They don’t make Saturns like they used to because they stopped making Saturns.
When a family member crashes a car they are assigned whichever of the others’ cars is the crappiest. When my poor reliable Honda got totaled in February ’08, Mom gave me her 1996 Saturn SL. Then she went out and bought herself a new car.
The color of this Saturn is denoted as plum, though some might say that it’s greyish beige. As of this post, it has about 150,000 miles. The Saturn has been through two accidents, once when my mom was driving and once when my brother was driving. The outside is dented, scratched and peeling in various places from years of minor fender benders. It only gets washed when it rains, except for the occasional car wash trip every six months or so.
The inside of the Saturn is, in a word, disgusting. The carpets have numerous stains that long have since dried up, leaving only their discoloration. Cigarette stains, food stains, liquid stains. The upholstery on the roof is entirely peeled away with only a few tatters around the edges due to three different drives who smoke cigarettes. The smoke literally eroded the fabric, leaving a pock marked, flaky substance that will crumble and fall if touched.
The seats are in working order but they’re usually covered with crumbs from the latest snack, particularly soft-pretzel salt. Long drives are difficult and often I feel my left backside down to the leg go numb. This can only be remedied by shifting position or using a pillow. The backseat has a huge black grease stain right along the bottom, where my bike chain once rubbed against it. I have since put down a sheet which gets stained and dirty like everything else. All of the vinyl surfaces are dusty, especially the dashboard. The cup holders and middle tray are caked with dirt and resin. Some loose cruddy change is in one of the cup holders. Only the driver’s floor has a mat.
The inside is more often than not filled with junk, half empty bottles of liquid and bits of leftover food stuffed into bags, empty cigarette boxes, my work shoes, sneakers and hiking boots. I keep the bike in the backseat most of the time so it’s there when I need it. The front wheel of the bike is removed and stored in the trunk along with my beach and camping chairs.
Last October the alternator died on a two lane road with no shoulder, a few feet from a traffic light and five minutes from my job. Since then I have had it replaced but cannot use the cigarette lighter to charge an iPod or phone. No matter what station the radio is on there’s always a rapid static tap in the background. I generally can’t stand radio apart from a few stations. The car only has a cassette tape deck but it doesn’t matter because the sound system sucks anyway. There’s a specific combination of fade (more to the rear,) balance (almost even,) bass (blown out so kept low) and treble (the trouble with trebles) that will make it sound decent. I mostly listened to audio books on the iPod, then straight off the laptop with a speaker, and now with my cell phone and mini-speaker. For some reason after all these years I cannot remember how to set the clock and must look in the driver’s manual at daylight savings times.
The steering wheel is eroded and cruddy. The horn makes the most god awful sound. It is the worst car horn sound I’ve ever heard. When that horn blares, you know I’m pissed.
All the windows are dirty, but not so dirty that I can’t see out of them. The two front windows often get stuck, especially the passenger side window. With that one I have to rapidly flick the windows up and down until it’s all the way down. It makes a horrible screeching sound every time. The rubber lining that seals the passenger side window will fall off if I’m driving with the window down. The glue that holds the lining was replaced a long time ago but never stuck. I recently used clear plastic packing tape which works great but has the side effect of not properly sealing the top of the window when it’s up. It’s not so bad for normal rainstorms but during Hurricane Katrina it had to be put in the garage.
UPDATE: Two days before this posted, the right passenger window got stuck halfway. I tried the usual trick of putting it down and back up but then it got stuck all the way down. No amount of pulling on the window would get it up. The next day my roommate Brian searched the net for how to disassemble the door. Working together, we were able to remove the outer door panel, identify the problem, fix it, and put it all back together again just in time for another week of rain. Now the window must be kept shut at all times, which is fine because it’s starting to get cold anyway. Strangely enough, the same exact thing happened with my last car.
Speaking of rainstorms, a few months ago I was driving in rush hour traffic during a rainstorm when one of wipers came loose and jammed, thus causing the other wiper to move in a way it shouldn’t. Either I made it home alive or everything since then has been a post-mortem fabrication to delay ego-loss. Jacob’s Ladder : Marc’s Windshield.
About 4 years ago our mechanic said that it’s amazing this Saturn still runs. The transmission is nearly shot. The breaks were replaced last year when they almost completely died on me one rainy commute to work. The entire car vibrates when it’s running. Certain parts of the inside will vibrate even louder. The car is notorious for burning up oil and coolant. Both fluids must be frequently checked and refilled and I try to keep a ready supply in the trunk.
When putting the Saturn in reverse, it’s best to wait 5 – 7 seconds for the gear to kick in, otherwise it will buck violently when I tap the gas pedal. The car must be parked on a straight surface or one that’s inclined toward the front of the car. A rear incline reverse will cause the same annoying buck.
In 2009 I moved to Clifton, NJ and the car went from long stretches of mostly farmland and suburbs to NJ/NYC metro-area traffic. Try to imagine driving to and from Jersey City in these conditions: When the car is in slow moving traffic or a standstill, it will quickly start to overheat. It will also get stuck in gear leaving me unable to accelerate past 20 mph. I can push it for a while at low speed, sometimes it will kick back into gear. Other times pressing the gas pedal to hard makes the RPM shoot up to 4 or 5. When the temperature gauge hits the halfway mark or when I see steam coming from the coolant tank is the last warning to pull over immediately. Usually I don’t let it get to that point but sometimes it just happens.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single breakdown.
I have lost count of the number of times in the past two years the above situation has happened to me. At first I used to panic as I flipped on hazards and tried to get over to the shoulder. I would have to stop, check the coolant and refill if necessary, turn off the car, sit for a couple minutes, then restart it and drive on. This has happened to me so many times in the last two years that it’s become an exercise in forced calmness. In general I’m forced to drive like an old man. It has honed my defensive driving skills and greatly reduced the number of foolishly earned traffic tickets.
I’m pretty sure the air conditioner doesn’t work anymore. I had it recharged but it lost the coolness a few days later. That was the summer of 2010. I have not used a/c in the car even once the entire spring and summer of 2011.
The car takes a long time to warm up in winter. I have to walk outside no later than 6 AM, no matter the temperature, down two flights of wooden stairs, around the house, up the driveway to the street, start the car and walk back inside while it heats up for 15 minutes, about the same amount of time it might take to correct this run-on sentence.
The gas tank is usually below half empty, though a full tank will last quite a while. I drive the car from Clifton to Jersey City for work from September to June. I drive it 2 – 2½ hours down to Vineland on more weekends than I care to admit, then drive it back up for another couple of hours.
Even though I have a spotty driving history, my friends would always somehow work it so that I’d be the driver. I’ve noticed that those who have been in my car now seem reluctant to make drive, which is just fine with me. I spend so much time behind the wheel that it feels weird being a passenger.
I’ve met many kind-hearted human beings thanks to this car. They arrived at the proper time when I needed help or maintenance or directions. Speaking of directions, I’ve never been good at navigation. I don’t mind driving if I have a good navigator. The best navigator is my GPS because I don’t have to entertain it or play the music it likes or not smoke in the car because of it. The GPS has literally saved my life and I can’t wait for the day when we can non-locally teleport to any point on the universal map contained within our collective mind.
Last Spring Break something horrible happened with that car that I really don’t want to talk about but am mentioning for posterity’s sake. (What has posterity ever done for me?) It’s ok now though…though we never forget our stupidest decisions, do we?
The Saturn must’ve enjoyed our recent camping trip. The two of us drove out to Hickory Run State Park in PA. I purposely got a campsite with car parking because the bears WILL come looking for the food they smell, so it’s best just to keep it in the car. Also, I tend to over pack like, I dunno, a massive hurricane will hit or something, so I didn’t want to have to lug crap into the woods. Not this time. So the Saturn and I sat by the campfire listening to audio books. We were both grateful to be outdoors in new surroundings for three days.
I often give nick names to inanimate objects such as stuffed animals, hard drives, iPods…or PEOPLE. I don’t think I’ve ever named a car. If I had to give this car a name, it would be ‘Old Faithful.’
Now, imagine another Saturn—silver, similar make, different model. Now imagine that this car is in a completely opposite condition than mine. That’s what my good friend Douglas Palermo drives.
Things my car probably thinks:
I really wish he would stop talking to himself out loud.
I don’t think I can do this anymore.
What the hell is that smell?
Do you really expect her to blow you in here?
I’m so thirsty.
Have fun on the beach while I swelter here!
How did my carma lead me to this?
We made it. Oh thank God we made it.
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