Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Garage - Track

Nov. 02, 2014 - 10:41 a.m.


NewWifey(tm) and I spent the past month and a half shopping for a used car.

To those of you who just had a sharp intake of breath in sympathy: thank you.

God knows I didn't want to go shopping for a car. On my Really Big List of Fun Things To Do, "car shopping" lands one spot below "mucking out Courtney Love's stall". I'd think I'd prefer walking across northern Syria carrying an American flag and a recently expired Ebola victim to buying a reasonably priced car from someone who probably just wrapped the water pump with duct tape hoping it would stop leaking long enough for us to pay for it. But we had to go shopping for a car.

Sad to say, the two oldest and most loved members of our little family have been hurtling down the steep slope of decrepitude for a while now. Stanley the Mighty WRX turned 11 years and 265,000 miles old this year. And NewWifey(tm)'s Ford Escape, a vintage 2001, is pushing 230-k. Although both still start, roll, and stop more or less on command, both have recently started letting us know that they are becoming less inclined to do so. After having both checked out by an actual qualified individual (as opposed to an online vehicular psychic who offers relatively inexpensive remote diagnostic services, a profession I was surprised to find actually exists) it was determined that to bring both cars up to spec would take:

1 strut

8 sets of brake pads, 4 rotor resurfacings, and 4 rotors

1 emergency brake cable


1 headlight rewiring job

1 upper engine diving expedition to fix a head gasket leak

1 rear engine vacuum hose and sensor

repair of an unspecified coolant leak

repair of an unspecified gas line leak

repair of an unspecified exhaust system leak

an air freshener tree


If we got everything done at once the combined total would equal the GNP of France minus the GNP of Ecuador times 2/3 Everything We Got. Or at least certainly more than should be spent on a pair of vehicles with almost a half a million miles of combined mileage.

But here was our dilemma: my car is due for annual inspection at the end of this month, and NewWifey(tm) needed to drive cross country to shill for her Little Old Lady business empire. Both cars needed to be on their best behavior in order to accomplish their respective tasks. And fast.

But...France minus banana narco-state times 138 pounds of flesh. That's a tough equation.

It was decided, after much debate and a certain amount of tears on my part, that sinking the money into a (hopefully) mechanically reliable used car was a better idea than sinking it into one of the two sinkholes we already owned.

So we started the search.

After 6 weeks, 9 dealerships, 5 independent lots, and 26 Craigslist hopefuls, here's my suggestion to anyone else looking to buy a used car: get a horse. It's just not worth it.

Rather than detail every blighted, soul rending encounter we had with various salespersons both professional and other, I'll instead distill this down into what became the central argument between me and NewWifey(tm): do we buy a Subaru, or do we buy a Ford?

NewWifey(tm), see, is a Ford Girl. Her dad worked for the blue oval his whole life. Only Fords were allowed in the family garage. A person with a Chevy or a Dodge was looked on with suspicion, although that paled in comparison to the scorn heaped on any commie pinko bleeding heart America-hater who dared buy "a goddam foreign piece of shit that takes jobs away from good union folk". Anyone who dated NewWifey(tm) - myself included - had to prove they at least once owned a Ford (fortunately I had the great misfortune to own a beat up Maverick for about 5 months during a particularly drunk stretch of my youth). NewWifey(tm) herself carries on that noble tradition - oh, let's just call it "cult-like brainwashing" - to this day, which is how we ended up with the Escape. She always said that when this Escape goes, she's getting another one.

To be fair, that Escape has been a good and faithful friend. The only issue we've had with it, in fact, is something I think I've mentioned before: the seats were designed by Dick Cheney. On a bad day. These are seats that defy the Geneva Convention's definition of torture, and are banned in 37 of the more enlightened countries around the world for humanitarian reasons. To spend an hour in those seats is to know why people gnaw limbs off when one is pinned under a boulder. And we've spent a quarter of a million miles in them. Even NewWifey(tm) is reluctantly starting to agree that it's becoming a deal breaker, now that she has to criss-cross this nation's vast midsection on a regular basis for business.

Still, she wants another Ford. And it has to be an SUV or crossover so it can hold all her wares. A hot Focus ST (my choice) ain't gonna cut it. The seat would have to be as bad as our current Escape, or worse, for her to look at anything other than that storied blue marque.

Me, I was gunning for a Subaru. Not because my dad worked all his life for the company (the daily commute from NJ to Tokyo would have killed him) or out of some desire to impoverish all the good union folk in this country. I wanted a Subaru because I leave for work at 3 in the morning 5 days a week in an area of the state that sometimes is coated for 5 months a year in a very picturesque and very deep layer of snow. And ice. Probably every third car up here is a Subaru for a very good reason: snow is not a valid reason to miss work. Every unemployed person up here has a not-Subaru.

And the seats are comfy.

That, then, was the crux of our disagreement. Not price, not features, not even color (women!!). It literally came down to Family Values vs. Employment.

I'm glad to say, Employment won.

I have to thank, in large part, the ergonomics department of Ford Motor Company which apparently has not had a change of personnel since we purchased our last Escape in 2001. The seats of the new Escapes - or rather, the used 2010 and 2011 ones we test drove - were exactly as painful as ours. Even the upgraded leather seats were two steps below sitting on a saguaro.

After cruising around in probably 9 different Escapes and hobbling out of each one practically in tears, NewWifey(tm) finally said, "Ok...where's the Subaru place."

We drove out to Johnston's Subaru in Middletown, which has a pretty good sized used lot and a nice Indian restaurant just down the street (both good signs). One thing quickly became evident about used Subaru's though: they're a lot more expensive than equivalent year not-Subaru's. They're so popular up here that dealerships - and individuals - don't feel the need to discount them. Desperate, snow covered citizens will pay whatever it takes to get their hands on one.

First things first, we asked to take a test ride in one. Any one, as long as it was a Forester (the SUV) or an Outback (the station wagon). They let us tool around in one of each for a while.

After an hour behind the wheel of each, NewWifey(tm) gave what was to be the deciding pronouncement:

"My butt doesn't hurt."

That sealed it.

Family tradition, union busting scabs, foreign invaders? Not nearly as important as her ass. Subaru wins.

Next came the rather arduous task of finding an example that fit our budget. We wanted to not spend more than it would take to repair our current beaters, and when we told the salesman what that figure was his eyes boggled a bit. But to his credit he didn't laugh and have us escorted off the property. He thought for a minute and then led us back, way waaaaay back, to the farthest reaches of the used car lot, back where they keep the clunkers that are about to be wholesaled or smelted down into anchors. There were a few older Foresters there that might fit our criteria.

Most of the vehicles we saw there were, as you might expect, pretty pukey. As in, homeless people had broken into several of them and puked up voluminous quantities of Colt-45 and burger wrappers. The salesman told us, with the kind of blase tone that indicated he was used to dealing with this issue, that they had cleansers and deodorizers to almost completely neutralize those odors and stains should we feel that "this car is the best you can do". NewWifey(tm), strangely, was not reassured. We kept looking.

Just as we were getting ready to give up and drive another hour or two to the Subaru place in Wayne, NewWifey(tm) spotted a light gold Forester half hidden by some tall weeds at the very edge of the lot. "What's up with that one?" she asked the salesman.

"Oh that" he said. "We just got that in yesterday. I haven't looked at it yet, and I'm not sure of the price."

We went over and took a look.

It looked good. Like, really good. Like, no puke or anything.

"Ok, what's the catch?" I asked. "Why is it way out here on the very fringes of polite used car society?"

"I dunno" he said. "Let me go get the keys and the paperwork and we'll take a look."

We found out why it was way out in the outback when he came back.

"It's a 2006" he said, "with 160,000 miles on it."

NewWifey(tm) immediately turned and started walking back to our car.

"Wait!" I said. I turned to the guy. "How much?"

He looked. "Five thousand. With warranty."

NewWifey(tm) stopped.

I said to her, "Let's at least give it a test ride, babe. You know how good each of our cars were when they only had 160k on them. This thing looks clean, and - hey look, seat warmers!"

That did it. It's all about the butt with NewWifey(tm). We drove it around for a while and it was quiet and comfortable and didn't shake that thang and basically felt like a solid, confident steed.

When we got back I asked to look at the Carfax report. It showed that the previous owner - and there was only one - put only 2 or 3 thousand miles on the car for the first six years, then suddenly in the last two years he owned it he dumped 45 thousand on per year! It was really odd. But whoever it was, they did regular maintenance on it and kept the body in good shape. And it had new tires. The only thing wrong was it had a cracked windshield, and one headlight didn't work. But the salesguy told us they were obligated by law to make sure any vehicle they sold passed inspection, so they'd put a brand new windshield on and replace the light. And they'd throw in a new matching tonneau cover for the trunk, since the old one was missing.


Or, almost.

When we forked over the 5 grand, they told us we had 30 days to change our minds, no questions asked. If we drove it for a while and found it didn't meet our needs, just bring it back for our 5k or a trade.

NewWifey(tm) had every intention of holding them to that. When we got the car home she gave it the full torture test. She crammed all 3800 pounds of her business crap into the back and up on the roof rack and drove it around like that for three days straight to simulate a cross country trip. She took it off road through the woods around our house, including up a half mile stretch of stream bed. She worked the seat's heat controls to the limit, as well as the AC and whatever else she could find. It aced every test.

"There's only one test left" she said.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Get in the back."


"Get in the back."

I got in the back. She climbed after me and closed the hatch.

"Ok, take 'em off."

"WHAT? No! I mean, it's freezing out here!"

"Too bad" she said. "If we take this thing to the races next year and have to sleep in it, I want to make sure I don't have to go without."

I took my clothes off. Thank god it gets dark early these days. Anyone driving down the street might have glimpsed some pretty depraved behaviors. From her, mostly. She needed to try every position, every orifice, in her playbook before she was satisfied.

And she got satisfied.

"Ok" she said. "We can keep it. I'm naming her "Faith", since we must have a lot of it to buy a car with 160,000 on the odometer."


Two days later she left, fully laden, for the national needlework extravaganza outside of St. Louis where she would be selling her wares and teaching classes as a featured designer. It was the highlight of the season. Afterwards she would drive out to her mom's in Arkansas for 2 weeks of R&R before driving home. I would get three weeks of wallowing in my own filth before she returned. We were both looking forward to it.

But...two days into her trip she phoned me.

"Faith overheated."


"Yeah" she said grimly. "The temperature gauge just shot up as I was pulling off the highway. I pulled over in a parking lot and let it cool off, and then checked the radiator. It's empty."

"Son of a BITCH" I said. "Are you ok? Do you need a tow?"

"No, I'm alright. I always travel with extra fluids just in case, so I'm gonna top it up and keep going. If it happens again though, I may have to find a shop. Just do me a favor and call Johnston's and let them know they're gonna fix this or I want my 5 thou back."

The next day I called Johnston's. Frankly, I was expecting to hear "You bought a 5 thousand dollar car. Welcome to the world, newbie." But instead, the salesman seemed genuinely apologetic, as did the service guy he passed me to. They promised to fix the car or give us a better one when NewWifey(tm) got back.

And they did! The Forester did overheat 2 more times on the trip back, but NewWifey(tm) had taken the precaution of purchasing 5 gallons of antifreeze before she left. It was more a time inconvenience than anything else, as she had to wait for the engine to cool each time before adding more. But she did make it back to Dangerhouse more or less on schedule, and without a smouldering wreckage around her.

We immediately drove it up to Johnston's, and they gave us a loaner car to tide us over. The next day we heard back from the service manager.

"Well, we found the problem" he said. "It had a bad water pump. Whoever owned it before you, though, just wrapped a ton of duct tape around it rather than buy a new one. I guess he didn't want to spend the money before trading it in. Ya just never know with these used cars, y'know?"

Yeah. I know.

So they put in a new water pump and checked the rest of the cooling system. No charge. Took another day, but it wasn't a problem. Other than having to fuck in the back of an Escape instead of a Forester for an extra day, I mean. Waddaya gonna do. You just have to suck it up and play the hand you're dealt sometimes.

Anyway, now we've got the Forester in the driveway and all systems are go. It's probably about the best 5-thousand dollar car I could imagine anyone getting, all in all. Seriously. If you're ever in the area, stop by and see for yourself. And don't worry - those stains in the back are not from puke. Trust me, I know.

Ok kids, sorry about the delay in posting, but I've been busy and drunk and tired. You know how it is. I hope.

More later. Keep the Faith!




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