My dad wrecked my car last July. He and my mom took it to dinner so I could pick up my sister at the airport in their SUV. They got home about five minutes before we did. After my sister sprung herself on my dad (he didn’t know she was coming home for the weekend), he told me he’d had an accident. At first I thought he was joking, but then my mom chimed in with, “I think it’s bad. The car made strange noises all the way home.” My mom has a sense of humor, but this isn’t the kind of thing that triggers it. You haven’t lived until your dad, who only reluctantly let your teenaged-self drive, sheepishly admits that he’s wrecked your car. Neither of them was hurt, and Dad seemed to think it was just the bumper. He’d made a left too soon and run the car up onto a curb. Beetles are pretty low to the ground, so it made sense that the bumper would be damaged by the curb, but he’d pulled far enough forward in the garage that we couldn’t see from our angle. I shrugged and said, “Accidents happen,” but after about 20 minutes of feeling edgy, I grabbed the car keys.
The car sounded fine when I turned it on, but when I put it in reverse, it started to squeak. I turned the car off and walked to the front to check out the bumper. I never saw the bumper because the lake of oil caught my attention instead. I yelled for my dad, who agreed that the lake indicated problems beyond the bumper. The edginess in my gut blossomed into a feeling of impending doom.
I got up at 7:30am on Saturday, dropped Mom at the gym and Dad at the golf course, and then called for a tow truck when I got home. The tow truck driver laughed when I told him that my dad wrecked my car. He said that every time he’s called to tow a Beetle, it’s because someone busted the oil pan. They’re so low to the ground that it’s inevitable. I put the car in neutral, and he maneuvered it onto the truck, chatting with me all the while. Lesson #1: oil spills in a garage should be cleaned up with kitty litter. Lesson #2: tow truck drivers who exhibit brute strength, impart knowledge, and make you laugh, all at the same time, can be smoking hot. Before we left for the mechanic, I woke up my sister and told her to pick Mom up in an hour and then come to the shop.
Here’s what I expected: they’d have to replace the oil pan and the bumper, and it would cost a couple of thousand dollars that my parents were ready to pay. Here’s what I got: the oil pan split at the seam; the fiberglass brace that holds the radiator in place was broken; the radiator was cracked; the support plate that holds the rest of the engine in place was crumpled; and the front grill and bumper both had to be replaced. The guys weren’t sure that the alignment of the front axle would ever be the same. They predicted $3,000 to $5,000, not including the body work, and suggested that I call the insurance company. Then they said a word I’d never expected to hear: TOTALED. They thought my car was totaled, and they were skeptical that it was worth fixing until I told them the car had fewer than 55,000 miles on it. I called State Farm and started the claims process. Lesson #3: my insurance policy will cover a rental car.
I’m not one of those people who is into cars. I try not to hold the car you drive against you (unless it’s a BMW – every time I get cut off on the freeway, it’s a BMW). I know it’s silly and foolish to love your possessions. They’re just things. Things get broken. They don’t love you back. They’re not loyal. They don’t care who owns them. It’s why I never got upset about dings and scrapes on the car, and I never forbade anyone from eating or drinking in the car. Cars are supposed to get you from point A to point B, and as long as they do that without stranding you somewhere, they’re doing their job.
Except… I love my car. I bought it brand new in 2003, when I couldn’t quite afford it. I’d go to sleep at night juggling expenses in my head, looking for places in my budget where I could shave a few dollars here and there, and praying that I didn’t have any emergencies. I’m not normally that impractical, but I’d wanted a convertible since I found out they existed. When someone suggested the new convertible Beetle, I sneered, saying it didn’t fit my persona. Then I test drove one and fell in love. I ordered exactly the car I wanted on the internet, and when I picked it up, the odometer read, “000007.”
I put almost 7,000 miles on the car in the first six months that I owned it. I didn’t have a particularly long commute, but I took every opportunity I could to drive it. On warm weekends when it didn’t rain, I’d put the top down and drive with no destination in mind. A fierce farmer’s tan taught me that sunscreen was mandatory, not optional. Despite the risk of skin cancer and financial ruin, I loved this material thing beyond reason. When the top was down, and the wind was whipping through my hair (which I got cut shorter to accommodate the wind), I felt carefree, independent, and invincible. It was like being on vacation.
I felt wretched while my poor car waited for a State Farm adjuster to decide its fate. Friends told me that when a car is totaled, the insurance company takes possession, but if the mechanic and body shop could fix it, that was what I wanted them to do. My income isn’t predictable enough to take on a car payment. My dad felt so guilty, and my mom has also learned to love my car, so they’d lend me money, but I’m a grown-ass woman, and I can’t borrow $30,000 from my parents to buy another convertible, and I don’t want to drive a Honda Civic. Final lesson: I’ve turned into one of those people whose identity is partially based in the kind of car I drive. There’s no end to the misery.
Um, don’t leave us hanging. What happened to the car?
It got fixed and is driveable.
Looking forward to reading you in my Feedly 🙂
I love that car too! I think about driving in that car with you whenever I see a VW Beetle. I’m glad she’s still up and running!
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