Owning a Car in College: You’re Probably Not Going Places

One of my earliest memories involves a go-kart, willful neglect of clearly stated rules, and an incredibly angry woman who took life too seriously. My parents took me to a small amusement park, and I was thrilled to discover I could drive my own go-kart. I should also mention that I was, and am to this day, a competitive asshole. While riding around the track, I repeatedly rear-ended the driver in front of me, who continually yelled at me the rules that were so clearly posted on all signage: “Do not bump other cars.” I eventually passed her and crossed the finish line, wheels burning and victory swelling in my chest.

I no longer intentionally rear-end people, but Karma marked me that day and said: “Your time will come.” My time came when I purchased my first car. A 2002 Nissan Sentra with the check engine light on. That’s right. I walked into that relationship saying: “I can fix you.” Those relationships always work.

The check engine light stayed on for the next three years. I broke down on the interstate repeatedly. Sometimes I would pull the emergency brake going 80 miles an hour. Other times, my car would completely shut down, forcing me to turn the wheel as hard as I could to pull over to the side of the road. It’s worth mentioning that my arms are as strong as a couple of cooked spaghetti noodles. After every breakdown, my dad and I repaired the car, always thinking that THIS repair would be the end of that little orange glow on the dash. How naïve we were.

The car broke down for the last time during the weekend of my college graduation. I knew the catalytic converters were broken, but I didn’t have the money to replace them. My dad found the parts online, and we were prepared to take on the task of repairing the car ourselves yet again. Mechanics laughed at us. All I had to do was drive 340 miles to my dad’s garage. No biggie.

A little over half way there, my car started to overheat and refused to go faster than 20 mph. On the interstate. A tow truck took me to the nearest town, and my dad towed it the rest of the way. After working for a couple days, we finally had the old parts out, new parts in, and everything put back together. It was midnight. We were exhausted, but high-fiving and taking pictures.

This is when my dad said: “Break out the camera. We’ll want to remember this moment. We beat this thing.” Spoiler alert: We did not beat this thing.

He went to work the next day and I took the car for a test drive. I made it two miles before the engine started to overheat again. Remember that 340 mile journey? Yeah. Blew a head gasket. $2000 to fix. Did I mention that I was starting a job in less than a week? In San Francisco. 1200 miles away. We accepted defeat.

Long story short, I ended up buying a new car. I made it to San Francisco just fine, hoping that my brain would black out the last week entirely. It’s been nearly a year since then, and I have to say that I’m glad I remember every moment. Do I miss the stress crying? No. Am I thankful for a family who pulls together and helps me out during life’s shitty times? Absolutely. My dad was always right next to me, teaching me how to replace every damn part on a Nissan Sentra. Really, he taught me determination, instilled in me an appreciation for my possessions, and allowed me to see that no matter the situation, I’m going to make it out on the other side.

Most importantly, do I regret rear-ending that angry woman 18 years ago? Not even a little bit. Karma can suck it.

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One Reply to “Owning a Car in College: You’re Probably Not Going Places”

  1. That was a great story! I’ve had similar experiences with deadbeat cars and you did the right thing by admitting defeat. A person can only take so much crap from a vehicle before they give up.

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