We all know that person that can’t seem to hold onto a car on matter how hard they try…
It’s been about a year since I spared a thought for a former coworker of mine. Let’s just say… He and I got along amazing/good enough/ like two velociraptors forced to work at a farmer’s market (delete where appropriate), and it’s time his automotive story be told. I won’t share his last name for privacy reasons (and I doubt I could properly spell it).
When I first started work at the concrete yard, he drove a gray 2004 Toyota Corolla like the picture above. Simple, worn out, your average beater. It was similar to my first car, a gray 2000 Honda Accord. I soon found out how little he cared about his car, or understood how it worked, because as I was fixing to leave one night, he pulled me aside.
“Hey, bro. Can you tell me what that smell is inside my car?”
Getting in, I took a whiff and smelled something sweet. Coolant. Opening the hood, I found he was leaking coolant from the radiator, and had ZERO brake fluid. The container for it was completely dry. I advised him to get some DOT 3 in this sorry lump of a car before he killed someone, fix the leak, and headed home.
Shortly thereafter, he sold the Corolla and had no car. For months, he would simply walk to work across town, and be two hours late every day, if he came it at all. I was getting used to that when I pulled in and saw a new vehicle in the parking lot. Being a construction company, you get used to seeing the same vehicles everyday and the people who drive them, so any new car was exciting for me.
There was a red and silver Chevy truck parked where Lambert used to. That day, I learned he had been given a 1994 Chevrolet C-10 with the Silverado trim package by a friend in the military who had been deployed overseas. It was in a pretty sorry state, with the interior being torn up and the transmission refusing to go into reverse. It was a real piece, but it got him around well enough for few months or so.
Having my infamous Rio at the time, I was looking for something to work on, the tools I bought for the college I was no longer attending gathering dust back home. He mentioned he was selling it for five hundred dollars and I was interested, blinded by my own stupidity at what a project such a thing would be. Luckily, my folks talked me out of it, and I waited to see what happened next.
Lambert soon traded (yes, actually traded) the truck for a car that had all gears in working order, a 1994 Toyota Camry. It was a marked improvement over the C-10, with leather seats, a buttery smooth engine, and almost new tires.
There were a couple bad things, one of which was that the exhaust was hanging out of the car, suspended by just the rubber bushings. It looked like a thin metal twig was hanging underneath the car when he drove. I was so tempted to grab a wire coat hanger from the drivers room and reattach it myself!
The other problem was one I have yet to see on any other car… The steering wheel had been replaced with one from a go kart! I’m not kidding. The wheel was solid plastic and maybe eight inches in diameter being held on with one massive nut. That was it. A friend of mine needed a car on the cheap and unlike the truck, I thought I could actually work with this one and make it safe enough to pass inspection. So I took it for a test drive…
Using that steering wheel was like trying to steer a boat with an Oreo! Somehow, I managed to pull it into a gas station and looked the rest of it over. Amazingly, the rest of the car was in decent condition, exhaust and wheel notwithstanding.
Later that day at lunch, I talked to him about a title. This is where things went wrong. I found out the car wasn’t in his name. Oh, he had the title, even signed his name on it… but that was it. He had never gone to the DMV to register the car. That meant that technically… this Camry was stolen. I found out he had never gone to the DMV for any car he owned and had no idea what it meant to have a car legally in your name (This man was 34 at the time). I backed off saying nothing more.
He put the car up on Craigslist where it languished for two months. At one point, a women with a young girl was looking at buying it. On break, I mentioned in passing that it wasn’t in his name and she promptly thanked me, driving away before paperwork could be signed. He never forgave me for that, but I like to think I saved her a lot of future heartache.
Our last stop on this dizzying journey of automotive failure, is the final car he owned while I knew him. After selling the Camry, he took over payments for a truck driver’s 2008 Kia Sportage. This was the best car out of the lot, because despite the heavy smell of cigarettes every time he opened a door, it was a pretty solid ride.
However, after the driver quickly took the car back for a reason I won’t name here, Lambert was without a car once again. This was around the time I got a promotion that was my ticket away from the yard, and was the last time I saw him. Over the course of nearly two years the man had four cars and had never actually “owned” a single one. Such a compelling time that was, wondering what vehicle he would bring in next.