Your Car Knows When You’ve Paid It Off

Updated 12/2015: At just about 56,000 miles my 2007 Audi decided it didn’t need a transmission any more and promptly stopped on the side of a busy highway. Read more below.

If you payoff your car it will fall apart

2007 Audi A4
I’ve only owned five cars so far and all but one of them started to fall apart shortly after paying them off.

It’s like they know!

Car #1: 1989 Honda Civic Hatchback

In 1991 I purchased a used, cream-colored, 4-speed (yes, 4!) 1989 Honda Civic hatchback for $200 dollars from my girlfriend’s brother. I had never driven a stick shift before. He gave me one lesson and when I asked for another he told me that I did fine and I should figure the rest out on my own.

Pittsburgh is a very hilly town and I had to quickly learn how to pull out up hill without drifting backward and smashing into everyone behind me. Pro tip: use the manual hand-brake to help you get it into first gear and then let the hand-brake go once it’s engaged.

Wire hangers will keep your car together

Flash forward and I’m in college visiting a girlfriend 70 miles away. I leave at night and get 5 minutes from her house when I hear and feel a very loud, violent, car-shaking bang.

Apparently my exhaust decided to come loose in the middle of the car and was dragging on the ground like it was trying to scoop up rocks. It was still welded to the back of the car so every time I hit a pot hole or bump in the road I would get the same car-jolting BANG.

After about 20 seconds of this I decided that there was no way I was going to make it home. I returned to my girlfriend’s house and borrowed a wire hanger to secure the exhaust system to the car so that it wouldn’t hit the ground.

The exhaust was so loud going home and my crappy 1989 radio couldn’t drown it all out. I was convinced that when I went through the turnpike toll booth that the attendant would call the police. They didn’t.

You still have 3 other gears!

Shortly after the exhaust issue I completely lost the use of my 3rd gear. Imagine trying to get on the highway in a 4-gear car with only 3 working gears. I had to red-line 2nd gear in order to get to 4th gear.

You should see a doctor

Someone threw a rock at my windshield while it was parked. The windshield was so shattered that I got very concerned looks from people at stop lights who didn’t want to be near me when the light turned green.

My girlfriend at the time had a friend that could fix windshields cheap. He didn’t use gloves though and got fairly large shards of glass all over his hands. I am positive that he still suffers from glass in his hands to this day.

Yabba dabba, nnnooooo!

I was back home for the summer and the car was due for inspection. I could tell it was starting to rust away and expected some maintenance.

The body shop had to apply a metal sheet to the underside of the car in order to pass inspection.

I was 5 inches away from being Fred Flintstone.

Car #2: 1989 Hyundai Excel

In 1993 I purchased a used 1989 Hyundai Excel from a stranger and had it for a couple years before the stick shift literally started falling through the floor. I had to physically hold it up every time I shifted. If I let it go it sagged and almost hit the ground. The shield/plate that kept it from dropping to the ground got knocked off somehow.

Wire hangers to the rescue again

To keep the stick shift from getting too close to the ground I used a couple wire hangers underneath the car to secure it and keep it from getting too low.

Heat in winter is overrated

One semester in college the heating unit died. I spent an entire Western Pennsylvania winter without heat in my car while I drove 60 miles to work early in the morning.

For an entire semester I had frost INSIDE my windshield that I had to scrape with an ice scraper. And then I had to do the same thing on the outside.

I later found out (in Spring, of course) that there was a recall on the heating unit and I got it fixed for free. Yay!

Car #3: 1995 Honda Civic DX

I was living in Indiana in 1999 when I bought my red Honda Civic. I eventually moved back to Pennsylvania, paid off the car, saved up a couple months of payments and used them for a vacation.

Back from vacation

My girlfriend and I came back from vacation to a 20 inch gash on the front of the hood. My car was parked on the street and it looked like a delivery truck had backed into the hood and opened it like scissors cutting a piece of tin.

There was no damage to the engine or hoses so I kept driving it even though my girlfriend begged me to get rid of it.

I feel kinda…not good

After a few weeks driving the car in this condition I noticed I was getting headaches and feeling sick when I drove to work (about 40 minutes away).

It turns out that the PCV valve was leaking carbon-monoxide into the cabin. The problem was actually unrelated to the can-opener incident – it was caused by some work done on the car after the accident.

Car #4: 2005 Toyota Scion tC

This was my first car that didn’t have any major issues, damage, repairs or mishaps. It was a 5-speed manual transmission and I was driving a lot of highway miles at the time. But then I got a new job and I was doing more city driving than highway. It started to affect my knee so I looked for a new car.

I never really paid this car off since I traded it in. Maybe that’s why it didn’t have any problems.

Car #5: 2007 Audi A4 Quattro

This brings me to my current car. In late 2007 I bought a brand new Audi A4 with around 400 miles on it. It was somewhat of a status symbol for my wife and I at the time. We were going to fancier parties and with dual incomes and no kids we could afford to splurge on a nicer car.

Your car knows when you’ve paid it off

I bought the car in 2007 but refinanced it in 2009 after my divorce so I could keep it. In November of 2014 my car was finally paid off and that’s when the trouble began and made me appreciate my car more.

I was planning a trip to visit my family in South Carolina for Thanksgiving. About two weeks before the car was paid off the engine started to have problems whenever it was under load (e.g., merging onto a busy highway, punching it to get ahead of someone, pulling onto another road uphill).

“Great”, I thought, “perfect timing.” I have a 600 mile trip ahead of me and now my car randomly looses 1/3 of its horsepower.

Audi service is the best

Audi generously gives you an equal or better Audi as your loaner car for free as long as you schedule service ahead of time.

But since I had a trip coming up and the problems were getting worse I couldn’t wait for a service window. No worries, Audi gives you a free loaner car from Enterprise instead.

Loaner: 2014 Ford Focus

The first loaner car they gave me was a 2014 Ford Focus with 30,000 miles on it. It was horrible. Acceleration, controls, handling – everything was bad. Even the radio controls were bad. I felt like I was reviewing the car for Consumer Reports. It only solidified my intent to buy another Audi when the time came.

Loaner: 2014 Nissan Sentra

This car had a really touchy gas pedal and took off like a bat out of hell in reverse. For a brief second I wished I would have said, “Yes” to that $20 of accidental insurance coverage.

This car was better than the Focus but I couldn’t get over how horrible it was when compared to my cherished Audi.

Update 11/2015

This is an update to the original post. Again, right before leaving for Thanksgiving vacation, my beloved 2007 Audi decided that it didn’t need a transmission any more and died on the side of I-79 on a busy Sunday evening. The odometer read just over 56,000 miles – a short 6,000 miles away from the useless 50,000 mile warranty.

Since I was leaving soon for holiday I didn’t have much of a choice but to get another Audi. This time a 2016 A4. Leased – because after 3 1/2 years I’m going to let someone else find the rest of the problems!

The moral of the story

Driving those loaner cars really made me appreciate what I have. I’ve had some pretty horrible, unreliable cars in the past and this one hasn’t really given me any trouble for 7 years.

But just to be safe, maybe I should start leasing my cars instead. 🙂

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