Driving Miss Carol

Joys and pains of driving a second hand car.

3w ago
21.8K

I've been warned more than once about the risks of purchasing a second hand car, especially an old one. Nevertheless and let's be brutally honest, because it was the only thing I could afford, I bought Carol, a twenty years old VW Golf. I've written about my previous misadventures with Carol a while ago, before driving her around in my summer holidays. I'd like to say that all went well, but it would not be accurate.

Driving Miss Carol is like going around with an old lady. She carries on herself the scars of time, even if she's still in a good shape, there's some wrinkle here and there. There are moments when she's a bit lost and confused, and overall she's delicate and fragile. She needs to be treated carefully, her bones are not strong like they used to be, she needs a firm but gentle hand otherwise she will creak and squeak or in the worst case break. Miss Carol requires constant attention to her needs, to be checked often, it literally is an old lady, with an addition to Sherry, or in car terms engine oil.

In fact I've been pleasantly surprised by her fuel consumption, and literally staggered by her thirst when it's about oil. She basically drinks a Liter of Castrol every 1000 kilometers. Considering that with my former car, a 2017 Hyundai ix20, last summer I did more than four thousand kilometers without needing an oil refill, I was totally unprepared to the needs of Carol.

Another thing I was not aware about was the total and unavoidable failure of anything vaguely electric in the car. Bless Carol, she does not have many electric elements, but... In addition to the broken central locking system and to the electric rear passenger window broken, my dashboard at some point looked like a city center street enlightened by Christmas illuminations. Other than the Abs light that randomly turns off and on depending on Carol's mood, because some sensor is screwed, the check engine light popped up on the dashboard. I suspect it is a matter of karma, because the circumstances are very suspicious.

I've been driving from Rome to my home town in Emilia Romagna, five hundred kilometers without any issues, no traffic jams, no troubles with the car, no morons on the road, a great trip, smooth and pleasant passing, singing songs and laughing with my best friend. Just the oil light appeared on the dashboard, but I got it sorted quickly. A couple of days later we were on the road again, a short trip of 150 kilometers only, direction La Spezia, where we would have left the car parked overnight to reach the unesco world Heritage site of Cinque Terre, five small and very characteristic Town located on the Liguria's coast. I set the sat nav to basically the only parking lot where I could leave the car for free, cued the music and had a wonderful drive on the Parma - La Spezia motorway. This road that crosses the Apennines mountains has such wonderful landscapes.

Once at the destination, the parking lot was full. I decided to wait for a while, slowly driving around the lines of parked cars, hoping for someone to go away, and there I've been a bit of a bastard... Of course I wasn't the only one waiting, a few cars were playing my same game, driving around in circles like vultures over a dying animal. If we would have been in a movie, in the background, the theme from "The good, the bad and the ugly" would have been playing as a soundtrack of this car version of a western duel.

All drivers with tense nerves, glancing around to spot the slightest presence of a car going away from a parking spot. Then it happened, someone was walking towards a parked car, an engine was turned on, the equivalent of a coin falling down in the sand between two cowboys, and there I cheated. I sent my friend out of the car, rushing her to take the empty spot before some car could park in the now free place to give me the time to reach the spot, and the silent curses of the other drivers hitten me, the day after, when at the moment to go home after our two days holiday, I turned the key and the check engine light blinked at me from the dashboard.

That was my first check engine light, and I have no shame in admitting I panicked silently, other than calling with definitely not fancy names a big list of divinities from several religions. After leaving the parking spot, I turned the car on and off a couple of times, in the vain hope that the evil light would have disappeared, it didn't obviously. Then with no other choice to drive back home and with the awareness that finding an open workshop in an August late afternoon was almost impossible, I started the journey home driving with the unpleasant feeling of being sat in a time bomb. I stopped at a fuel station, where I get sort of reassured about the fact that the car wasn't going to explode and then went back towards the motorway. Kilometer after kilometer, I relaxed. Carol was driving smoothly, the engine was making its usual and healthy noises, the road passed by smoothly under Carol's wheels, and we arrived at home sound and safe.

My hometown

My hometown

The next morning nevertheless I went to a workshop to check if everything was fine, I got the sensors that affects the check engine light rebooted and the light turned off, for at least 24 hours...

The check engine light in the next few days had become a constant presence on Carol's dashboard, part of the car, nothing to worry about. I even fancied the idea of travelling by car to Germany for the second part of my holidays instead of taking a train, since everything was going so smoothly. I really enjoyed driving around, so I thought, why not? I'm glad I didn't.

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Carol was saving her best for the end of the journey. The end of summer holidays is always unpleasant. After having spent two awesome weeks, it was time to go home. I had already parted from my friends, loaded the car, and after saying goodbye to my mom I started my journey to Rome. I drove the first 300 kilometers without having a break, feeling great, not tired at all, but aware that Carol is not a young lady, I stopped for a break to let her rest a little and get some food for myself. With two hours of driving ahead, despite some queuing because of the endless roadworks on the motorway, and some cursing at some lorry drivers driving like maniacs, I was pretty pleased with how the trip was going, until I slowed down to take my exit. I switched from fifth to fourth gear, then when I tried to put the fifth again the disaster.

The fifth was completely gone. I recalled a weird noise I heard previously, when getting Carol into fifth last time. I remembered my previous misadventure, when the gearbox bushing broke, and I went pale. I looked at the sat nav, 30 kilometers from home. I kept driving carefully, managing to get through the motorway exit, also thanks to the electronic toll payment device, and arrived, despite the slight traffic at less than a kilometer from home. There the complete disaster happened. Carol was back in the city carousel, traffic lights, suicidal pedestrians, cars left parked on double rows and busy roads, and she collapsed, first and second gear were gone, dead, kaputt. When forced to stop I managed to start Carol in third, but soon even third gear was gone. I did the last five hundred metres slowly, chugging every time I was forced to slow down, trying not to stop, getting curses from the other drivers despite the emergency lights turned on to signal I was having a problem. And then, when I was almost at the parking lot near home I had to stop, and call a mechanic. Carol had enough, she bravely did her best even if she was broken, she gave up almost at destination.

Speaking about what happened to the mechanic, on the way to my poor injured Carol, he asked me if by any chance I had a Ford Fiesta, and when I told him that Carol is a VW Golf, he guessed immediately the series, saying that, yes, that model is inclined to have that kind of issues with the gearbox. I did another silent round of cursing, fearing the worst. Luckily in the end only a small piece was broken, but there's four similar parts in the car, two have been replaced and the other two are still there… ready to break at some point, so I'm afraid that my misadventures with Carol will have a sequel.

Anyway, even if the car is delicate but resilient, I'm very happy with it. Misadventures are stories to tell, and I am getting more and more affectionate to Carol. With her I'm building memories. Thanks to her I had a wonderful summer and great fun driving and singing and eating candies and laughing and everything that makes road trips worth doing. She's far away from perfect, but neither am I, so I guess we make a really nice pair.

I hope that the next story I'll tell here will not be named "Carol died in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country".

Thanks to Jenny Richie for the pictures from the car!

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Comments (34)

  • I really like reading your stories with Carol. I really hope she feels better after her complicated holidays.

      24 days ago
  • Oh Carol... It may be worth taking Carol to an auto electrician and having her checked over - some issues are due to the wiring getting frazzled over time and one thing leads to another.. BTW, anyone reading this should take a look at and check out her amazing drawings!

      21 days ago
    • Yeah I should bring her there, but in a second moment, the important is that the mechanic stuff works for now 😂 and yes Jenny's draws are awesome 😁

        21 days ago
  • The reliability of German cars appears to be a bit of a myth, electrical issues seem to creep in as the year's go on.

      21 days ago
  • What generation of golf?

      21 days ago
  • Thanks for sharing your story, it does sound like the old girl is struggling a bit. As others already noted I would be concerned about the oil loss. If you are topping up the oil every 1,000 km or less, I hate to tell you but it sounds like you have some major issues in the engine. You didn’t mention if there is oil on the ground after parking or if you see a blueish smoke coming from the exhaust. It could be a number of things - Piston rings are not sealing, head gasket is leaking, valve guides are leaking or if you are lucky it could be a PCV valve that is stuck. It does sound like piston rings or valve guides based on your description, which is likely causing your spark plugs to foul up, which in turn is likely the cause of your check engine light. I’d have a mechanic do a quick check to see if it something simple like a stuck PCV valve, make sure you check your oil on a regular basis because you are vulnerable to major engine failure if you don’t keep an eye on it. Best bet, take the old girl to a trusted mechanic and have them do some basic diagnostics to nail down your problem, hopefully it is something minor. If not, I would consider selling and moving on to your next adventure, but if you have a real attachment to the car then it’s a personal choice on whether to sink money into it.

      21 days ago
    • Thanks for the suggestions, but I had the car checked at least 3 times after the check engine light, there's no oil leaking, and no blue smoke or they would have noticed. Probably is just thirsty because age and long distance trips I don't...

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        21 days ago
    • Glad they found no oil leaks or blue smoke, the Volkswagen Golf is known to be somewhat of an oil guzzler. Maybe the next time you take it in for normal service ask them to inspect your spark plugs to make sure they are not fouled. If they are that...

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        20 days ago
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