So last week’s Mercury LN7 was gone and we still needed a second car with an automatic transmission. So we bought a red car with a black interior from a private owner. It was a 1982 Datsun 210. Seems reasonable, right? One big problem in the summertime – it was a car with a black interior and NO air conditioning. It was also my wife’s car, and she was driving our one-year-old son around. This did not make the wife happy AT ALL. It think the car was named a “210” for a reason. That’s about the number of hours we owned it.
We continued our search for a second car. How’s this for another great idea: At that time, the Hyundai Excel was hitting the dealerships for the first time.
One thing I should have learned from my past – never buy anything in its first year of production. My idea? I went to a local Hyundai dealership and bought not one, but two “his and hers” Excels! I put down two $500 down payments on them. Boy, did I lose sleep that night! I went back to the dealer and the salesman graciously refunded my money in full after I explained to him my sometimes impulsive behavior.
Our next car turned out to be a 1985 Nissan Sentra.
The Sentra was an OK car. No major repairs. One interesting thing, though happened during its tenure.
Both our cars, the Tercel and the Sentra, were made pre-fuel injection and thus fitted with a carburetor. The interesting thing was that both cars’ carburetors died at exactly the same time. By then, I had left the New York City job and worked in Central New Jersey, where public transportation from Northern New Jersey (where we were still living) was not practical. Therefore, I depended on a car. By this time, we had our first son and my wife decided to be a stay-at-home mom. But I still needed a car.
I decided to keep both cars and had both carburetors rebuilt. Do you know that just about at the same time (again!), BOTH carburetors died! I couldn’t take the chance of having either of the cars die on me again since I was beginning to take personal days off at work and did not want to miss working at my job.
So in 1995, I bought a two-year old 1993 Toyota Camry station wagon from a local dealer with whom I had a fairly good rapport. I pride myself in (at least thinking) that I am a good negotiator when it comes to buying cars. I paid $11,000 (which would be the equivalent of $25,000 today) for the car.
Actually, the Camry served us very well. Over the many years and the many trips that we took our family on, there were two weak spots on this car. For some reason, both the front and rear motor mounts kept breaking. I think between the front and rear mounts (of which there were a total of three, as I recall), I replaced about eight mounts in total.
Then, an interesting thing happened to me while ironically on the way to the repair shop to replace one of the motor mounts. The passenger side front coil spring snapped in half! The entire car was sagging so much that I almost couldn’t drive to the repair shop.
The only other trouble that I had with that car until its ultimate demise was that the distributor kept dying. It was replaced (with a non-OEM rebuild, unfortunately) a total of three times. But here’s the story behind its demise:
My wife has had a “craft cave” since our boys have moved out of the house and now live out-of-state. So, she wanted to outfit her room with furniture from a local IKEA retail store. We went there with a list in hand, picked out every piece of shelving, desk, desk legs, night stand, light fixtures, etc., and I proceeded to put as many of these items in our Camry as possible. Remember, this was a station wagon, so it had a hatchback opening with fold-down rear seats. We did not have the optional rear-facing third row seats.
Her list was so large, I had to go home, drop off her and “part one” of the furniture, and then drive back to IKEA to pick out and buy “part two”.
The list was so large that even with the second trip the car was so full of IKEA objects, I thought it was going to explode from inside pressure.
A $25.00 tip later, an IKEA associate and I had finally finished loading the car and I was off. It is important to note that it was Memorial Day weekend and it was hot outside! As I recall, it was over 90 degrees by the time I hit the road home.
I took the New Jersey Turnpike to get home. Anyone that is familiar with that highway knows that the exits are far away from each other, unlike the Garden State Parkway, where they are only a mile apart.
So I’m tooling along the highway when, all of a sudden, the car starts to shudder. Now of course, I’m thinking “Oh yeah, it’s the distributor again.” WRONG. The car never stalled, but I noticed it was taking more and more throttle to maintain the same speed. Finally, I was literally flooring the pedal just to maintain a speed of about 10 miles per hour. Needless to say, I began driving on the shoulder. About 15 minutes into my ordeal, I noticed a state trooper sitting on the side of the road, checking for speeders. Imagine this site: I slowly pull up in this completely loaded Camry, filled with IKEA s—-, lower my “fancy” power window and explained to the officer my dilemma. All that I requested of him was to allow me to continue tooling down the road so that I could get a tow from AAA once I made it off highway. Actually, I wanted to try and get it all the way home, but I was skeptical. His reply was that as long as I felt that I could do it safely, then go ahead.
The one big problem that I ran into was this: Imagine you’re driving no faster than 10 miles per hour, and you approach an exit. Now folks behind you are not only pissed off at you for driving well below the minimum limit, but they are trying to exit in front of me as I creep along. DANGEROUS.
The next problem that I ran into was that my engine began to overheat. In fact, with the pedal to the metal, I had that temperature gauge BURIED as far as it could go. Kinda reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer takes a new car for a ride with a dealer salesman and they begin to run out of gas. He decides to pass the exit to go back to dealership as he floors it, hand-in-hand with the salesman. The difference with me was there was no one with whom to share this wonderful experience.
I made it off the Turnpike and onto a local highway–except this time, my luck ran out. No more shoulder to drive on. There was NO WAY I was going to drive 10 miles per hour on any highway, so I had to call AAA and have the car towed home.
Here is my theory on what went wrong with that car.
First, I think that either the timing belt slipped off the pulley teeth OR the timing belt tensioner failed. In retrospect, by the time the temperature started to rise, I could have pulled over and thus salvaged the car. My thinking? I’d had enough of the distributor and motor-mount failures. May she rest in peace…