By: Daryle Mayer
Car nuts love to talk about their favorite cars from over the years. They can go on at length about the features, options, colors, mods, engine, transmission; OK, you get the point. But let’s flip the script for a couple minutes. What’s the WORST car you have ever owned? What car was so terrible you would have rather walked? What car defined the opposite of the word reliable? What car did you just absolutely hate? (Tell us about it in the comments!) I’ll kick off this party with my first car which was interestingly my worst car, and I bet very few of you even know what it is.
I was a car nut from my earliest days. From Big Wheels to dirt bikes, tractors to lawn mowers – it didn’t matter, I loved to drive. At 16 years old, it was finally time for the big one… my own car. I didn’t have to search long for what I wanted, it was literally 5 doors up the road from my house. A neighbor was selling his gold 1987 Nissan 300ZX. It was everything I wanted in a car: manual transmission, fast, low and sleek, T-tops, cheap, and clean inside and out. I instantly fell in lust with this car. I NEEDED it. My parents had previously agreed to buy my first car with some sort of tenuous repayment arrangement. We went to check out the Z car together, then went home to discuss it further. In short, that dream died because they said I would tire of driving a manual transmission. News flash Mom and Dad, EVERY car I’ve ever owned since then has been a manual transmission.
After killing my first sports car dream, they decided to find a good used car for me. They didn’t mess around. My dad came home the very next day and announced that we could go pick up my first car. Ironically, this was from another neighbor, about 6 houses in the opposite direction from what I wanted (this was foreshadowing of the car itself). We arrived, and I got my first look at what would be my first real taste of freedom. A dark blue and silver 1989 Eagle Premier. It was 4 years old at that time, shiny, all of the power options, roomy, and decent looking. I tried to stay positive, but it was no gold 300Z. It also had a flat tire (this was a harbinger). I offered a few good-natured but feeble objections (I WAS, after all, going to end up paying for half of this), and was promptly steamrolled into signing the paperwork. Dad and I took the tire off, and began to put on the spare (it was flat too, but we made it work for the one block ride to our house). This was my car and the repairs would be up to me so I headed to the tire shop. They searched high and low for any leak in the tire, put it in a tank, demounted and inspected it. Finally, they just replaced the valve stem, re-inflated it, and sent me on my way. I went home, put the tire on, and went to bed. Thus ended the first day of car ownership.
I woke up the next day full of excitement. I was going to drive my new car for the first time to school, but not before I discovered another flat tire (a different tire). No one was open that early so I just aired it up and hoped for the best. First driving impressions were OK. It was a car; not very exciting, certainly not sporty. It was mostly like a giant bowl of vanilla ice cream on wheels. I was about half-way to school when EVERY light on the dashboard came on, then went out, and then the car just completely died. Weird. I pulled over and looked carefully over the car. Nothing really appeared out of place; no sparks or abnormal smoke. I restarted the car and drove without incident to school (it continued to do this randomly through my entire ownership, I named it the Electrical Dance of Death). When school was over I tried to start the car, and nothing. No click of the solenoid, no whine, nothing. I beeped the horn and checked the lights to verify that the battery was good, yep. Loud horn, bright lights. Got back in, turned the key… aaaannnd nothing. I remembered the scene from Back To The Future where Marty bangs his head on the wheel, and our first computer (IBM PCjr) which required a whack every now and then to work correctly so I banged the steering wheel. The car started right up, and I drove home without incident. Over the next 5 months of owning that car, I never found the loose connection that was causing this issue. It continued to the point where slamming the steering wheel was just an accepted portion of the ritual required to start the Eagle.
I’ll just hit the highlights from here on. Even after replacing all of the valve stems, and eventually all 4 tires, they would randomly go flat. No rhyme or reason, just flat. The power windows would randomly stop working; sometimes all of them, sometimes just one or two. The windows would even occasionally roll down by themselves, but never close themselves. The car always overheated, winter, summer, didn’t matter. The cooling system was flushed, checked, the thermostat was replaced many times. Nothing mattered, it would just overheat whenever it felt like it. I used to joke about getting the car exorcised. I was even telling my best friend, one day when he was riding with me, about how the car would break if you said ugly things to it. We both began yelling at the car, and I kid you not, the rear view mirror fell off at that exact moment and it began to overheat.
The problems continued. The automatic transmission would randomly drop out of gear when accelerating. The radio would randomly decide what you were listening to that day. All the fancy buttons (EVERY function in the car was a push-button) would cut your fingers because they were made from cheap plastic that cracked and splintered. Some of the buttons even fell right into the dashboard when they were pushed. No big deal, they only controlled minor systems like the headlights, HVAC system, and windshield wipers. If you got a button to work, you were never sure if it was going to activate the system that it controlled. Sometimes the A/C came on with the heat. Sometimes the wiper switch would activate the blower speed. It ate instrument cluster lights at the rate of 1-3 per month. When these would go out, random parts of the gauges wouldn’t be visible. Again, just minor things like the speedometer or the temperature gauge. At least they were easy to replace and cheap. Wait, no they weren’t. It used an obscure bulb type that was hard to find (1993 limited internet) and cost $3.51 each. This car had 12 of them. Fuses? Oh Lord, the fuses. I think it used more fuses than gasoline. I honestly used to purchase car fuses wholesale, as it would just randomly eat them. My father was an electrical engineer, and even he would throw his hands up when trying to deal with this car.
My secret hope was that the car would irritate him to the point where he would help me unload it on someone else, and then let me purchase the gold 300Z that was STILL for sale. I had to drive past it everyday in my malfunctioning blue POS Eagle. Sadly this never happened as the Z was sold one day (One day!!!!) before the Eagle Premiere would let me sell it. I say “let me,” because it rejected several sellers. They would show up and it wouldn’t start, or it would do the electrical dance of death, or it would overheat, or a tire would be flat. Finally came the glorious day when a nice woman showed up, the Eagle apparently took a liking to her, everything worked correctly, and she bought the car. Five months with the Eagle Premiere seemed like an eternity in Hell. Thankfully, my next car is what I REALLY consider my first car, and it made up for all of the Eagle’s pain. But that’s a story for another time. So what was YOUR worst car? (comment)