After nine years of driving me around Texas and Florida, my little 2004 Dodge Neon (aka Big Red) finally gave out on me Tuesday night. I was heading home from work. Shortly after passing the Swap Shop on Sunrise Blvd., I heard something snap in the engine and fall to the ground. Big Red immediately lost power, so I steered him into a gas station in a not-so-nice area of Fort Lauderdale.
Something snapped in my little red car Tuesday night as I drove on Sunrise Blvd. Outlook doesn’t look good. pic.twitter.com/5JnRgaCJWI
— Joseph Gonzales (@joseph11ag) September 22, 2017
Well, the thing that snapped turned out to be the timing belt. Repairing it would cost more than $1000, which is more than the car is worth. So now I’m left with no choice but to accept the fate of my beloved car. That drive home was the last time I’ll ever drive it. And although it makes me sad to know that Big Red is dead, I can only be thankful for all the years of faithful service it provided me.
Besides, the timing seems right to let it go. Lots of things are about to change in my life in the next 6 months. Aniela and I are expecting a baby boy in just a few weeks. We bought a Toyota Rav-4 in anticipation of the baby. We wanted to have a baby-friendly car in the driveway if one of our two cars were to suddenly break down. And that’s exactly what happened.
Related post: Joe’s Journal – September 2017
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Let me tell you the story on my car. It was a hot June day in 2008 when I bought the Dodge Neon from the used car selection of Hub Hyundai in Katy, Texas. It was the last of 13 dealerships I had visited that day. I absolutely had to buy a car that day. The Ford Taurus I had driven for the previous nine years had finally given out on me while I was in Katy. I lived in Austin at the time and I had to work the next morning. So I needed something to drive back home.
The little red Dodge Neon was the first car I noticed on the lot. It was separate from all the other cars and it had just been washed. It looked sporty and fun. I loved it. It had a manual transmission, which I was hoping to avoid, but aside from that, I immediately felt this was my next car.
I basically paid for the car with a couple of credit cards. Not too wise, I know, but that’s all I had to work with at the time. Although I made regular payments on those credit cards, I could never seem to eliminate their balances. I finally settled with the card companies in 2015 to be completely free of them. The car cost around $7,500, but considering the interest on the cards, I probably paid much more for it.
MY RELIABLE DODGE NEON
But again, I can’t complain. This car was good to me. I eventually gave my Dodge Neon the nickname of Big Red…not for its size, but for the big trust I had been able to put in the car over the years. It almost seemed to have a personality to me. I imagined that it was enthusiastically eager to take me wherever I needed to go. American cars are not highly-regarded these days…especially Dodges. But this one Dodge Neon was like a loyal pet…faithful and reliable to me even when I was neglectful to it.
Even just before this incident with the timing belt, the engine was responsive and tough. It definitely lacked the power and quickness it once had, but it was mostly capable of doing what I needed it to do. For most of the last year, I’ve been taking the train each morning to Deerfield Beach, which is 24 miles to the north. There at the Deerfield Beach station, Big Red would be there waiting for me to drive it to work. And then after work, I’d leave it again at the Deerfield station overnight and would take the train back down to Hollywood.
This routine not only freed me of the burden of driving in traffic on i95, but also kept 50 daily miles off of Big Red’s odometer. He’d become like an old timer who could no longer do what he once did. So you give him an easy task so he can still feel like he’s important and part of the team. But even the minimal task of driving a few miles in Deerfield each day had become too much for Big Red. On at least six occasions in the last year, he’s been in the shop for repairs…some of which were quite expensive. Once we bought the Rav-4, Aniela and I agreed that Big Red’s next expensive breakdown would be the last of him. Even if the needed repair was inexpensive, paying for insurance for three cars in Florida is a luxury we can no longer afford.
“I HAVE SOME UNFORTUNATE NEWS FOR YOU”
Over the phone, my mechanic spoke like a doctor who carried the heavy burden of bad news. It was like he was telling me there was no hope of recovery for someone I loved. He said that a complete repair of the timing belt would easily cost more than $1,000. From what he described, one must take many things apart to replace a timing belt because it’s not easy to access. The bad news left me with no other choice but to scrap it. He said they would “take care of it.” I felt guilty…like a family member who must take a loved one off life support.
He also gave me the option of replacing only the timing belt for $350. This didn’t make sense to me: how could I rely on the car if he didn’t repair everything? He said this option would enable the car to run for a little while so I could sell it. I finally understood the shady idea he was suggesting. But there was no way I could do that. For all the gratitude and appreciation I have for this car, the last thing I’d want to do is unethically sell it to someone without disclosing its true condition. I’ve bought enough junkers in my life to know that I don’t want to sell one.
I don’t want anyone to curse this car after regretfully buying it. That would be an undignified ending to Big Red’s great story. I would rather prefer that his last moments were during that ride with me on Sunrise Blvd. as he worked to take me home one last time. After hearing the snap of the belt, I knew that had to be the end. I could almost imagine him telling me “This is no big deal, Joe…I’ll be in and out of the shop and then I’ll be good as new. I still got 50k miles in me. I won’t let you down.”
Well Big Red, you didn’t let me down. You were an awesome car til the very end and I’m thankful to have driven you for so many years.
I WILL MISS THIS CAR
Aside from all the rides from point A to point B, I took a thousand naps in this car. Its AC always kept me cool and its brakes always kept me safe…not one accident in nine years. It doesn’t embarrass me in the least to be sentimental about a car. It was something I needed and relied on every day for several years. During good times and bad times, it was there for me like a friend…taking me wherever I needed to go.
Human or machine, anyone or anything you learn to depend on for so many years is going to mean a lot to you. And that’s how I feel about this little car. I doubt I’ll ever own another car that means so much to me as this one.
So long, Big Red…and thank you. You were an awesome little car.