the 'First car experience'
Think back, you've just passed your test and bought your first car. What was your experience? ...I’ll start with mine, but before i start, it's bad!
Let me set the scene. I was 20, studying at university and had just passed my test (I know relatively late for a petrol head), but in my defence there was no way I would’ve been able to pay for my lessons any earlier than that.
I had chosen to do my test at 7:00 in the morning (my tutor told me this was the best time, as due to rush hour, they only had a few routes they could take you on). I remember being the first one back at the test centre, I looked in my wing mirror and could see my tutor nervously walking up to the car, it was clear that he was wondering why I was back so early, and rightly so! (Right up until the day of the test I’d been pretty lazy with things such as stopping at crossing and right of ways), now I know you should do this, and I did, but when learning as I’m sure you will all know, they make you stop way earlier than any normal driver… and half the time, I couldn’t be bothered with that. So naturally my tutor was a little worried I’d fail, but his fears were alleviated when I stepped out of the car and told him the good news. Yes, I’d passed, which I was extremely pleased about. So I headed home to tell my parents before catching the bus to work later that day. I know… Depressing right? I’d just passed, but couldn’t afford a car, so had to go a whole month without driving before finally getting my hands on one.
We looked for what seemed like an age for a cheap enough car, I only had £1000 to spend (if that). I remember trekking around Luton at the (dodgy) used car dealers. Now for those that don’t know, Luton in the UK is a graveyard for dodgy pre-owned ‘first’ cars. I remember turning up at a dealer and my mum refusing to get out of the car, citing that “she didn’t feel comfortable doing so”. (Now I know, as with any place, look in the right areas and you will find some good trusty car dealers… but we certainly didn’t!).
Nevertheless, my Dad and continued our search, but there was nothing suitable or in good shape. So we gave up on finding a car in Luton and made another terrible decision… we decided to buy my first car at auction. Now there is nothing wrong with this auction, or auctions in general, but I’m sure you will all know at least one person with an auction horror story to tell, so you'll know as well as me that you must be careful... and neither my Dad or I knew enough about cars to know if what we were buying was worth it.
Anyways, the auction was on a Wednesday and Friday night, we’d go at least once a week, and I have to admit, it was pretty fun! Then eventually, on a cold January evening, after a few weeks with no luck, we spotted a red Vauxhall Corsa which looked in great condition (and it was… on the outside at least!). It had over 100,000 miles on the clock and a very dodgy service history.
For some (clearly silly) reason, we decided to buy it… I personally think we got carried away in the heat of the moment (my mum has a history of getting carried away at auctions), and for just under £1000 it was mine… my first car, and however rubbish it was, I loved it!
But that's where the joy ended and the trouble began...
A week or so after I got my car (yes… only a week!) my Dad and my sister decided to take me on the motorway for some experience. We joined the motorway one junction down, I remember my Dad turning to me and saying “take it easy, you don’t have to go in the fast lane if you’re not comfortable” ...what was he kidding, did he even know me!? I didn’t waste a second and was in the fast lane in a flash. All was going smoothly, the car seemed to be driving fine at motorway speeds, but then I had to slow down as we turned off the motorway, and that’s where the problems began. The car refused to accelerate over 20mph, I’d only been driving for around a week so had no idea what was going on! A queue was forming behind me, I was so embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. I had to drive the three miles back home at 20mph… which might have been okay, had I not lived in Milton Keynes at the time, the city of dual carriageways and roundabouts! (I now know the car had likely put itself into ‘limp mode’).
Now I know these Vauxhall SXI engines were notorious for drinking oil, but this thing was on another level! When I got this car, I was in my second year of University, and one time, I had a full day of lectures, so decided to drive up in the car. I knew the car drunk oil, so ensured I filled up the oil tank before leaving (stupidly thinking that would be enough), and off I went. I barely made it to University, in the hour or so journey the car had ran out of oil, it was jumping around and again struggling to go much faster than 20mph. In the end, I had to park on the outskirts of the city and walk over to Halfords (on the other side of the city) to get some oil. So before I left, I filled up the car and off I went, hoping to make it home. But I didn’t, I had to stop about 20 minutes away at a holiday inn (I had however learned my lesson this time, and had bought extra oil). So I filled up (again) and fortunately made it home… but blimey it was stressful! I wasn’t going to do that again any time soon.
This car had so many problems and the warning sound was so loud it would make me jump every time, this wasn’t helped by the fact that almost every time there was a warning sound on that car, it was a very big issue. That sound has imprinted in my mind, to this day I still jump a little even when I hear the petrol warning sound go on in my car.
Anyway, the oil problem got worse… (It turns out, although I don’t know the full reason, the timing chain had slipped which was part of what was causing the issue). It got to the point that every time I would turn the car on, I would be driving with white smoke pouring out of my exhaust for at least 5 minutes. Don’t believe me? Check out the video below.
Smoke, smoke and more smoke. There were times it was even worse than this!
The car was so messed up, I could even get to 3rd gear just using the clutch power... I guess you could say I had my very own McLaren F1!
Naturally… this couldn’t go on, I had to get rid of it! Now to remind you, I was a student, and although I was working at the same time, I didn’t have lots of free cash, so needed to get something for this car or at least part exchange it. I remember looking at a Fiat Punto (my parents disagreed, they wanted me to get a VW… as at least they were reliable). But I liked to look, and although it was a little pricey I wanted to see what we could do. We cleaned up my car, filled up the oil and tried to see if we could part exchange it… absolutely no chance, they took one look at the smoke pouring out of the exhaust, and laughed us off the (dodgy) forecourt.
Eventually I gave up on my Fiat Punto dream, and caved. We found a 2002 VW Polo with just under 100,000 miles on the clock. It was in great condition, the place wasn’t dodgy, and more importantly it satisfied my parents. Now, this car was actually slower than my Corsa, but blimey did that thing serve me well. I drove it 3 days a week to University and back, and passed it down to my sister, all with very few problems (other than some idiot knocking off my wing mirror in the parking lot!) but that was just cosmetic.
I came back from lectures to find this... no note, nothing, they'd just driven off!
So that’s my story, now I know many of you will have cringed multiple times in this article at the many mistakes I made along the way, but I learned my lesson… eventually!
So what’s your story? I'd like to hear about your first car experience, whether it's good or bad! Let me know in the comments below.
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