The next 100,000 miles in a Toyota Corolla

My parents’ driveway is filling quickly with aging and dying cars. I have recently added to the collection with a 2004 Toyota Corolla. A car with a whole other life–one in which the owner, a female, applied her makeup using the rearview mirror, fixed her hair at the red lights, took her mother to church, and went through the car wash every two weeks. Purely speculation of course, based on the small and insignificant fact that I found bobby pins still tucked in a slot under the dashboard.

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Anyway…I’ve been driving the car around quite a bit in the past week that I’ve owned it. It is either unfortunate that my commute to work is so long, or fortunate that now I have a beautiful little car to sit in for 45 minutes so I almost don’t mind. This car rides like a dream compared to some other piles of metal I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in that surprise me when they make it down the road.

My dad and I had started this car hunt rather abruptly, I felt. The old ’98 Lumina came back from the shop with a $1,000 price tag on repairs and we said no way, after I had shucked out $600 not long ago. Then before I know it, we’re out at the dealerships weaving in and out of the 2009 Chevys and 2003 Hondas.

When I think of the term “used car salesman,” first I think of Matilda’s portly father with his hat glued to his head, saying “I’m big, you’re small. I’m right, you’re wrong…” And then I think of the movie “Raising Helen” when Helen sells the ugliest green car in the lot and gets to take home a ham for all her trouble.

Either way, these sales people are wheelers and dealers, telling you anything you want to hear in order to sell you a car. And that’s exactly what it felt like when my dad and I met Uncle Leo.

Uncle Leo walked up right away when we got inside and said “Hello there, I’m Uncle Leo.” Even his business card identified him as “Uncle.” Trying to be remembered? It worked. I’ll never forget this guy… (He might also be memorable due his crazy eyes–I swear one of them was fake.)

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We saw this car on our first day of the hunt. It was not the first car, nor the last, but it was the only car I actually took out for a test-drive. It was slightly over-budget, had more miles on it than I would have liked, and we were not convinced at first. I was sure there would be something better out there. Uncle Leo told us that if he were actually my uncle, he would sell me this car, there isn’t any car out there better than this here car, this car would last another 100,000 miles… And on and on.

I couldn’t commit.

We went home, we looked online, I plugged numbers into Kelley Blue Book, I added up my bank accounts. Everything we saw online was comparable for that year and mileage. I thought and thought about it, getting more nervous and anxious.

That was a Saturday. On Monday, my dad and I met after work to head back to the dealerships, trying to rip the band-aid off in one quick tug.

My dad was set on a 2009 Chevy Cobalt he saw online. If it had been at the lot, it probably would have been the one. But we pulled in, asked the first salesman we saw and the words “Just sold it” echoed.

We ended up back at the dealership where I drove the Corolla. This time we asked more questions. I was just dying to say “Show me the CarFax” and almost hoping to see a fox puppet pop out from behind a cubicle. (Kudos to whoever designed those commercials. They got me.) And I actually did get to say it, in not quite the same words. The Corolla had not been listed online, for some reason. And of course, we wanted to see the CarFax. 

One owner. One minor accident, probably a small fender-bender. Taken to the dealership two to three times per year to get the oil changed. Traded in for an Acura at just over 100,000 miles.

“We’ll take it!” I almost shouted. My dad is giving me the evil eye. Apparently you don’t tell car salesmen you want something that enthusiastically. Don’t worry, though, I made up for it with my sad-puppy face when I found out the unanticipated tax and extra fees would actually put it far out of my budget and I couldn’t afford it. My dad tried to pound me on that, I think, when Uncle Leo said he’d go to his manager to see what he could negotiate.

We ended up getting a slightly better deal than the listed price. Even small victories make a difference when you’re buying a car.

So I now get to drive my little Corolla every day. I’m just loving the sun-roof, to be honest. I’ve never had a sun-roof before. And hopefully the car has a lot of miles left in its second life.

The street in front of our house has become a patchwork of transmission fluid, motor oil, and windshield fluid, mixed with a little WD-40. And actually, my new car is not contributing to that (yet). But sadly, the old Lumy has got to go. Soon.

The '98 Chevy Lumina, summer 2010

The ’98 Chevy Lumina, summer 2010

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