So I graduate university. I have a summer to spend back home in Montreal before heading off to grad school in the fall. My budget for grad school was $16,000 to live on for the year, after tuition. Not great, but not impossible. One of my goals that summer was to buy a decent used Honda or Toyota.
My dad picks me up at the airport when I fly home. He leads me through the parking lot to – surprise! – the car he bought me. My dad is big on surprises.
He’s bought me a used burgundy AMC/Renault Alliance. I’m stunned. I’m stunned because a car is an awfully nice graduation present. I’m stunned because even my car-neophytic brain is aware that this may not be the greatest used car for the money. I’m stunned because I can’t look a gift horse of this magnitude in the mouth.
I remember a business card that I found on the floor by the passenger seat. It had the name Susan Deitcher, from the Eastern Townships. That’s all I remember about the card, but if you’re ego-surfing, Susan, welcome. Maybe you can fill me in.
First thing I do is head for a Chapters (brick and mortar in the days before the Web), and consult a Consumer Reports guide to used cars. It rates the Renault Alliance dead last for used compact cars.
The Renault’s engine runs a little warm and there are a few cosmetic annoyances. The driver’s side sun visor does not retract flush with the roof, for one, and I have a phobia about things pointing at my eyes. My dad agrees to spring for a few repairs. The garage can’t fix the visor.
As I drive the car that year, the engine temperatures climb and climb until finally I can’t drive more than 20 minutes before the engine overheats. I take it to a few garages. Usually, the garages say a mechanic fixed the problem, but it keeps happening.
One day, while the Renault is at another garage, my father calls me. “What did you put in the radiator?”, he asks me. I put nothing in but water and coolant. The radiator is filled with a mush that has the consistency of clay. I can only assume the previous owner pumped that little car full of the stuff that’s supposed to stop radiator leaks.
So the Renault get a new radiator. The car runs OK during the school year, but come the next summer, it starts overheating again. Just like the Consumer Reports book warned. The model is prone to overheating, even with a good radiator.
I spent a good part of the first summer of grad school in Montana, and after a year of studies, I decide that grad school isn’t my thing. I’d elaborate, but this is about cars.
That fall and winter, the car is in and out of Jimmy’s garage. Jimmy does decent work, and he gives me a beater to drive while he works on the Renault. I half-seriously ask if he knows anyone who would want to buy the Renault. He laughs.
It’s spring now, and I move out, to the Plateau. I need a car for work and to get to hockey. The Renault does not cooperate and spends a few days with Jimmy every so often.
During one of those times, Jimmy calls me up and asks if I want to sell the car. I can’t. I need it, and I wouldn’t get enough cash to offset the cost of replacing it. Jimmy really wants to buy the car. I really can’t sell it. Something is up. I suspect that during a test drive, or possibly an errand, Jimmy or one of his mechanics has wrecked the car.
I don’t have one of Jimmy’s wrecks this time, so my dad drives me to Jimmy’s garage a few days later. It’s closed. Permanently. The garage is abandoned.
My dad and I file a police report for a stolen car. (My dad was the official owner to cut down on my insurance costs.) We get $2,000 (Canadian) for that crappy little Renault. It’s the best of all possible outcomes.
Then my dad takes the money and hands me the keys to his old, rotting Hyundai Stellar. I’ll leave that for the next installment.
Bonus bizarre search of the month (so far):
Somebody found this blog with a Google search for “Chinchillas in Echelon”. I understand finding 101 in that search, although not why it would be search result number one. What is hardest to understand is why anyone would search for that in the first place.