The Worst Car I Ever Owned

Just off the plane from Germany.

Just off the plane from Germany.

I had returned from serving three years in the Army, reclaimed my beloved Oldsmobile, and was now footloose and fancy-free.  Of course, I was also without a job and living at home.  Ouch!  So when my folks came back from a short mid-winter vacation to Arizona and announced that they had bought a trailer in a mobile park outside of Phoenix, it seemed like a logical next step for me to volunteer my services as a trailer-squatter, er, sitter for those months when they’d be up in Michigan.  After all, it wasn’t a little RV.  It was a two-bedroom, two-bath mobile home in a WARM climate which looked pretty darn good when you’re sitting in Michigan in January.

I left my horse and dog with the folks, took possession of the trailer keys, and set off for Arizona without a plan or care in the world.  Several thousand miles later, I had concluded that the Olds, while a good car, was a gas hog.  By the time I made it to Phoenix, I decided I really needed to look into getting a smaller car.  I managed to land a job with the Solid Waste Management Branch of the State of Arizona (secretarial, not trash collecting) and so I was feeling pretty cocky in my ability to pick out a car without my dad’s assistance.  BIG Mistake!

I had always wanted a Gremlin but instead ended up with a little beige used Toyota Corona sedan. 

My little Toyota lemon.

My little Toyota lemon.

It was a cute little car and I was pleased as punch with my new purchase.  I did have one little worry though several days later.  I couldn’t find the spare tire.  I pulled into the dealership and told the service guy that I was missing a spare tire.  “That’s impossible,” he said.  “Did you look in the back?”

“It’s not in there,” I stated.  “Believe me, I looked.  I think I’d see a tire if it was in there.”

We walked out to the car and he opened the trunk.  Then he lifted up the carpet and there was a brand new spare tire.  He just looked at me.    Sheesh!  Who would have thought to look UNDER the carpet?  Certainly not me because in my Olds, the tire had been in plain view. 

By Spring, I was beginning to notice that the car wasn’t cooling off like I thought it should be.  Phoenix was only going to get hotter so I hurried back to the service department to have the air conditioning checked.  “Probably just needs some freon,” said the repairman.  Well, the darn air conditioning never did get fixed properly.  Have you ever tried driving a car that has been sitting outside in 120 degree temps AND do it with no air conditioning?  I had to drape a towel over the steering wheel when I was at work and then wear gloves when I’d first start driving it after work until the open windows had “cooled” off the wheel enough that my hands didn’t get burned just touching it.

When I decided to join the Navy, I drove my Corona out to San Diego.  Somewhere between the Arizona desert and the mountains west of San Diego, I noticed smoke coming from the hood of my car.  I managed to pull off at the next little service station I found out in the middle of nowhere with smoke billowing.  The “good ‘ole boys” who took care of the problem told me it was something like gas leaking from the carburetor onto the manifold and that I was lucky the car hadn’t burst into flames.  After they presented me with the bill, they were lucky I didn’t torch it and the car right there on the spot.

From California I received orders to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island.  My dad came out to drive with me back to Michigan but the car was on its best behavior while he was with me except for the fact that we still didn’t have any air conditioning and going across Utah in the summer is almost as bad as Arizona in the summer.  I got to Michigan with no problems, dropped off Dad, said “hi” and “goodbye” to Mom and then packed up the car for the final leg out to Newport.

That last leg was the final straw.  The automatic transmission started to do strange things from Michigan to Rhode Island.  It was having problems going into Drive.  Sometimes, I’d have to go backwards and then it would engage to go forwards.  I had about had it.  When I finally saw the lights of the Officer Candidate School, I was thrilled.  As I pulled into the big parking lot near the barracks, the car gave a lurch and stopped.  I started her up again and put it in drive.  It wouldn’t go forward.  I put it in Reverse.  It went backwards.  So trying to look as much in command of the situation as I could, I “backed” up and around that whole darn parking lot until I found the building where I was to check in. 

The next day I called an auto shop and explained the situation to them.  They came out with a tow truck, tinkered with my car for a few minutes and then verified that, yes indeed, it would only seem to go in reverse.  They offered to tow it to their shop and work on repairing the situation but they couldn’t give me an exact estimate except to say that it would probably be expensive. 

“I don’t want it,” I said, glaring at the Corona.

“What?” the technician asked.

“I don’t want this car.  I’m not paying for any more repairs on it.  It’s a piece of junk,” I said defiantly.

“Well, you know, I have a son who likes to tinker with cars.  Tell you what… about if I take this off your hands for you?  I’ll give you $300 for it,” the repair guy offered. 

He wrote me a check and I didn’t look back.


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