How to achieve peace of mind about your POS

I just dropped off my car at the mechanic. Tell me, is it a bad sign when he takes a look at it and says, ”  . . . woof”?

The good news is, I don’t really care. We only need the mechanic to make it legal for a few more weeks (currently the doors flap open when you take a curve, which I understand is an automotive safety no-no), because we are on the cusp of buying a new car. A car so new, it will require payments to be made on it.

This is a departure from the past, in which my idea of financing a vehicle was borrowing money from my dad so we could pay Bodey the tow boy to get rid of the old car, which had been slowly filing up with mice. I cannot even stand how fancy we are now, and how mouseless. 

Here’s an essay I wrote several years ago, back when we were not on the cusp of buying a new anything, except 12 ice cream cones (and even then, we had a coupon): 


A few years ago, my kids were very excited about getting ice cream at Friendly’s. They were so excited that they weren’t careful about how they opened the door to the van, and wham! It whacked the car next to us in the parking lot, leaving a small mark.

Being decent people, we immediately got out, apologized to the car owner, and offered her our insurance information. She, being an absolute lunatic, got hysterical, called the police, and reported us to child protective services because our kids were out of control.

Happily, it was obvious to everyone else that she was crazy, and since the insurance claim went nowhere, CPS refused to investigate, and the policeman showed the woman that the “damage” to her car could be rubbed off with some spit, it was pretty easy for us to just shake our heads and drive away.

But it really hammered home how happy I am that there’s no chance that we’ll ever own a vehicle we care that much about. Having a gorgeous, shiny car does something funny to your brain, and you do things like cry because there is a scratch in your paint, or call somebody obscene names because they put a ding in your bumper.

What peace of mind there is, on the other hand, when you don’t exactly know what color your car is supposed to be, under the grime and the peeling paint. Nothing can compare to the interior freedom you can gain by acknowledging that the rear bumper is not so much attached to your van as stalking it, and that some of the seats were not only designed for another another make and model of car, they seem to be grieving over the separation.

I have such a van. And I fully claim the serenity I’ve earned by claiming it as my primary vehicle. If someone (if!) runs over and starts hitting it with a gravel rake, the only thing I worry about is if anyone’s favorite Elsa sticker from the dentist is going to get messed up. Because then we’ll have some trouble.

It may not be precisely healthy to behave as if your car is disposable, but it sure does simplify things. For your shmedification (that’s schadenfreude-mit-edification), I’ve put together a short list of the levels of car troubles, and what your response ought to be, as the owner of a genuine, American-made POS. 

Things that don’t even register: Drips, smells, rumbles, squeals, groans, blinking lights, shudders, tremors, mice, hiccups, spasms, heat that won’t turn on, heat that won’t turn off, heat that smells like dolphin meat, the unpredictable squirting of fluids, and the occasional refusal to acknowledge who’s in charge here. This is just what it’s like having a car that you aren’t making huge monthly payments on, and if you can’t live this way, then you’re overdue for a fancy pants check, Mr. Fancy Pants. 

Things that cause mild concern: The doors do not close. This can be solved by threading one of the unused seatbelts through the door handle and yanking it taut. If you worry that this system is somehow “unsafe,” just remind yourself that your grandpappy used to drive all around God’s green earth in a rattly old tin lizzy, and he went on to father sixteen children before they all died a horrible death in his tin lizzie.

Things that cause irritation: alarms that don’t stop. This is not a safety issue, unless you take into account what it does to the human psyche to hear “Bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . bong . . . ” for three hours every day. Optimistic drivers may try to make lemonade out of lemons and search for songs that go along with the bonging — the Anvil Chorus works pretty well — but eventually you’ll realize that you don’t know as much Italian as you thought you did, and that’s the end of that. Get the wire cutters.

Things that cause serious frustration: Gauges which work fine, only you have to reset them with a pencil every time you turn the engine on. Only an issue because nobody ever lets you have a pencil for more than a day or so.

Things that cause despair: When you finally break down, either literally or mentally, and go to the garage, where the mechanic treats you like a big idiot just because you assumed that changing the oil was something that only wealthy elitists do, like paragliding in Hawaii or using a napkin. So the mechanic gives you a number for how much it will cost to repair your vehicle, and then you are faced with one of those cost-benefit analysis questions: What makes more fiscal sense? Should I take out a small loan so as to sink more money into a vehicle that will only last another six months, tops, assuming the load-bearing rust holds and the water don’t rise? Or should I just kill myself?

Then you remember that you traded in your life insurance policy for a packet of coupons to Friendly’s. So that settles that. 

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6 thoughts on “How to achieve peace of mind about your POS”

  1. Growing up we had a full sized van with manual transmission. (Yes, really.) It was ancient. At a certain point, it couldn’t shift into reverse any more. You had to find a pull through space when you parked and if you missed your turn you had to go around the block. We had an awesome mechanic who saved us oodles of money by drilling a hole in the floor and putting a spike through. After that, to shift into reverse, you simply put the regular stick into neutral then put your handy dandy metal pipe on the spike and put the thing into reverse. The dedicated reverse shifting pipe could also double as a self-defense weapon in case of zombie attack. Good times. Tina is right; people with nice cars don’t have such good stories.

    1. So true! Here are a few of ours:

      Growing up we had one car that was so bad my mom refused to drive it, but didn’t mind having her teenage daughters do so. That meant my sister and I could drive it to high school so long as we dropped our mom off at work. The old Klingon Warship would stall at every single red light. The trick was to put the car in neutral and gun the engine until the light turned green. If you were short on gas you just had to let the car conk out. To start the car, one of us would jump out and take a little rolled up piece of paper and stick it in the carburetor while the other one was gunning the engine. Fortunately for us the ride home was significantly easier as the first three miles were all downhill and it didn’t matter if the car was stalled because we were in neutral. Saved on gas too.

      While my dad was stopped at a light, the passenger side got rammed by an insured drunk driver. Our car needed two new doors – the total damage came to $500! A $500 check! We didn’t need no stinkin’ doors! Not when the ones on the driver’s side worked fine (well, except the one window wouldn’t roll down). We took some rope and tied those passenger doors shut. We did that for two years.

      When I was in my 20’s, I bought my first car. It was a big step up from any car I’d owned growing up but that didn’t stop my horrified boyfriend from buying me AAA. I could then get towed to the grocery store and towed back home!

      My husband once had a car that was missing a window. When winter came, he put up cardboard for some insulation. He went to get his car inspected and the mechanic calls and tells him that with the exception of the obstructed window, it had otherwise miraculously passed. My husband says, “Do the rules say I have to have a window?” “No?” So the mechanic took the cardboard out, left it on the front seat and put the inspection stickers on. When my husband went to pick it up, he put the cardboard back on and drove off.

      And then my husband and I had the Silver Bullet. We knew it was a rusted out piece of junk because you could see the road under the floor mat, but the engine was still good so we didn’t see a need to replace it. When we went to get it inspected the mechanic said he couldn’t pass it because gravity was the only thing keeping the car connected to the chassis. But we had so much debt to pay that my husband kept driving it to the train in the mornings until one of our uppity neighbors called the cops and got an abandoned vehicle sticker slapped on it.

      1. Our neighbors started “accidentally” backing into our 20 yr old minivan (parked into the street) no a regular basis. At least I think it was them – the car was hit repeatly in the same spot! And just because it was faded, rusty, and old. It ran and my kids used it for high school. Also, my husband started learning how to work on cars with it because if he messed it up, no real loss. He was able to become a fine home mechanic because of the freedom we had with out old Purple Car. it actually was a great thing to have. We finally transitioned to the Silver Car, which seems to have more functional problems but it’s great to have so that the kids can drive it. Our friend’s son gently bumped it at a traffic light once- no harm – what’s one more scratch? – and off they all went to school.
        A shiny new car is such a burden.

  2. My parents had an old, green, station wagon we called the Battle Star. The back end would fly open constantly and you would have to slam on the brakes to get it closed. And that’s just one of a history of POSs. People with nice cars probably don’t have good stories.

  3. When I was still in the process of driving my long-used minivan into the ground, I had an interesting experience in a Walmart parking lot. I was sitting in the van, going over my shopping list, when a guy in a truck pulled up next to me. When he threw his door open, it hit the side of my van so hard that it actually rocked back and forth.
    I got out to look at him and at the dent, speechless. He looked at me, looked at my van, and shrugged.
    “Well, it’s not like it wasn’t already beat up,” he said.
    Although that didn’t justify him smacking my door, he also wasn’t wrong.

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