COAL: 2002 Buick Century – A Sidenote

For a brief time at the end of 2017, I drove my Mom and Dad’s 2002 Buick Century with the task of selling it. My Dad was in cognitive decline and was in a memory care facility, suffering from advanced dementia, at 88. He loved to drive, but had not driven in almost 10 years due to failing eyesight. That was definitely a tough pill to swallow for him.

Mom, now 88, had been through a lot looking after him and was starting to get forgetful, but was (and still is) physically excellent. After losing her car in a large supermarket parking lot, which was extremely humiliating for her, Mom told us she no longer wanted to drive. My siblings and I wholeheartedly agreed with her self-assessment. We kept her car in the garage, battery disconnected. But to remove the idea or thought of driving entirely, we took the car away physically. I now had a total of 5 cars at the house, and it was getting crowded.

My folks bought the Buick brand new, for cash, at Rinke Buick. This sticker on this one was a “Special Edition”. Although it was base trim, it did have power seats, windows, locks, cruise, and a CD player…all firsts for the folks. Maybe that’s what made it special?  More goodies on base trim. They deserved that and much more after raising 4 solid citizen kids, and being wonderful grandparents to nine. It had the old-school column shifter, and I hadn’t touched one of those since my 1980 Cutlass.  They kept it dealer maintained and took many road trips, including to see my brother in Georgia twice, 900 miles each way.

When I had it, it had all of 80,000 miles on it and hadn’t been driven in months, but it fired right up. Despite living its entire life in the garage, the car was rusting badly, mainly under the doors, a common spot on these. Dad never was one to wash and wax his cars… they were there to endure. It had its fair share of scrapes, dings and dents with misadventures with shopping carts and such.

The electronic PRNDL and odometer readout were no longer visible. You could whack on top of the dash, the odometer and PRNDL would illuminate for a time, then fade away. After thousands of pulls on the passenger door exit assist handle, my dad had yanked it out permanently, and the screw holes through the headliner were shredded.

Made in Oshawa, Ontario, it was said to be one of the more mechanically reliable cars GM made in the era. Oshawa has a good reputation quality wise. And I guess that’s also because its model run was 8 years, from 1997-2005 with little changes, and the platform dated from the 80s. The General had ample time to get the kinks sorted out.

Driving the Century was driving a time capsule. It harkened back to the feel of driving my Cutlass so many years ago. A soft ride, front bench seats, room for 6, and overall a comfortable, inoffensive if generic experience. Economy was decent for a larger car and the 3.1 V-6 gave adequate get up and go. I’m not sure what drew my Dad to the Century as they had looked at a Taurus that Mom had liked a lot, a demo with leather even. But I suppose it was a good choice for them in their early 70s.  Many seniors seemed to feel the same way. They had it for 15 trouble-free years and I know it had lots of life left in it.

Putting it on Craigslist, at $2,500 “OBO” I quickly realized it was in a crowded field and I was a bit too rich on the price given its condition. In southeast Michigan at that point, there were at least two dozen Centurys for sale. There were many pristine ones far nicer than ours. Some probably spent extended periods in Florida before ending up back here. I’d gather some were settling up estates or like me, selling cars Mom or Dad no longer were capable of driving.

After several weeks, I had but one nibble from a rather strange fellow, but luckily, he quickly faded away into cyber oblivion. At that point, I really needed it gone. I asked my mechanic if I could stick a for sale sign on it and put in on the busy road his shop sat on to get more visibility. He did one better… he offered me $1,000 for it to give to a down on her luck niece who needed a set of wheels.

I was glad to get it off the books, yet sad to see it go. During the six weeks or so I had it, I drove it often.  It reminded me of my folks and I felt a connection with it.  It was a tough last year for my dad, and it was tough to see him go through such a cruel  and insidious disease.  He died May 7th last year. We miss him but are glad he no longer suffers. I hope the Century is still out there in world, doing its thing.  I know he’d like that.

This is it for me for my series. I’m a closet writer at heart, going back to high school newspaper. I want to extend my sincerest thanks to Paul for letting me do it. I’ve enjoyed it very much!