I have been driving a 2000 Nissan Altima for the last 11 years. It was a rental return with 12K miles on it when I traded in my Ford Temporary for reasons I cannot remember now, but among them was certainly the fact that we didn’t think it prudent to own a car Scott couldn’t drive. The Tempo was a stick-shift, and despite two lessons (separated by no fewer than 8 years) that sorely tested our relationship, he never got the hang of it, nor cared to.
I haven’t had to put an unreasonable amount of money into the car over the years. The worst of it has been a bad front bumper that is attached to the car by two very weak loops of plastic that are prone to break. I’ve had it fixed several times, and even replaced the bumper entirely once, but between high cement parking bumpers and the sun and heat here that kills pretty much anything plastic in short order, it’s been a losing battle. But nonetheless, the last fix was holding, and as the years have worn on I got it in my head that I would drive this car straight into the ground. Thoughts of 15, maybe 20 years, flitted through my head, and I congratulated myself on my practicality and frugality of keeping a car so long, because ultimately it was cheaper to do the (now more frequent) repairs each year than have a car payment.
And then last weekend I noticed that the front bumper had come loose AGAIN. I don’t know if it was an unexpected speed bump that I took too fast that broke it, because I don’t remember hitting anything to pull it loose. And as I observed the latest damage, something in me snapped. I just wasn’t going to fix that bumper one more time. I think the mental process went something along the lines of “Fuckit. I’m done.”
So I pointed it out to Scott and we discussed whether perhaps it wasn’t time for me to upgrade after all. Because a critical observation of my car led me to the conclusion that it had been on a long slow slide to beaterdom for awhile now, and I just didn’t, or refused to, notice. There was the chipped and flaking paint on the front bumper (the unexpectedly bad consequence of a pre-body-work powerwashing when the car was fixed after I was rear-ended a few years ago) that was, as I’ve mentioned, dangling. The random scrapes. The sadly tattered bumperstickers that were largely illegible. The interior panel that I never did quite get back in place after taking it off to put some soundproofing around the speaker in the door. The ever-squeaky hubcaps. Plus the fact that lately it frequently smelled of gas for hours after I turned it off. And the A/C had an intermittent tendency to emanate some sickeningly sweet smell on especially hot days.
I had done a lot of research into what kind of car I might want after a semi-major repair a few years ago that I feared was going to be fatal to my car, and had decided then that I’d probably get a Hyundai Accent the next time I was in the market for a car, primarily because they were cheap and had a good warranty. I like cars fine. And I like cute cars. But when it actually comes down to buying a car, I don’t want to spend the extra money for cuteness. It needs to get me from A to B, and it needs to have a decent stereo and, I’ve recently realized, it has to have a bumper that stays ON the car. Those are my primary concerns in an automobile; color, horsepower, and various bells and whistles don’t really matter to me. I wouldn’t know what to do with more than 4 cylinders if I had ’em.
So Wednesday night we raced the monsoon across town to get to the big sale at the convention center that the major purveyor of cars in town was having. (I swear, he owns 90% of the dealerships.)
I thought I was so prepared. I knew exactly what I wanted to look at—the 2010 Accent rental returns they had. I knew the price they had advertised, and had done enough research to know it was a very fair price, so I wouldn’t have to dicker about that. I knew the Kelley Blue Book value for my car in “Fair” condition. We weren’t financing it. All I needed to do was take a test drive and make sure I didn’t hate the car, find out what they’d give me for the trade-in, and we’d be out of there in 45 minutes, right?
Ha! Ha ha ha ha HA! Silly, naïve girl.
We were there for 4 ½ hours, most of which Scott and I spent giving each other impatient looks as we waited between excuses as to why it was all taking so long, our smiling commentary to our salesdude growing more passive-aggressive by the quarter-hour. We sneaked out for a dinner sometime around 9, and still didn’t manage to kill enough time for the lady who took care of the paperwork to be ready for us. We finally dragged ourselves and my new car home about 10:30 p.m. It wasn’t until I was finally home, had used the bathroom, and had a snack and a shower, that I could appreciate the fact that I had a new (to me, anyway) car in my garage. With the bumper fully attached, no less! Luxury!
I actually RTFM, because I needed to know how to get my iPod to work with the stereo immediately if not sooner, and was surprised to learn of the many subtle and unexpected ways my car can kill and or maim me. Warnings on every page! It seems even the innocuous sunglasses holder and glove box could attack at any time. And dog forbid I should ever lie down in any part of the car. I remember many, many nights lying stretched out in the backseat of my parents’ Plymouth when I was a child during those halcyon days before my little brother was born, my head resting on the door, looking out the window up at the stars as we drove home from my grandmother’s; now I know it’s a wonder I’m here to tell the tale.
She ain’t fancy. She doesn’t even have power windows or locks, or cruise control, though the former doesn’t really matter to me, and we usually take Scott’s car on roadtrips. But I can plug my iPod in and play it through the stereo, and she has all my must-haves: 4 wheels. Comfy driver’s seat. Passenger seat to hold my purse. And she’s so clean, inside and out, I can barely believe it.
Here she is: