Shopping for a car is a hassle, especially if you hadn’t anticipated being in the market for a new vehicle just yet. One minute you’re waiting for a family member to get home from work or anticipating the results of your annual inspection, the next you’re scanning the classifieds and wondering how much money you might be able to find in the couch cushions.
I found myself in this situation a few months ago after my car succumbed to the cruel winter, failing inspection due to a rotted frame from excessive contact with road salt. Thankfully, Mom and Dad were already in car-shopping mode, having just purchased a used Honda Accord for 16-year-old Younger Sister and 17-year-old Youngest Brother to share, and they were more than happy to help me search.
Mom and Dad have a great deal of experience in helping me find cars. In the 11 years I’ve had my license, I am now on my sixth vehicle.
My luck with cars is, shall we say, legendary, to the point that our mechanic (who has worked on our family cars for 20 years) told me I should write a book about my experiences. Over the years, my cars have been hotwired and stolen (Car #1), wrecked by an inconsiderate fellow driver (Car #2) and have overheated and melted down at inconvenient times (Car #3 and Car #4).
The fact that the Car #1 incident happened within a week of getting my license and Car #2’s demise occurred three months later (and right before Christmas) has simply reinforced my belief that I am one of nature’s passengers. Regrettably, this is not a valid option when you live in a small town in New Hampshire.
Since some cars have been in my possession barely long enough for an oil change, you can understand why I prefer not to invest a substantial amount of money in their purchase. This further narrows my options when looking for a new vehicle.
Fortunately for me, Mom and Dad are the perfect car-shopping team, with each parent bringing their own unique skill set to the vehicle acquisition process. Dad has an uncanny ability to find reliable, reasonably-priced cars in the classifieds, online, and for sale by the side of the road. He puts together a list for Mom, who accompanies me to check them out.
Mom used to race BMWs and Porsches back in the day and was heavily involved with the classic car community. She knows all the right questions to ask and all the tricks to look for. Over the years, I’m sure many a car seller has taken in Mom’s polite demeanor and stylish taste in hats and thought she would be an easy sell, only to be shocked as she picks the car to pieces in front of them and haggles them down to a fair price.
This time around, it seemed like our quest might be over almost before it began. Dad spotted an early 2000s Honda Accord that met all of my exacting requirements – reliable engine, working heat and air conditioning, good sound system, cup holders – and had a reasonable price tag to boot. Mom contacted the seller right away, only to be told that someone else had already made an offer and the car was no longer on the market.
After another week of following up on Dad’s leads, we happened upon another, slightly older Honda Accord that met most of my requirements, including the all-important one of reliability. Unfortunately, we literally got hosed on this deal.
The night before we were scheduled to take the car to our mechanic for a pre-purchase assessment, the gentleman selling the car decided to clean it up for us. His daughter, who actually owned the car, assisted him in the process – by washing the engine with a garden hose while the car was running.
We held out hope that the vehicle was still viable, but given that it would no longer start and there were puddles under the hood, we had no choice but to rescind our offer and go back to square one.
I was dejectedly debating purchasing the only other car we had found in my price range – a sedan made out of two Fords of the same make and model that we had been referring to as the “Frankencar” – when Dad reported that the Honda Accord we had initially hoped to buy was back in the seller’s driveway with “For Sale” signs on it.
It was late at night, but Mom immediately texted the seller to let him know we were interested. It turned out that the initial offer had fallen through and we were welcome to check out the car as early as the next morning. We wasted no time. By the end of the week, I was the proud and somewhat bewildered owner of Car #6.
Car shopping is indeed a rigorous process – especially when you have to go through it against your will every few years – but it goes more smoothly when you have people to help you. Their emotional support is likewise invaluable in weathering those unexpected bumps along the way, such as the news that your car ownership curse has suddenly become proactive and drowned the vehicle you were hoping to purchase.
I am determined to prolong my possession of Car #6 for as long as possible and am carefully monitoring it for any mechanical hiccups, but, as any driver knows, I only have so much control over the fate of my car. Maybe I should start keeping an eye out for Car #7, just in case.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published July 2, 2015