Friday, September 19, 2008

The Re-Designed Saturn SL2

My 1994 Saturn just turned over 210,000 miles. Most people would trade their car in at 36,000 miles when the bumper-to-bumper warranty runs out, or 100,000 miles when the extended warranty runs out. Not me. Just because I live in a throw away society doesn’t mean I have to cooperate. My Saturn was built to last a good 300,000 miles and I am going to see that it does. Warranty is very important to most people. That’s because when you take your car to a dealer to have it worked on it usually costs about a thousand dollars to get it back. I’m not that old and I can remember when that was the price of a new car.
The reason warranty is so valuable is that cars are made in such a way today that normal people can’t work on them. Not only do you need a computer programming background and be a certified electronics engineer—you also need to know where stuff is. Why do you think they turned engines in cars sideways? It’s because when they faced forward people figured out where all the stuff was. Designers had to put normal wear and tear parts like fuel pumps, alternators, fuel filters and air filters where no one could find them. And just to be sure those that did didn’t mess with them, they put stuff like transmissions, drive lines, air conditioning compressors and radiators in front of them to checkmate any shade tree mechanic who isn’t on a first name basis with Mr. Goodwrench.
That’s why I keep my Saturn with no warranty. I have already found all the stuff and I have retrofitted the car so that I can get to all of it. It’s not that I’m a mechanical genius—far from it. Once I get things apart I can’t always get them back together. So I re-engineer them to my Specs. Take my windshield wipers for instance. They are brilliantly designed with a nut that becomes loose when the arms ice up. That way you don’t burn the motor out. The problem I found was that I had to take half the front end of the car apart to get to the nut and re-tighten it. So—I just cut a hole in the windshield panel and now I can reach right in and tighten that nut—no problem.
Another thing I discovered is that my fancy mag wheels were valuable. My dad stopped at Bob Evans for breakfast one day and when he came out all his fancy hubcaps were gone. If you have nice stuff people tend to steal it. My dad should have known that. When I was a kid and Head Ski gear was all the rage you had to lock your skis to the rack or find them missing. My dad had an old pair of wood slates he used for skis and one day he spray painted them all black and painted the Head Ski logo on the tips. Sure enough, that night someone ripped his skis off. No one wants my wheels anymore because they don’t match. They work just fine. The wheels still go around and the tires stay inflated—they are just visually impaired which makes them safe from thieves—unless they are stupid thieves like the ones who stole my dads wooden Heads.
The reason I bought my Saturn is that it is one of the few cars you can dingy tow behind a motorhome (all four wheels down) and not rack up any miles. It is the reason you see so many Saturns being towed behind motorhomes. Most other models need electric pumps feeding fluid to the transmission as you tow it down the road.
I love my Saturn but I had a hard time buying one. I went to the dealer and they had a brand new marketing program. It was called the "NO HAGGLE" policy. That means whatever the window sticker says the price is—that’s it—No Haggle!
At first I didn’t believe it. I haggled a couple times and got my hand slapped. Finally I gave in and said, "All right, I’ll take it." The salesman got that happy little commission grin on his face and started filling out the purchase agreement. I said, "I need $16,500 on the van I’m trading in." He said, "My guys have looked it all over and said we can give you $14,000." I said, "I’m sorry, I have a ‘NO HAGGLE’ policy."
Needless to say, I didn’t buy a car from that guy. But I still wanted a Saturn and I went just up the street and found one at a dealer with a "HAGGLE ‘TIL YOU DROP" policy.
That little beauty doesn’t owe me a dime. My wife got in a fight with a garbage truck last winter and lost. They wanted $4,500 to fix my little Saturn so the insurance company totalled it. With $200 in new plastic parts and ten screws I had it back together and on the road again. It kind of looks like an alley cat that has seen his share of scraps. A Tomcat with torn ears, one eye missing and half a tail. And just like that Tomcat my little Saturn keeps on going. I live way back in the woods on the worst dirt road in North America. I have seen Jeeps die on my road but it hasn’t even fazed my Saturn. I think Saturn should use my car in their commercials. Instead of showing all those shiny new clean vehicles, put one on display that’s been around the block a few hundred thousand times. I might turn mine in for a hybrid, but I have to find someone I can HAGGLE with. —Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

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