versed, unfortunately, with the hideousness that is buying a used car. Oh, wait, I’m sorry, previously owned vehicle. It’s not just the younger generation that buys used cars, is it, friends? No, we have all done it. I did it alone once.
About 15 years ago, I had no car but had been saving up like a madwoman to buy one. Knowing this, my dad and stepdad were on the lookout for the Bigfoot of previously owned vehicles…the Good Used Car.
One lucky day my stepdad called, letting me know that on his way home he had seen an Oldsmobile for sale. He barely had gotten the words out of his mouth when the owner was taking my $1000 and signing the title over to me. Experienced used car buyer that I was, I didn’t test drive it. I was way too cool for that, and besides, the seller looked really trustworthy. I don’t think I even opened the doors to look inside. Cool as a cucumber, I was.
I couldn’t hand him the money fast enough. He couldn’t take it fast enough, either. I tried the radio as I drove away. Nothing but white noise, and under that, the sound of laughter.
On the way to proudly title and register my new POS, I noticed a little bit of smoke coming from under the hood. I’m sure it’s nothing, I thought to myself. Probably the guy ahead/behind/next to me. I told myself that over and over for the next couple of weeks whenever I was driving. Meaning whenever I could get it started.
If I was lucky enough to get it started and I had to stop at a red light, the car would smoke. Badly. Invariably someone around me (usually more than one person, usually more than one car) would point at the smoke and mouth, “Your car is smoking.” Like I couldn’t see it. I finally was forced to make up a big sign that said “I know” that I would sullenly hold up at every red light.
Yep, time to sell.
I figured I should probably open the hood and figure out why the car was smoking so that I could tell the lucky buyer. Imagine my surprise (and the surprise of my dad and stepdad) when instead of having a regulation Olds engine inside, there was an engine that appeared to be from a lawnmower. Only a little smaller and a lot less powerful.
Hm. This was going to be difficult.
Crossing my fingers, I placed an ad in the Herald News to sell it. One day later, I got a call from a girl who asked the right questions, and I cagily supplied only the answers she requested, not offering one more nugget of information. Like the fact that the motor couldn’t power up a garage door, much less a tank of an 86 Olds. She told me she was going to talk to some people and get back to me.
Later that day, I told my dad excitedly that I had a buyer on the line. He told me flatly, in no uncertain terms, “I’m telling you, you will not be able to sell that car.” Ah, I thought. He doesn’t know what I know.
I was right. He didn’t know what I knew. He knew way MORE. After listening to not only my dad but also my stepdad plaintively asking why, oh why didn’t I wait for them to come with me and look at the car BEFORE BUYING IT, and also hearing the many, many reasons why I just took a bath on that vehicle, I realized they were right. I was stuck with it. I would have to sell it for junk, for parts, although I might get back some money for the “I know” sign. Goodbye, $1000.
But wait! The prospective buyer actually called back, begging me to not sell the car to anyone else, that she would be there the next day with $800 cash. Too good to be true, I thought. For sure.
But wait again! The next day, at the appointed time, what to my wondering eyes should appear but this…girl, (and I use the term loosely) wearing a stocking cap and matching mittens, eerily resembling an SNL skit where the comedian had a baby arm growing out of her forehead. She sat at my kitchen table, with these weird bug eyes and an envelope with $800 in cash, calmly telling me that the reason she had to buy this car was because the ghost of her dead cousin told her to. Really. No kidding. I felt the first stirrings of fear.
Now, while I am nodding and chatting with Ms. Whack Job, trying to keep from panicking because some animals can smell fear, I’m surreptitiously writing down her name and number for my family to find just in case she decides to knock me down the basement stairs and eat my brains. But no, a few strokes of the pen and I had not only unloaded this beast of an Olds but also had become the proud owner of 8 crisp $100 bills. And a bill of sale. For the car-that-wasn’t-a-car. I happily gave her the keys.
After she left in a cloud of smoke and the ghost of her dead cousin riding shotgun, I call my dad and let him know that the car is gone; I had sold it. The silence on the other end is deafening. He says, finally, I cannot believe you sold that thing.
I couldn’t believe it either, not really. Although I should add that I had said my prayers fervently for someone to buy that car so that I could have that money back for Christmas presents for the kids.
Who needs a car, anyway? I thought. I’ve got friends in high places.