Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Death of Orifice

It took three seconds.

I'm pulling out of school, feeling good about heading home, when a 1999 Chevy Cavalier emerges like a white demon from behind a eighteen wheeler, colliding into my 2002 Honda Civic, ripping off the front of my car in an instant.

This is the same 2002 Honda Civic into which I had just poured a total of $3500 in a vain attempt to fix a continuously overheating engine; first a new radiator, but six weeks later almost a completely new cooling system: valve covers, thermostat, water pump hoses and starter after the car overheated on the highway. Three days later, the engine began to overheat again; a second mechanic informs me the first mechanic neglected to test for leaky valves; it's another $1500 just to fix what should have been fixed the first time.

A week after my Honda Civic is up and running I wake up to find "Orifice" missing; stolen out of my apartment car port by a pair of junkies who shatter a window and proceed to rip out the radio and collect a handful of change. The police find Orifice three blocks away with a valet key still in the ignition; I'm embarrassed but grateful my car has been found.

But truthfully, I no longer trust Orifice, she can break down for any reason and will open up her doors for anyone who wishes to take her for a spin.


Three seconds, three lousy seconds of delay and I would never have been hit. After the accident I find myself wishing over and over how I wish I could replay the same three seconds, just set back the reality clock and take back what has just happened. The only good news is that I'm only a block away from the school, and teachers stop to help.

Owens offers me the use of her AAA membership to pay for a tow, I'm grateful because with all the mechanical problems I've had in the past four months I've used up my AAA membership limit for the year.

I have the car towed back to Orozco's. The head mechanic comes out and shakes his head, sad for my loss but happy for my business. I place a call to Seabourne and ask again if I can borrow her Toyota Corolla for a week until the insurance can come out and give me an estimate on the Honda.

Seabourne says I can borrow it for two. Give it up for Seabourne!

A few days later a State Farm Insurance agent contacts me, and given the age of my car and the damage it's a toss up - I can either pay the $1000 deductible, or they'll buy me out and total the vehicle.

"Just fix it." I respond, resigned.

"You haven't even heard our offer yet!"

Great. I've already looked up the blue book value of a 2002 Honda Civic, it's about $5000 in excellent condition. Given Orifice's history and with the deductible, I'm looking at possibly 3, hopefully 4 grand. "How much to total?" I ask.

"Minus your deductible, we're looking at $8,100."

What? 8,100, how is that possible?

I thank him and call my sister for a second opinion. She's just as shocked as I am, but tells me to take the money. Her husband seconds the motion.

I call back five minutes later and accept the offer to total the car. The next day an envelope arrives from Fed Ex with the necessary paper work. I fill it out and include the car title. Two days later I receive a check for $8,100.

For years I've thought about canceling with State Farm and going with different, less expensive insurance. Geico, Mercury, Progressive. Now I'm glad I've stuck with them.

The only question is what am I going to buy to replace Orifice? Normally, I'd just buy another Honda, for your money you won't find a better used car on the market, but they're also more expensive. Truthfully, I'm starting to think they're cursed.

I begin looking into alternatives. Something practical and inexpensive. I'd like a BMW mini, because it looks cool, but it's also tiny, practically a girly car. The Jetta, too gay. The Mazda 3, it's got some zip and power, but if it breaks the parts are more expensive. A friend out in Phoenix who buys and fixes up used cars for a living offers to sell me a Toyota Prius with 120,000 miles for eight grand, but the mileage makes me hesitate.

I consult with Parrish at work. "You got to be careful with the Prius," she argues, "that's a lesbian's car. Remember that cop movie, the one with Wil Ferrell and Mark Wahlburg?"

"The Other Guys."

"Right. The Other Guys. When they have to drive around in Ferrell's Prius Wahlburg keeps complaining it's like cruising in a vagina. What color is the Prius out in Phoenix?"

"Deep red. Scarlet."

"Brian," Parrish exclaims, leveling a stare at me. "Do not buy that car!"

The Ford Focus? Sorry, I know it makes me dangerously un-American but I'm not buying an American car, mostly because I believe them to be crap. The Nissan Sentra? Maybe...

Varga suggests I take a look at Hyundai's. "They're good cars."

"I always thought they were crap."

"They used to be crap, but over the past ten years I don't think that's true anymore. Plus they come with that crazy 10 year 100,000 mile warranty. Other than Kia no one offers that kind of warranty. No one. Take a look at the Hyundai Sonata, they're a sweet ride." The next day I drive up to Keyes on Van Nuys, it's that LA dealership that advertises like mad on the radio. "Keyes, Keyes, Keyes - Keyes on Van Nuys." The fact that they have ten different automaker dealerships within a half mile of one another cements my decision; I can test drive a bunch of different cars without having to drive half way around the city.

I go to the Hyundai dealership first, introduce myself to a young salesman and tell him I'm not thinking about buying, but I do want to test drive a Sonota. He asks how much I'm looking to spend. I tell him 14k and he offers up a black Elantra for 15,999.

I pull out my iPhone and do some quick research. The Elantra gets a 4.7 out of 5 on Edmunds. Consumer reports has picked the Elantra as one of the top six cars three years in a row. I check out Carfax - the Elantra has had one previous owner, who is returning it on a lease. No accidents.

Two hours later I'm buying a 2010 Elantra with 25,000 miles for 14k with the crazy 10 year 100,000 mile warranty at 4.9% financing. I get the low jack for an extra $500 - I've already had two car's stolen, if nothing else I want the piece of mind.

Piece of mind. I can't remember the last time I've driven in a vehicle and not been nagged by the ever present worry of having a mechanical failure or a break in. I've put in my time driving beaters and nags past their prime; I'm out of that game, I'm done. In the past I've always attempted to get away with driving cheaper cars, looking for a bargain, but in the end I always lose.

No more. Goodbye Orifice. Goodbye Pandora. It's only a matter of time before I get hit or have my car broken into or suffer a mechanical failure, but this time, I'll be ready. I've had the Hyundai a week now, and it's ride is smooth. It looks and feels like a modern, luxury vehicle.

Now it just needs a name? Suggestions?

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