Last time, you got to hear about living with a DSM (as a first car, no less) and getting screwed by a supplier. Unfortunately for me, those were the least of my worries. Hopefully the leading photo doesn’t give it away...
After the head swap, the car was doing surprisingly well. It had become reliable, and with my crazy working schedule I had saved up enough money to start thinking about fixing the atrocious paint. I got a quote for $4,100 to do the entire car, then set about trying to save up that much.
I was home from college for Christmas break and, with the paint job in mind, was back at my old high school job. I had stopped by the bank to deposit my paycheck around noon on Christmas Eve and while waiting at a light to turn left to get home I got hit head on. A guy in a brand new Cadillac had seen the light turn red and instead of slowing down like the car in front of him did, he jerked over into the left lane and floored it. The abrupt unsettling of the chassis combined with the additional power sent to the rear wheels caused the back end to come around, and the driver quickly lost control of the car and crossed the double yellow into the lane of oncoming traffic. He remained in that lane, slid through the intersection, and hit my Eclipse head-on. Thanks to modern crumple zones his Cadillac was completely destroyed, littering the intersection with innumerable fragments of GM engineering, whereas the Eclipse seemed to have fared quite well, with only a broken headlight and a scuffed bumper and hood.
The fact that I had a left turn signal on at the time of the crash meant that it was entirely my fault, the officer at the scene had told me. Despite the fact that the other driver (allegedly) ran a red light. And despite the fact that I was not moving and entirely in my lane and waiting at a red light. Insurance gave me a rental and I went back to college in Terre Haute while the aforementioned body shop in Cincinnati promised to fix the car in two weeks. I told them to go ahead and respray the whole car, since insurance covering half of the paint job would make the rest of the work affordable. I returned to Cincinnati to fight the ticket in court and got it dismissed because the police officer didn’t bother to show up, but the car was not done as promised. In fact, paint had not been sprayed yet. I warned them that my insurance would only provide the rental car for another two weeks and they promised that the work would be completed well before then.
I called them at the end of those two weeks and to my surprise, they claimed that the car was done. I went to pick it up and found no shortage of things to complain about. None of the body panels were remotely close to lining up, with panel gaps varying from more than ⅝” all the way down to actually touching. They had painted two black trim pieces at my request and the paint was already starting to flake off. Several other trim pieces were missing including the front Mitsubishi badge, and the shop’s excuse for leaving off the metal bracket that supported the bottom of the front bumper was that they had thought that it was a lip spoiler. Because that somehow makes it optional. They had lost some of the trim pieces that weren’t even damaged in the crash and had also forgotten to reattach my fuel cap. The biggest shock, though, came from the invoice. The bottom line was $7,400. I asked them what the total was after insurance and they told me that that was it. Nearly double their original estimate for the entire car, and I was only paying for the rear bumper, trunk lid, quarter panels, and one door. Armed with my original $4100 quote, my mom and I fought that bill for several hours but the most that the shop would offer was a 5% discount on the total. Just like she had done with the dealership repair back when I got the car, my mom threw that on her credit card without my approval.
She set up a balance transfer to get a 0% interest rate for 12 months then handed me the bill. Once again, thanks mom. I came back to that shop every two weeks or so for additional repairs or to collect the parts that they had left off the first time around. It was June before the job was finally finished.
A medical issue left me with an additional $2000 bill, so by the time the next Christmas break rolled around, more than half of the balance from that paint job still remained. I was headed back to Terre Haute at the end of break and was rushing to get to college before a storm rolled in and dumped snow on the highway, but the storm was ahead of schedule and snow started falling just as I left my boyfriend’s apartment in Indianapolis. And because that’s how the Midwest functions, people started to drive erratically as a result. I was driving in a parade of vehicles in the cleared right lane and was approaching a lefthand turn when a seemingly abandoned vehicle on the shoulder decided that that was the opportune time to pull into traffic. I swerved into the unplowed left lane and managed to avoid hitting the silver Dodge Caliber, but the sudden transition to an inch or so of accumulated snow caused the back end to come around, and rather quickly. The car rotated nearly 90 degrees, hit the outside guard rail nearly head on, then rebounded and crossed the highway backward before colliding with the inside guard rail and coming to rest in the left lane at the beginning of a bridge.
The airbags had failed to deploy and blood was running down my face from a gash that resulted from my head hitting the A pillar. While I was reporting the crash, one of the other commuters stopped to offer me a warm place to wait for the authorities, even providing a scarf to help stop the bleeding from my head. When the police arrived they once again cited me for the crash since no other vehicle had stopped and neither did any of the witnesses of the crash. If a crash is unavoidable, the told me, at least bring the other car down with you. I declined a trip to the hospital since I was painfully aware how much I couldn’t afford it, then asked the police if they could take me anywhere to wait out the storm. They dumped me at a nearby McDonalds, where I started the process of contacting my insurance company.
It took two hours for my boyfriend to get from his apartment downtown to this McDonalds on the West side, a drive that had taken me 15 minutes just an hour or so earlier. When we eventually got back to his place I realized that my clothes, schoolwork, and Christmas gifts had been left in the Eclipse and the clothes that I was wearing were quite bloody. He had to go to work so I aimlessly trolled Craigslist while hunting for someone that could get me back to Terre Haute, devastated by this turn of events.
It was three days before I eventually managed to convince someone to give me a ride to Terre Haute. The car was totaled, unsurprisingly. I lived off-campus and was stuck with a 30 minute commute by bike. In January. Miraculously, my insurance company gave me exactly what I had paid for the car five years earlier and let me keep the car, so I used the money to pay off the paint job and the medical bills and began parting out the non-performance parts of my Eclipse to hopefully fund the replacement car. And, unfortunately for my wallet, after entertaining a slew of Volvo 240s I had become dead set on the replacement car being an AWD DSM.
After five weeks of being the star employee at my on-campus job, I had enough money to pick up an incredibly rough 1995 Talon TSi AWD that had been listed for sale in Storm Lake, Iowa. Clear neglect from the moment it rolled off the lot, a slew of horrific non-functional mods, and a fair amount of ignorance on the part of the seller meant that it was perfect for my wallet. I convinced my boyfriend to accompany me on an adventure, then rented a car in Terre Haute early Saturday morning and drove the 9 hours out to Iowa.
The car was pretty horrifying in person. Mismatched colors on the body, solid motor mounts, a straight pipe, a seizure-inducing narrowband AFR gauge, strut towers showing a failed repair attempt, and rust perforations on nearly every part of the car. The rear wiper and spoiler had been deleted but the holes had not been filled. Knowing that the powertrain on its own was worth more than the seller’s asking price, I bought it and began the drive back. It was already dark and we had a long drive ahead of us, but there were no Enterprise locations along our route home or within 100 miles of Storm Lake, so we drove separately to Des Moines to drop off the rental before turning back East.
That solitary drive was plenty of time to learn about why I should not have bought this particular DSM. The engine was so rough through the solid mounts that the vibrations made all three mirrors completely unusable. The seller had hidden some air fresheners that my roommates later dubbed “lemon squares” all over the car, and we would eventually make it a game to find them all. The radio had some kind of short in it that would periodically cut power to the entire car. If I cruised for too long between 65 and 70 mph, the car would drop down to two cylinders, an issue that I later traced back to a botched 6 bolt swap, the engine from the 1990-92 Eclipse. Though the seller insisted on the presence of AC, it had been removed by the previous owner and defrost didn’t help to clear the windows. The windshield was cracked in several places. The roar from the lack of exhaust was deafening. The cigarette lighter didn’t work so I couldn’t keep my phone charged, which would likely spell trouble since that was my only form of navigation.
The rental car (a 200 mile Chevy Cruze) broke down twice on that drive, overheating and shutting down on the side of the highway. We spent so long dealing with that awful car’s temperamental constitution that a winter storm that we had not expected to encounter rolled over in front of us. By the time we finally dumped those GM keys into the after-hours drop off chute in Des Moines, the roads had become nearly impassable. Semis with chains were only able to go 40 mph and my new Talon, riding on completely bald summer rubber, could only wish to maintain that speed over the snow. The return trip ended up taking 16 hours and we arrived back in Terre Haute after noon the following day.
Okay, so I lied about getting to all of my mechanical mishaps with the Talon in this installment, but I promise that Part 4 will include the two engines and two transmissions and a certain dumpster in Indianapolis.