Dude, Where’s My Car?
Unlike my little brother, I was not gifted with a brand new car when I turned sixteen. I saved up some cash from my various babysitting jobs and my job working drive-thru at Chick Fil-A and bought a 1990 Pontiac 6000LE off of my parents instead. I got tormented in high school relentlessly for my giant boat of a car; most of the students I went to school with had rich parents who bought them a brand new or almost new vehicle that put my granny-mobile to shame. It wasn’t that my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a car, they just seemed to want to teach me the value of a dollar.
During my sophomore year of college, when my parents finally let me drive my car to and from campus, my Pontiac developed the bad habit of breaking down twice a month and stranding me along the highway. One repair would lead to another problem and it didn’t make sense any longer for me to pay $300 a month to keep my junker running. Since the car was still in my father’s name, he had the final say on what happened to it and he would not let me trade it in for a new car, even though the dealership was offering me $1000 towards a new car. As a gift though, he paid the grand and secretly completed the paperwork for my brand new three door 2001 Saturn SC1.
I adored that car to pieces. It was in my father’s name so the insurance and interest rates were lower, but I made all the payments happily. Things were great until my college boyfriend borrowed it and ran head first into another driver. Thankfully, it was repaired and covered by insurance, so my car was back to looking as good as new in no time. Until I got rear ended by a motorcycle with failing brakes anyway. My banged up bumper was an easy fix though. When I made the decision to move to Connecticut, my parents flipped out and secretly flew up so they could drive my car back with them. Since the car was in their name, there was little I could do short of trying to sue, something I could not afford to do.
Carless in Connecticut, I was forced to learn to drive a stick since the two people I lived with both had manual transmissions in their Honda and Cavalier. I got stuck at a stop sign on a hill once, stalled out in the middle of the road during the dead of winter, but for the most part was all right with the borrowed cars. A few months later, I purchased a 1985 Mustang Cobra from a guy whose yard was filled with cars and who just wanted to be rid of the thing. It was an automatic transmission that was formerly manual but had been modified for speed. It shot flames out of the back when the engine revved and was probably not road legal at all.
When I moved back to Georgia, the Mustang had to stay behind. The Cavalier wasn’t ideal for me so I went to one of those pop-up Buy Here Pay Here dealerships and got a crappy Chevy Corsica to tide me over. With my roommate draining me dry financially, I lost that car (the dealership vanished about a month later) and eventually purchased a Chrysler New Yorker from a neighbor. The car would die at the slightest hint of rain and I eventually donated it to Goodwill. After that, I had an old Volvo that was great while it lasted, even without working windows, but eventually died on the side of the road. That led me to an air conditionless Ford Taurus that had been junked together from about three different cars. It was awful, but it ran.
When I found myself pregnant, my parents took pity on me and gave me back my Saturn, which wasn’t in the best shape since my father had been driving it constantly, using it to commute back and forth from Missouri where he worked to Georgia where my mother still lived. My son went home from the hospital in that car and got to ride in it until he was about a year old and the car was t-boned in an intersection by a man who didn’t understand traffic lights and turn signals. My beautiful car was totaled.
Carless once again, I started driving the families spare car, a Pontiac Grand Prix that had been beat up pretty badly by my brother before he got his new Jeep. Windows didn’t work, speakers were out, but at least it ran and had A/C. When I moved to Indiana to be with my husband, the Pontiac was left behind. My mother-in-law got me a Rav4 from her sister as a wedding gift; she said that since she had no wedding expenses it was the least she could do. That car did me well until the engine eventually blew, leaving a repair price tag of more than the car was worth. Since then, my husband and I have been a one car family.
Given my ridiculous history with cars and my irrational feelings of helplessness when I don’t have one of my own, I drive myself crazy on a regular basis because I don’t have a car that is just mine and mine alone. My husband doesn’t restrict my driving whatsoever and doesn’t act like the car is HIS, but it doesn’t help me shake the feeling that I don’t have a car and that I am having to depend on someone else for my travel. I bought junkers because for me, it was better than having nothing at all. I’ve been in far too many cars for someone my age and if not for my husband and his annoying habit of being rational, I’d have another junker in my driveway right now just so I’d have a car to call my own.
As of right now, I have a jar of cash stashed away that will eventually be a down payment on a car that I call mine. No more borrowing my mother-in-law’s second car when my husband and I need to drive separately and no more feeling weird about not having a vehicle. There are plenty of great used dealerships near my house, so I know when the time comes, I’ll have a great selection to choose from. The waiting is driving me batty, but I can’t act like a kid anymore and buy a car out of someone’s driveway on a whim. I can’t buy a cool sports car that my kid won’t fit comfortably in and that won’t make sense for the family. The saving will continue and hopefully, by the time my next birthday rolls around, I’ll be able to get myself a gift on wheels.