Chippewa Herald * October 21, 2013     best tracking stats
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Rest in peace, Arnecar

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist


We had to bid farewell to a faithful family friend a couple of weeks ago. Our beloved "Arnecar," a 1993 Toyota Corolla, bit the dust, eight months ahead of schedule.

It's not quite as bad as when we had to say goodbye to "Mighty Whitey," our 1985 Corolla that had been in the family for 22 years, through three states, four houses, and five kids. But we were still attached to our Arnecar after almost nine years of ownership.

It all started in January 2005. Mighty Whitey at that time was almost twenty years old, and all seven of us were sitting around the dinner table speculating about what kind of car our next purchase would be. Having had great luck with the four Corollas so far, it would definitely be another one of those.

It would also need four doors, and unlike the previous four cars, this one would need to have automatic transmission, since we had a bunch of young drivers coming of age soon: It's hard enough to learn to drive without also struggling with a clutch.

Oh, and it goes without saying that it had to be old and cheap. No sense putting a shiny vehicle into the hands of a 15-year-old! So I had this picture in my mind of the perfect car.

Only TWO DAYS LATER I was walking into church when a friend, Wayne Street, asked me out of the blue: "Hey, Tom, wanna buy a car?"

I asked him what kind. "1993 Toyota Corolla." Does it have automatic transmission? "Yes." How much? "$1200". Okay, then. I wrote a check. I think that was the easiest car transaction I've ever done -- it's tough to resist exactly what you were looking for when it falls right in your lap, especially when you hadn't started actually looking yet!

It was great having a car only 12 years old! We could drive it on trips where we didn't have everyone and wanted to avoid taking the monstrous conversion van (the "Arnebus"). I commuted with it.

Ben learned to drive with the Arnecar and borrowed it often until he bought his own car. When he left for college, Alison adopted it as her own. When she graduated, Jasper insisted on purchasing it so he could have total control. We settled on $600 -- not a bad price, but then he had to pay for repairs, which start coming a little more often when a car passes 17 years old.

When Jasper left for Colorado in June 2012, he sold the Arnecar to David for $400. The goal was to keep it running through David's high school years ending June 2014; we had already decided that we didn't want it sitting around until Simon can start driving in 2016. So eight months from now, it would be gone one way or another.

David has been a great car owner! The first improvement he made was to drill a hole in the top of the steering wheel and bolt in a wooden knob that he had made himself on our lathe. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it, I wondered why all cars don't have one of those knobs.

David had to replace an engine gasket, with the advice of Wayne Street, the previous owner from eight years prior. (How's THAT for customer service!) He also installed a new alternator and bought a top-of-the-line battery after getting sick of having to jump-start it four times a week.

David followed his father's teenage footsteps by adding multiple horns under the hood. The final hurrah was putting in a brand new stereo, just a few weeks ago.

Those many improvements that represented such diligent work made it all the harder to accept the diagnosis. When the brakes went out after David was leaving youth group on a Wednesday night, we insisted that he take it to the mechanic. (No, we were not willing to just let him "drive slowly" around town.)

It turns out the brake lines had all rusted out. A friend I work with told me it would cost only $20 for parts and another $20 for a special metal-bending tool, but would require untold hours of tedious and frustrating work to remove the rusty old lines and install the new ones.

The mechanic estimated $1500 -- nearly quadruple what David had paid for the car. Worse, the guy said the gas line and even the gas tank itself were severely rusted and about to go.

There are times to fight, and there are times to pull the plug and say goodbye.

We drove over to the mechanic's shop on a Sunday night for our last visit to the Arnecar. David solemnly removed the two-week-old stereo, emptied the glove box, extracted the horns, and cleaned out the trunk.

Last week we got a check for $200 from the junk yard. Rather than being sad to see Arnecar go, David can be happy for the memories he has. And the fact that he drove a car for 16 months for a net cost of $200.

He's driving the ARNEBUS for now, but has already asked in disbelief -- "Doesn't it cost like a HUNDRED DOLLARS to fill the tank?!"

He's now poring over Craig's List looking for another small car that can get him by until June -- preferably with no rust underneath.


You can reach Tom at tom@arneberg.com.

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