Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Car Story

It began with an offer for a place to live and transportation. Upon my arrival in Jacksonville FL, I found myself in a motel. I had already checked out craigslist to see what places there were to live. During my first day at the new office, a coworker pulled me aside, offered me a ride back to the motel at the end of the shift, and then made me a seemingly 'can't refuse' offer. He had a room for rent at a reasonable rate and a car that he wanted to sell me.

Having lived in motels and shelters for the previous 4 months, I jumped at the offer for a place to live. He took me back to his place the next day and the room and rent were adequate for my needs. The car...was another story.

I've thought of several names for her: 'Ol Blackie, 0V3RP0W3R3D, Bang, bang, yer dead, and of course: Piece of Shit.

It's a '95 Civic Hatchback with an engine that belonged somewhere else, an '89 Integra, I think. He told me the engine was banned from import now and that is was a rare find. Oh, and there's no muffler on it so it roars.

This is the engine as I found her. The owner, my landlord, told me it needed work. It had a leaky head gasket. It also had problems starting and when it did, it ran rich and backfired every chance it got. Oh, and you had to put water in it every time you ran it. He told me he was quoted at $1000 to get it fixed permanently.

Not pictured is the hood, which from my vantage point, looks like it took fire damage at one point. Also, one of the tires is working off of just enough thread to make it interesting.

So my landlord wanted $1200 for it. He told me the engine was worth at least that much on its own. He recommended a buddy of his come take a look at it to see if he couldn't get it running. I was really hoping at that point that what was really wrong with it was a quick fix, so I went along, and spent some money on recommended parts. The guy came in to look at it and worked well into the night. About $50 in parts later, he got it to start but said it needed tuning. The backfiring was a big hint there. A neighbor came out to complain about the noise,and a few minutes later a cop showed up. Luckily we had just closed up for the night, and he let us go. I gave the mechanic $200 for the labor - too much, I know, but I wanted him to come back to finish the job, and he went his merry way.

I drove the car to work the next day. I had already arranged insurance for it. I made it into work, then after work I was going to take it to get the tags renewed. I got about a quarter of the way, then the car overheated. I had to use the towing feature of my insurance to get it the rest f the way home. At home, I put water in it, and it seemed to run fine. The guy who had worked on it before had gone to the hospital the day after he worked on it, possibly celebrating with my money a bit too much. But he promised to come back at some point. He never did.

The next day I tried to use it again. I made it to a 7-11 just down the street from work, intending to get some breakfast, and then when I departed, I noticed the engine was overheating again. I didn't make it the last half mile to work. I had to get a push the rest of the way to work, and another tow to get it home.

So now it seemed the head gasket was blown. I had several recommendations, from people I had really just met, for service stations. I had it towed to one, only to find they didn't do head gasket replacements because they couldn't guarantee them. I tried to get my insurance to tow it back home, but they apparently had enough of me and said no. So chalk up another $100 in towing fees.

Next place was a garage that had dealt with the car before, where my landlord got his initial estimate of $1000. I paid to have it towed in. They recognized the car right away, and told me the estimate they had given him earlier was not valid anymore, and finally came up with a figure of $2500, but recommended that I give up because the car wasn't worth that much, and was a money pit. I paid $300 plus to get the car towed there and back and for the estimate. Ka-ching.

And for a while, I did give up on it. I was still paying for insurance, but I wasn't paying for anything else. Then, about two weeks ago, my landlord tells me there's a new guy at work who works on cars, and he'd be willing to do it for $800. I grudgingly said I'd talk to him, and he came out and looked at the car and got some numbers off it. The next day he texted me that the cost was going to be $1500 but he could break it into payments of $750.

He was going to completely replace the head instead of just the gasket. He was going to replace the timing chain and do whatever else needed to be done. I almost did a facepalm, but I agreed in the end and give him $750. It was $1000 less than the last shop, after all. Next, he tells me to have it towed to his home, where he apparently has a garage. I really did do a facepalm then, but I was committed. I should have been committed, I know. another $100 out of my pocket.

He sent me a picture a few days later: Halfway done.

Looked considerably less than that, but I went along with him. A week goes by, my bank account is about to be filled again, so I text him about the car. He wondered how to start it, because there's a trick to it. I'm a little confused as to why he didn't ask earlier, but I tell him how to start it, and then he texted back that he had to replace the battery and the oil case, and that would cost another $100. What's $100 among friends? /sarcasm. I agree because I'm not going to get the money back. The next day he tells me that the battery cost more than he thought and it was another $50. At  this point, I asked him if he'd provide the receipts, and he said he didn't usually work that way, but this time, he would. He got really snitty about it, but he had been working on the car for a lot of hours. He didn't say how many, but I believe him because the car was pure evil.  I did let him know that I'm not made of money.

So we agreed that today would be delivery day and when he finally drove up in it, he told me that he'd been working on it until 1 am the night before because it still backfired and then refused to start at times. He said he cleaned the carburetor and that took care of that issue.

So we took it for a spin and it seems to idle a bit fast, but it's such a hybrid of technology that I can learn to live with it.

I hope the saga is over, but he was worried about the distributor. He couldn't find it, but he promised if I can find it and buy a replacement, he'd install it for free.

Was it worth it? Was 'Ol Blackie my Moby Dick? Well, at least I got it, so I'm no Ahab. Friends and family told me to walk away, even tried to find me cheaper cars on craigslist, but something about this car - heh - tasks me. Only time will tell if was worth it, though the last guy to work on it told me to get a paint job and sell the car. I might just do that.