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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Do You Remember Your First New Car?

Lisa's new 2012 Chevy Cruze.
There is a magical moment in everyone's life, when they get their first new car. I'm not talking about a car you get for $500. I'm talking about a car that has that dealer sticker in the passenger window; that has that new car smell; that doesn't have a nick or scratch on it; that has 3 miles on the odometer; that has a paper license plate until you get your real plates. For some people, they're still waiting for that day. And when it comes, it will be magical. Do you remember your first new car?
A few days ago, one of the servers at Denny's, Lisa, got her first new car. This is her third car, but the first one she drove off the dealer's lot. She bought a 2012 Chevy Cruze with a modest amount of upgrades and extras. But she was so thrilled. She should be. It's exciting.

I know there are a lot of financial people who tell you, "Never buy a new car." And they list all the reasons - it loses 30% of its value the second you drive off the lot; you're paying a premium for transportation that a used car could provide at a substantial savings; insurance is higher; yada, yada, yada... screw them... at least once in your life, you have to buy a new car. A new, dealer prepped car. That's the American way.

Why buy a new car?

Nothing is wrong with it, and if there is something wrong with it, the dealer usually fixes it right away. You don't have to worry about the transmission suddenly giving out after only two months. The brakes don't grind. The exhaust system is pristine. All of the lights work, inside and out. And there is that magnificent new car smell. It only lasts a couple weeks, so drink it in. Sleep in your car if you have to, just to get the aroma into your clothing. You want go to work smelling like a new car.

When I first started driving, I drove the third car that our family had. My father had a car for my mother. He had a company car. And what he would do is replace everything on the company car right before he turned it in and then buy it - he always had first option to buy the car.

Since my father was a pharmaceutical sales manager, he always had station wagons. Back in the 1970's, those were like huge boats. They were great to haul all of your friends around and take a gang to the drive-in movies, but they were not very cool when it came to chicks.

I finally reached the point where I wanted to get a new car. I was about 20 years old.

The car I had to have was the Oldsmobile Starfire. Mine looked exactly like the one in the picture, except it wasn't a GT. So, it had a smaller engine, not the super fancy wheels, and it didn't have the stripe on the hood. It was a 5-speed manual transmission.

My first new car, 1976 Oldsmobile Starfire.

Immediately, I had a new stereo put in it, with speakers in boxes that had long cords attached to them. I could pop the hatchback, pull the speakers out, separate them to each side of the car about 10 feet and I had a concert wherever I went.

I loved that car, but I was young and dumb. I cut corners too close, so I eventually hit enough curbs to bend the wheels and had to buy new wheels. I had a lot of flat tires, too. I wasn't the best with a clutch and burned that up a lot faster than it should. Brakes, hell, I went through them like all-you-can-eat pancakes. But I loved that car.

I bumped into things, here and there, so there were dents in the fenders and on the doors.

That car took a lot of abuse from me. And then...

I was working at a radio station as the all-night DJ. I was used to being up through the course of the night. But on a Sunday morning, I was coming home from my girlfriend's house and I went to sleep on the Interstate. I just laid down in the front seat.

My car ran off the road to the right. I heard rocks hitting the undercarriage. I was skimming along the guardrail. At that second, while still semi-unconscious, I turned the wheel to the left. I made a left hand turn going 55 miles an hour on the Interstate.

Fortunately, it was around 6 am and there was nearly no traffic. I cut across the highway, hit the concrete barrier, bounced off, my two right tires blew, but the wheels dug into the pavement and slammed me back into the wall. The hood was crushed. The back seats had no bend in them. I had knocked the stereo out of the dash with the left side of my face. All the buttons had burst off of my leather coat. I had split and shit my pants.

I had no insurance on the car.

A guy helped me drag it to the side of the road with a cable, and I left it there.

My father freaked out. "Where's your car? What did you do?" After yelling at me for about 10 minutes, I interrupted him and said, "I'm alright. I'm not injured," except for the softball-sized welt on my left cheek.

Dad flagged down a tow truck and paid the guy to haul it to a junk yard. He could have sold the car to the guy for parts, but he never thought of that.

Four years and 63,000 miles of fun were over in a second. That wasn't my last new car. I've had a number since. But there is something special about the first. Do you remember your first new car? Leave your story in the comments section below.

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