Giving up the ghost

The Grey Ghost, that is.

1999 Volvo S70 in Twillingate, Newfoundland. I just realized that this picture was taken before the new car was even built!

After spending more time in the shops than out over the last couple weeks, and a couple thousand on credit cards that I will be paying for for a long, long time to come, the Volvo was still not right and I think someone will finally get around to actually doing that compression test that I asked for after it overheated.

It came back from the last place, after having the radiator and radiator hoses replaced, running rough on a cold start, but would smooth out after a couple of minutes. Being daring, we took it to NH for our camping trip. It ran fine the whole way there. It felt strong, even. But, the first morning there, when I started it up, not only did it run rough, but the low coolant light came on again. The frig?!?!?! I had been checking under the car for drips since it came back from the radiator shop and saw nothing. I was even looking under there, as a precaution, as we drove north and had to stop on occasion to change a diaper or run a baby. Nothing. So, where the heck was the coolant going?

We came home early because the weather was turning shitty. Calin did great in the tent during the first batch of thunder, lightning, rain, high winds and reported hail, but that was only for a couple hours. The forecast for the entire next day was more of the same. Keeping Hulkababy entertained in a tent for an entire day was not something LN or I even wanted to try, so during a break in the storm, we packed up and decided to head for home. When the last bag was in the trunk and the kid was in the seat, I discovered that I no longer had the key in my pocket. JOY! Long story short (including such highlights as carrying a 27# baby on a death march through a mosquito plagued woods/swamp and a rescue by a good Samaritan), we left camp the next morning, just as the weather was starting to turn.

With the engine cold, I re-filled the coolant reservoir with water and started it up. Very rough. Rougher than it had been so far. And with a ton of smoke pouring out the tailpipe now. Fortunately, the park was nearly empty, otherwise we would have had angry campers chucking logs at us as we drove past on our way out. Eventually, the smoke stopped, but I think my hunch about that warped head or blown head gasket was starting to play out.

Once LN’s phone was charged, she started looking for a “new” car. The day after we arrived home, she found two. The first we thought was at our local VW dealer, but it turns out it was actually in Danvers and the dealerships were just cross-pollinating their inventories. No way we were driving the now dying Grey Ghost to north of Salem, MA! It also so happens that one of my old wiffle buddies is a VW mechanic and has access to the VW computer system. He checked the car in the database and told us to avoid it like Death. The second car, located in Wakefield, RI (and closer to family should we need a rescue), turned out to be a much better car with fewer miles and a lower cost. Less bells and whistles, sure, but even the mechanic buddy admitted that this could be a plus.

Yesterday morning, I cleaned out 8 years of accumulated junk from the Grey Ghost, filled the coolant reservoir, packed in the wife and baby and away with us. Car ran great all the way there, but within a mile of the dealership, the low coolant light came back on and we would have no time to let it cool down so that I could fill it again. Eff it. They will take it in trade or we will figure something else out. Oh! This was great. On our way there, we were discussing our strategy on how to deal with the dealer and getting our stories in sync should they try a divide and conquer approach. LN tells me that I am too nice to people and I should let her do the talking. Calin, of course, had other ideas on that and it was left to me. The first thing I noticed was that the sticker price on the car was $1000 less than it was listed online (which was already in our budget). I called the saleslady on that and her shoulders visibly slumped like I had just punched her in the stomach. The sticker price was now below Blue Book. While out on the test drive, I talked about the Volvo and how it was getting older, but that I had been good about keeping up with the maintenance and that it was proving to just not be the car for us with the baby; the jog stroller won’t fit, etc, etc. When we get back to the dealership and it is time to start talking numbers, she asks me what I would like for the Volvo in trade. I looked her dead in the eye and said “I’d _like_ $10,000 for it.” That disarmed her a little and she laughed. Jenny groaned. I then said that we looked up the Blue Book trade-in value on it and knew it was worth around $1200, but I knew it needed some work and didn’t think $1000 was bad. On the way down, Jenny suggested we shoot for $500. Saleslady said she would have the mechanic give it a drive and then she’d give us a number. Remember, it was already warm, so I wasn’t too worried about the rough start or the smoke, but that damned low coolant light was on. The mechanic took it for a spin and came back. Saleslady suggested that while they were running the numbers and checking my credit that we go get lunch for awhile and so we left. The low coolant light was off. He may not have seen it at all!

After a long while, we got the call to come back. All approved, insurance transferred, etc, etc. They were offering $990 for the Volvo. We put $2000 (from savings…ouch) down on it and drove the new car off the lot. Monthly payments worked out to $50 lower than we were aiming for. Oh yeah! When the saleslady asked what we were looking for for monthly payments in order to figure out the length of the loan, I said “Well, ultimately what I would like is for you to pay me to drive the car.” She LOLed and Jenny groaned yet again. A little comedy can disarm people and work to your advantage. What LN sometimes sees as silliness, I see as psychology…with a touch of the old Jedi mind trick thrown in to boot.

2009 VW Jetta SportWagen S

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