By on February 16, 2011

Sledgehammers aren’t a common mechanic’s tool. Yet there it was. In my neighbor’s hands as he sought to knock some sense into his old Saab. The trunk had leaked from day one and the wiring harness made the rear lights as helter-skelter as a Charlie Manson jailhouse flashback. The cops pulled him over for the third time in a week and as a special, “Thank you!”, to his car, he decided to give it an early Christmas present. Jersey style.

“You cheap, son of a gun, macker-quacker!!!” My neighbor was more Pesci than PG with that line. I saw him heave the sledgehammer up into the atmosphere and then “Thunk!”. A dent on the trunk. But not as big as I expected. Then the second one “Thwack!”. That did it. Strangely enough, the Saab’s trunk area seemed better aligned than ever before. Of course it was all bent. But it was together. He could have thought ‘Mission Accomplished’ at that point. But the artiste was in the moment. Within a few swings from his mighty Thor, his Swede’s rear end became more droopy looking than Al from Happy Days.

I wanted to do the same thing at that moment. But I couldn’t. My car at the time was the late Barnacle Bitch. She always seemed to have something a little wrong every time I drove her. Electrics. Steering. Just the feel of the damned thing. Old Benzes were built by Germans. These new-ish ones were devised by cost cutting Nazis from the 7th circle of Dante’s Inferno.

Though I wanted to take a meat cleaver and customize the entire car, I needed to sell it. Big time. It cost $12,600 and the recession seemed to make it depreciate worse than a Fannie Mae mortgage. So I primped it up, parked it, and tried to think about other things. Everyone loved that thing. Even my mom whose taste in cars rarely go beyond the color.

But for a tightwad like me, that S500 was the financial equivalent of MC Hammer.I wanted my money back damn it!… and it took two years… but I sold it for $13,800. Which covered it’s repairs and a much needed R&R for yours truly.

So what was your unholy rolling shitbox of a vehicle that made you want to Pacino its innards into a fine red mist?

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73 Comments on “(Sledge) Hammer Time: Get Out of My Life!...”

  • avatar

    The Volvo 850 I had sprang a leak in the heater core within a month of me having had the dash all out etc. to replace the stripped odometer gear (I like everything to work in my cars).  I swore it was just screwing with me at that point.

    • 0 avatar

      If you go to dismantle the dash anyways, it is always good to check for possible trouble causers and replace them. A quick search around any Volvo forum will reveal that a heater core is exactly that and will require attention at some point.
      Noone but your own self to blame, really…

    • 0 avatar

      Where’s my hammer, Mr. Helper?  The heater core looked fine and had no signs of leaks when I had the dash apart…

    • 0 avatar

      “looked” fine. Exactly the reason I used to always carry a spare direct ignition module in my saabs. Never got stranded, but used the spare twice. (:

  • avatar

    I’ve managed to get rid the ones that are potentially going to cause to me to go Pacino on them, looking at you ’88 Jeep Comanche.  But I do keep a good selection of hammers and sledges just in case.

  • avatar

    A sledgehammer isn’t a common mechanics’ tool? I use one on almost every job.

  • avatar

    1989 BMW 325 IX Coupe
    Loved it when it ran, hated it when it didnt.
    Needed a new transfer case, Auto transmission and IAC. I was the 4th owner and I traded it back to the original owner for a 1996 Dodge Dakota that never let me down. Not once.

  • avatar

    Well, there was this one Jaguar…

  • avatar

    My wife’s 1984 Volvo 760 Turbo. Finally, a blown headgasket which also gummed up the turbocharger meant we could dump it. I kept it going to keep her happy, even when she had taken over the Outback.

    We agreed that the first repair over $500 would be the end of it, however the first repair over $500 equated to $2500. Sold the car to the local Euro-specialty shop for $500, they ended up parting it out. Electrics were about shot, transmission (TH260) had some life left, but interior and exterior were perfect. They tried to sell us either a 960 or 850, considered the 960 but went with the TL.

  • avatar

    I am more of a tragic figure.  The only cars that have really abused me were the ones I was most in love with.  The big, beautiful black 63 Fleetwood that involuntarily doubled my investment in 6 months when I was a broke college student, and the big beautiful 77 New Yorker Brougham with the 440 and factory HD suspension that abused me with her Lean Burn.  Just thinking about them again makes me want to go and spill my troubles to a bartender.  But I could never bring myself to hit them.

  • avatar

    Friend of mine has a 13 or so year old Volvo S70 that costs him roughly $3,500 a year (and around 1 dealership visit per month) to keep on the road. I’ve pleaded with him to junk the thing and use that money to buy something that costs him nothing more than the occasional oil change, tires, and transmission fluid. He seems to believe a new car would cost about the same to keep on the road. Did I mention he’s not good with money, or cars?

    • 0 avatar
      Shane Rimmer

      My first vehicle was a 1980 Ford F-100 with the 300 straight-6. I finally junked the thing and, upon buying another vehicle, realized, much to my surprise, that I had more money in my pocket every month. I just had no idea how much I was investing in keeping the thing running.

      The final straw with the thing was the day I replaced the radiator cap because it was blowing all of the coolant out of the radiator. After three miles with a new cap, the heater core blew. After bypassing the heater core to get home, the head gasket blew.

      In fairness, the truck was shot when I got it and the total purchase price was dragging out of the previous owner’s yard. I used to carry a big stick in the bed that I would pound on the hood every time the thing broke down on me.

  • avatar

    1997 Subaru Outback. Sucked a valve. Replaced the engine. Ridiculously difficult to replace spark plugs. Check engine light that thought it was a turn signal indicator. I’ve heard rumors that Subarus can be reliable, but not for me.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I heard the same about Volvos.

    • 0 avatar

      ’96 Subaru Outback for me.  It had 100K miles on it when I got it, seemed to have been well maintained, but then everything started to go wrong.  Spent about $3000 on it in the one year I owned it, and ended up trading it in with a failing automatic transmission for $3000 less than what I’d paid for it.  Total repair & depreciation cost for a year of easy driving… about $6K.  And I drove it about 8000 miles.  What a disaster.

  • avatar

    1990 Mazda RX-7.
    I once owned a $600 1983 Buick Lesabre with 235,000 that was infinitely more reliable. That RX-7 was an awful automobile that left me stranded, dazzled me with a never ending array of pretty warning lights and burned through catalytic converters like Lisa Lampanelli goes through Magnum condoms.
    The day that pile of crap went down the road was the happiest day of my life.

  • avatar

    1986 Ford Escort. 2 door hatch with a 4 speed. Bought for $470 dollars when my previous, much loved, car went to the great scrapyard in the sky by way of an electrical fire.
    The windshield leaked, it smoked, the transmission lost 4th gear, then 3rd–BUT it would do 55mph in second.
    Picking up a friend from work one day, we were cruising along when the evil little windup car had one of its shaking fits. He looked at me and asked: “Does anything on this car work?”
    “The radio,” I answered.
    5 minutes later it shorted out. That story was that car in a nut shell. I did eventually go Al Pacino on that thing right before I took it to the junkyard. I asked them to call me when they crushed it. They didn’t, thinking I was joking. I wasn’t.

  • avatar

    Your neighbors a dumas. ALL old Saab 900 sedans leaked a little water around the taillights…nothing a little dumgum couldnt fix. And the electrical problem was solved by running another ground wire around the burnt connection. $50 problem/drama solved.

  • avatar

    I’ve watched this happen a couple of times with one brother in law, a renault r10 was stabbed repeatedly when the deck lid fell down and bonked him, when he started trying to adjust a vw diesel I knew it could only end badly.  Finally convinced him to call first or just take to mechanic, no more auto abuse.

  • avatar

    Never in my life had an urge to hammer a car, even an old Moskvich or any of the 6 SAABs that I had.
    On the contrary, it is car owners that positvely beg to be kicked in that boney bubble with a few holes above their shoulders with heavy objects – for the sake of some… mmm…  mentality reset. 
    Cars’ ills are so oftem just a reflection of their owners’ stupidity, carelessness or inability to look after his own stuff.

    The author’s old SAAB abusing neighbor seems like a perfect candidate for the procedure. Insted of beating the old stager, the moron of the man should have spent an hour to replace the trunk seal and some more to clean and isolate the rear lights’ contacts.

  • avatar

    A little off topic, but a big F’in hammer is a useful tool when working on a car’s suspension.  I remember reading the directions for installing disc brakes on a 60’s Mustang, included using of a BFH.  I believe it went something like hit it as hard as you can; when it doesn’t come off, hit it harder (I believe the blows were to be directed towards the spindle).

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t believe I had to scroll this far through the comments, entertaining though they have been, to see a reference to the ubiquitous BFH. A must-have tool in any mechanic’s collection.
      And if the BFH don’t fix it, it’s time to break out the EBFH. Which is even bigger, obviously.

    • 0 avatar

      I always have a hammer in my tool box when I go to the junkyard. Brute force is a quick and easy approach when it doesn’t matter if you’re going to damage something.

  • avatar

    Had a 72 Ford Custom 500 Land Yacht Family Wagon Truckster. Not that it was a bad car. I only paid 500 bucks for it and it ran 2 years without putting a part into it so cant complain but one day it came down with a flat tire and I was on a busy street and in a hurry too. Pulled off safely to change it and was so frigging mad that the nuts would not release so I upped and kicked the offending tire, missed it completely and hit the rim and broke my toe. Just then a guy I know pulls over seeing me hopping up and down and starts laughing his ass off at me. Well that just infuriated me more so I took a punch at the rear panel behind the side window and the rear window panel. Cars are structually very strong at that point as it supports the room from the body. Now I am doing the broken toe dance while holding on to my bruised hand and and this guy calmly says, “Mike you better quit while you can still stand up” I am still embarrassed at losing it that day but it must have looked damn funny.
    That old tank went to the boneyard and yielded me 50 bucks two years later and it go me through some mighty tough times.
    Seems to me that was sometime in 77 or 78.

  • avatar

    1980 Mercedes 240D. Never mind that I converted it to vegetable oil; it ran like crap before that. I’ve never spent so much time troubleshooting vacuum lines. Central locking is a nice feature when it’s electric. And, when electric locks fail or go haywire, they don’t also wreak havoc on the rest of the car.
    A vacuum leak in a door actuator in this car didn’t just mean I was inconvenienced. Noooo. The vent controls also won’t work right. The fuel cover might remain locked, leaving you unable to fill up. It also means the transmission will hold shifts until near redline, and then dump it into second with tire-chirping ferocity, scaring nearby pedestrians and giving whiplash to unsuspecting passengers. And, when you turn the key to “OFF,” the car may not shut down.
    See, the cutoff valve for the fuel pump is also vacuum-operated. Insufficient vacuum means fuel keeps going to the engine. In a diesel, that’s all you need to keep the thing going. It’ll idle along until you stall it out or plug the leak.
    Did I mention that diesels don’t generate vacuum? They don’t have a throttle. So to run all this stuff, the car has a belt-driven vacuum pump. Which can fail. And costs many hundreds of dollars to replace.
    I bought that thing for $2500. I sold it a year and a half later, with veggie oil kit, for $1500. It was a stately and beautiful car, but there’s never been a day where I’ve not been glad it’s out of my life.

    • 0 avatar
      Ethan Gaines

      Me mum had a 1984 300 SDL it wouldnt stop either when you cut the ignition off, but luckily the Sonderklasses came with a big red buttton, that functioned as a choke for the engine. Its a shame that at 5 years old, I was the one to figure that out at the time. I loved that noisy, rackety, big, dark blue piece of shite. I do despise the day she pulled up in that annoying, bright white, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. It had half the gas milage of the long wheelbase oil burner, had a transmission that punked out twice, and started leaking antifreeze at least five different times. “Imported from Detroit”

    • 0 avatar

      I love it when people think that everything else works.
      My Mercedes-Benz “unstoppable” w123 was a 128k mile 240D with Automatic and Air Conditioning. It broke-down the day I got it(algae plugged the tank screen– hit by a Camry that drove away mangled) and never had correct charging, fuel, brake, vacuum or cooling systems. I endured this for 3 Years– sucking-off the car to get it to shut down, driving in the rain using the very last battery reserves to run the wipers– Yeah. It was fantastic. The stop lever can stop working– mine did. Barely slowed that beast. I had a piece of vacuum line I’d pull and suck on to turn it off. It was very elegant.
      Oddly enough– It seems like I’d saved up all my frustrations for the Mercedes-Benz, and took them out on the innocent, darling little neon I’d owned 8 years prior, and still own– 5 years later. I had the first real trouble out of the neon. An intermittent stalling condition. The car had been repaired by a backyard mechanic, and badly. Being the spoiled brat I was– I demanded a new one. We’d been through crank sensors, cam sensors, battery, engine grounds– ignition and timing.
      While rebuilding the engine wiring harness, that gentle brute of a leon felt my wrath. In a moment of rage– I kicked, screamed–cursed– and shut the hood with the prop-rod still-attached. I then hurled the battery toward the window. It was assumed by my person there would be a glorious shower of glass and plastic; that the old econocoupe would be reduced, by my actions, to be junkyard tat. I was so very wrong.
      The battery nicked-up the power-bulge hood– a corner piercing the sandwich-glass windshield in a beautifully-kinetic, sparkly dent. It rolled along the roof panel(not popping the sunroof,) slid down the rear windshield– dented the driver’s side trunk panel and fell on the driveway. After all that fire, the sensor I was rebuilding wiring on was the culprit, and I drove the car another year with the broken window. It changed, completely, how I view automobile trouble– how I view branding– and what I view as luxury.
      Emotional outbursts are defining moments, it’s fun sometimes.

  • avatar

    My nightmare car was a 2010 (that’s not a typo) VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen. A car that was engineered in Germany by the inheritors to Rube Goldberg’s design philosophy, and built in Mexico by a gentle peasant folk too busy ducking druglord gun fire be really sure that the ABS sensor is plugged in properly. An unholy alliance of German and Mexican influences not seen since the infamous 1917 Zimmermann letter. Except this time, the Mexicans were complicit with my German tormenters, and my car was thusly named. 

    The first new car I bought outright with cash-in-hand and meant to be kept for at least the coming decade, Zimmermann tormented me for 10 painful months before I ended the relationship. Lured by promises of 40+ mpg on the average, I found myself sqaurely disappointed by the mere 32 mpg that was delivered by my dealer’s red toyota corolla loaner car, which I sadly seemed to drive more often than Zimmermann. The loaner car and I became so close, that she shared her name with me; Gladys. (her full name was Gladys Notta-Jetta) Sure she was a cheap and homely girl. Word around the shop was that pretty much everyone had had a turn at her. But she was reliable and was always qucik to get me going.

    You see, Zimmermann (we call him Z) was convinced that in a former life he was a Christmas tree. He felt the need to constantly amuse me by regaling me of his former life by illuminating various colored lights on his dashboard, andthen turning them back off. The dealer failed to believe me (about the lights, I didn’t tell him about Zimmermann’s former life for fear of damaging my credibility). No codes were stored in the computer, and I was able to finally suprise Z and take a cell phone picture of the lights so that the dealer would investigate further. I spent two days with Gladys while the whizkids at the dealership tried to convince Z that he was, in fact, a car, not a tree.

    Once we got past that hurdle, Z was depressed over his lot in life guzzling fuel oil and groaned constantly. He did this by allowing his giant panoramic moonroof to shift against the car frame at every possible opportunity. Again, I went back to the dealer so they could prescribe some anti-depression meds to Z while I hit the town with Gladys.

    After Z was straightened out this time, we found out that anti-depression meds can sometimes lead to suicidal behavior, and Z was no exception. There were bouts of stalling in traffic, and I once caught him with his subframe bolts loosened in a deliberate attempt to kill us both on a windy road. Again, we went back to the dealer and Galdys was there again to see me through it. This time, the dealer gave me the sad news that Z may never recover from his tendencies. I was told it was in his genetics that he’d always have a screw loose. Thier advice? Go easy on him. Don’t ask too much.

    Distraught, I asked around the most bestest place in the world for information: the interweb!! I found others who cared for siblings of Z, and would you believe that many of them are suicidal? Apparently, much like Momma Cass, they like to go out choking on a ham sandwich, or in this case, by choking on a blown fuel pump. So sad.

    Now I had to break the news to Z that our relationship was over. It wasn’t him, it was me. I’m just not the type to have a relationship with someone high maintenance.  We both got lucky in the end. He was young and still shy on miles, and a fine Canadian was more than willing to give him a good home. I hope Z likes Canada. I hope he stays there.

  • avatar

    The Volvo 850 I had sprang a leak in the heater core within a month
    My 190e2.3 was like that, I routed the hot wasser thru the A/C core, u do need to take out the expansion valve or else u get very little heat. Soon as the valve was by passed it has enuf heat for roasting a chicken.
    working on car electrics can be very frustrating at times. I have tried to wire heavy gauge into shorted fuse just to let the short burn. Because u just can never find the short anyways, they always hide in places where sun dont shine.
    Those Merc, VW fuses are wonderfully deceiving as a bad one can mimmick a good one, now besides pulling them out to see I also twist them ( rotation ) as it can break down the oxidations on both ends.
    One bad fuse took me 1/2 hr of investigating inside before I can trace back to the issue!
    Wonder if it were Fuhrer’s revenge, in the old days the gas leak from the VW were blamed for that. As the heat exchanger got old, is very hard to separate gas from hot air in these cars. Always drive with some window down.

  • avatar

    75 Ford pickup. Biggest POS I ever owned. It is the reason I will never own a Ford vehicle again. When I had enough, I drove it to my friends farm and we used a couple of AK- 47’s to put it out of it’s misery. I wasn’t there, but he said the look on the tow truck drivers face when he came to pick it up was priceless. I highly recommend a gun over a hammer. Much less effort, much better effect.

  • avatar

    1980 Audi 5000
    Three dealer trips, best ‘fix” obtained was removal of the electric component, a tiny relay, from the box of relays under the hood and replaced by a shunt that had to be plugged in/unplugged every stop/start evolution.
    Rain, whatever, open hood, plug in one end of the shunt, close hood, drive away until time to stop for more than a moment, then unplug wire until time to depart then repeat evolution.
    Worked but what a pain!!!!!!!!!!
    Sold car a few months later at a loss.
    Replaced with a “junkyard” purchased wrecked 1978 Toyota pick-up.
    Fixed sheetmetal and mechanical damage.
    Used for several years.
    Lived within for awhile.
    Much more room than prior cars used as a bedroom.
    Movin’ on up!!!!!!

    • 0 avatar

      Was it the fuel pump relay? My toolbox still contains an in line fuseholder with an 8A fuse and spade terminals used to bypass the fuel pump relay on a VW with K Jetronic, either for testing or bodging.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Amen to that, only mine was a diesel!  Observerd top  speed (with a slight downgrade) 67 mph!  Steering rack boot tore, requiring replacement of rack because of fluid loss.  Heater core failure, dumping coolant inside the vehicle.  Trunk seal leaked, allowing water to accumulate in trunk well where vacuum pump operating centrla locking system was located.  Main fuse in a/c system failed every winter, requiring replacement to have operable a/c the following summer.  Taillight assembly used aluminum “fingers” for electrical contacts.  These oxidized regularly, creating all kind of odd electrical gremlins as they failed to conduct.

      Oh, yes . . . I almost forgot.  Head gasket failure at ~40,000 miles.  Replacement head gasket showing signs of possible failure 18 months later.

      Also, pin breaking in shift linkage caused car to jump out of gear in reverse.

      However, the paint and interior were very nice.  This was a very comfortable car to drive and seemed to be the ideal size to carry 4 adults comfortably.

  • avatar

    My 2013 Alfa Romeo.

  • avatar

    My personal carpocalypse happened in the mid 80s.  My boss talked me into buying a gray market Mercedes 500SL (Euro model) that had supposedly been Federalised and DOTed.  While it was a beautiful car, the mechanicals were crap.  Within 6 months I had spent several thousand fixing this and that.  The car had ABS brakes (way before their intro to the US market) and the control unit failed.  I spent hours on the phone to Germany trying to get the part at egregious expense.  This repeated itself too many times.  One night out with my then lady friend at a drunken party, it refused to start.  I went apeshit and kicked out one tail light and put several dents in the door.  Of course this cost me big $$$ to correct before I finally sold it for less than half of what I’d paid for it.  The ultimate d’enouement occured when I got a call from the (stupid, but not as stupid as me) new owner claiming it had originally been stolen in Germany and the local police had confiscated it!  I don’t know why he never sued me.

  • avatar

    I took a shovel to an old ’88 Hardbody once, but in all fairness it was because she stuck me out in BFE in my shorts.  It’s funny, that truck sold me on hardbodies, and it was pretty darn good considering the lack of care it had suffered over a fairly long life.
    I also used to kick my old ’78 Monte Carlo pretty hard.  Until it started knocking the Bondo out of the dents. . .

  • avatar

    1988 SAAB 900 Turbo, red convertible w/ tan leather interior.  I was just back from Army basic training and had more money than sense.  I traded in my Silver 1988 SAAB turbo 3 door hatch with 96,000 miles for the convertible with a full service history but unknown miles (clock said 118k).  Red convertible.
    I ended up keeping the car for 10 years during which time I replaced pretty much any and every electrical component.  The odometer quit working at 220,000 and I kept it on the road for another 4 years.  I had such good service with the other 900 (and 2 SAABs since) but the fact was she was worn out when I got her.  Goes to show that one can keep a car running way after you should (just add money and time).  Got to where it was like the 1950s Cuban “yank tanks” that was held together by increasingly unconventional means.
    That said, I will probably never own a car that I love as much as the red SAAB convertible.

  • avatar

    1966 Rover 2000, bought a year old with 65k miles. It used a quart of oil every 500 miles I drove it, and didn’t burn a drop, instead it was sprayed all over the engine compartment, mostly through the cam cover gasket. Said gasket was the only part that the dealer ever seemed to have in stock, good thing as each new one would start leaking within 200 miles. Didn’t matter if I used permatex, finger-tightened the cam cover bolts or rammed them down as hard as I could.
    The engine had little right-angle molded hoses to move water from one part to another, and those plus the radiator hoses were all made of natural rubber. Every cursed one of them failed within a period of three or four months. I learned that a slightly longer piece of heater hose could be looped and used in place of the right-angle original.
    The best thing that Rover ever did for me was to break its half-shaft before we set out on a trip from western Washington to Ohio, so that we used the 1958 Plymouth convertible instead and had a trouble-free trip. Can you imagine being stranded in, say, Wyoming with a Rover 2000 with a broken half-shaft, in 1968? As it was, it took six weeks to get parts and another week to get the repair done.
    The most frustrating thing about that damn unreliable car was that it was so great when it was up and running. It cornered very nicely on twisty two-lane roads, would outrun Mercedes and Volvo sedans, had great styling, and nicely aromatic red leather seats.
    I saw it on a car lot several years after I’d gotten rid of it. Told the guy I used to own it, and he asked if I wanted it back. Um, no thank you, thanks just the same.

  • avatar

    I’ve about had it with my ’00 VW Passat. So many little squeaks and rattles. Going in the shop tomorrow for new rear shocks and tires, plus A/C work – I live in FL and in about 2 weeks “winter” will be over. Its really not work putting any more time or money into the car at nearly 90K on the clock with the 1.8T sitting under the hood. I have to replace the ABS computer before I sell because nobody would buy it with the dash constantly blinking STOP BRAKE FAILURE.

  • avatar

    Citroen AX.
    Bought at auction for about 175 quid. Sort of worked, farted along, electrics did what they wanted, whenever they wanted and then did nothing at all. The interior was sh*te, it rattled like crap, drove like crap and a few weeks after I bought the thing the head gasket blew. Even though I knew someone who would skim the head for very little money and I could do the head gasket myself, I decided that this horrid French built tin can deserved a messy end.
    So after a particularly drunken evening myself and some friend chained it to the back of a tractor and dragged it sorry ass around a newly plowed field. Bump-smash-roll-crunch. We then reversed the tractor over the bonnet before using the farm forklift to crush the roof in. Then my friend thought it’d be a ‘great’ idea to torch it…
    We left the remains for the local Gypsy scrap merchants.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    1990 Ford Ranger with the 2.9 pushrod V6, 110K on the dash. Borrowed it from a friend for a week when he was on vacation and my S10’s starter bolts broke, knocked the starter off and cracked the flexplate. What a gutless POS that was, while it was only 20HP short of the TBI 4.3 V6 I usually drove it was way down in torque. That and it used a quart of oil and gallon of antifreeze in the 300 miles I drove it, turns out it had cracked heads. Just drove the truck again last week, of course now it has a 302 H.O so it’s a different story.

  • avatar

    My dad bought a new ’78 Peugeot back when diesels were the rage for their 30+ mpg that fit this description. That car had more engine problems. Parts took weeks to arrive every time something broke and few would even attempt to work on it. When the car hit 100,000 miles eight years later, the body was in perfect condition but the car was hauled off to the junk yard.

  • avatar

    2003 VW Passat 4Motion wagon. Beautiful car, but expensive to maintain. Fuel economy was disappointing, low 20’s, and it needed premium gas. The CEL would throw odd codes on occasion, but never held them long enough for VAGCOM to read them. The kicker was when the rear end started making the classic whirring sound of a dying differential. $5000 new, $1900 for a used one (sans warranty.) The car got kicked to the curb and a Focus wagon replaced it. The only way you could spend $5000 fixing a Focus is if you drained out all the oil and coolant and drove it to work.

  • avatar

    My first car, a 1984 VW rabbit diesel, was a great car.  My second car, another 1984 VW Rabbit diesel was a pile of crap.  I don’t blame VW though, I blame the monkeys who worked on it before I got it.  They thoroughly messed-up the engine, then screwed around with the injection pump timing until the thing started fine as long as the outside temperature was above freezing.

  • avatar

    1991 Audi 200 20V Avant
    When it ran good it was a hotrod (140m/hr station wagon), comfortable, Quattro with the torsen center diff. Just lots of piddly stuff to continually work on, initially is was the challenge to sort it out but………
    These gems require lots of love, I ran out of love.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen brother, you said it perfectly “initially is was the challenge to sort it out but………”

      I had an 84 Audi 5000 turbo with 79,000 miles when I bought it.   Like you said, continuous repairs and troubleshooting.
      Everytime I solved or repaired something I felt like WOW, I solved it. The Bentley manual was required bathroom reading material.    It got old having every 2nd or 3rd weekend dedicated to Audi repairs.   But darn when it was sorted I sure loved it.  

      I see Audi 5 cylinder models with 180,000+ miles for sale all the time.   So two years ago I ran across an 84 Audi Avant with 26,000 miles original miles.  
      Link:[email protected]/4721650016/ 
      I thought, darn the old one I had must have just been a lemon.  This low mileage non-turbo example ought to last me at least 5 trouble free years.
      Not!!   It’s a repeat performance of my 84 Turbo. 

      Today it is 100% sorted, but I feel like I own a ticking time bomb.   TICK TICK TICK

      The sick thing is that someday I want an 84-87 Coupe GT.    It’s a disease!   

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    1982 Chevrolet Celebrity: Now to be fair, I took possession of the car in 1993 when it had been in the family since 1985 and 45,000 miles.  It had approximately 100,000 miles on it when dad gave it to me.  My father intended to give me a POS because honestly, it was all he could afford and his first couple cars were POS that he believed taught him character.  The body had pretty bad cancer and the wonderful early 80s clearcoat was going “frosty” on me. 

    Right before I got it the engine had been rebuilt buy a good friend of the family, really just a new block and heads, all the old accessories were rebolted to the block.  Why the engine rebuild after just 100,000 miles?  According to all the mechanics consulted, the combustion chambers had gone “egg shapped” and the cam was flat and the head wasn’t “true” anymore.  My father took it in because he noticed slowly disappearing coolant and that the old girl was down on power. 

    While I owned it the car ate 3 alternators before the morons at the local GM stealership figured out that the new one’s were being misaligned when installed and stressing the bearings and destroying the belts.  (BTW the 2nd one went out while I was driving home in a violent NW Ohio night time snowstorm and caused me to slowly loose my headlights. Oh, joy.)  A bad ground wire caused flickering headlights till I figured it out.  The car ate O2 sensors like popcorn.  A brake line burst on me but luckily after getting home (dad taught me how to change one from that lesson.)  Ball joint busted while I was trying to get home in an ice storm and I was damn lucky the tire stayed on the car.  Oh and during the whole 14+ years of family ownership the car ate front brake pads every 30,000 miles or so.  In what time frame did this all happen?  Four years and 20,000 miles of ownership.  I don’t blame the car as much as a combo of age/mileage/and early 80s build quality.  (And a little hooning, I did find out the car struggled to reach 85mph and did manage to get all four tires off the ground.) 

    The car’s redeeming qualities were good traction in the snow, great legroom front and rear, good fuel economy, a huge trunk and tires for it were cheap.  My 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme seemed like I was trading up to heaven after the old Chevy. 

    What happend to that car?  It was sold to my cousin after he managed to nearly total his Camaro IROC-Z so he would have something to drive while his car spent 6 weeks in the body shop.  What did my cousin do after he got his Camaro back?  Sold the Celebrity to a buddy who entered it in a demo derby. 

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like my ’86 Pontiac 6000-STE. I got it when it had 90,000 miles on it, and was 13 years old. I promptly blew up the fuel injected 2.8 trying to see how fast it would run. (5500rpm in 2nd gear at 55mph, hit 3rd and it’d slow down).
      New crank, one connecting rod, a re-ring kit, and a new hi-perf oil pump and that little growly 2.8 could scream. I could get it to hit 125mph at redline, and when it was 100% it was a fantastic little car. Too bad it had a penchant for being a money pit. And it did eat brake pads pretty regularly, I put two sets on it in 40,000 miles of ownership. It also needed a water pump, 3 A/C compressors,alternator, power steering rack, ball joints, shocks, struts, self-levelling system in the rear had to be rebuilt, the fancy steering wheel controlled radio had to have the AM and FM boards replaced (I wanted to keep the system as it sounded great), I also had to have the drivers seat and center console lid re-upholstered.
      It did not need anything done with the digital dash, the heater worked flawlessly, the power windows and locks always worked, and it did have a funky ground on the headlights.
      In some ways I miss it, but not that often. The Explorer that replaced it 30 months later is a MUCH MUCH better vehicle in terms of reliability (currently at 280k miles)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I forgot the AC system that worked perfectly and would literally get cold enough to fog up your glasses when you stepped out of the car.  That AC system worked flawlessly from day one till the point where the car met it’s maker in mortal demo derby combat.

    • 0 avatar

      You should’ve named your car Sub-Zero.

  • avatar

    1992 Ford Thunderbird SC.  It had the 3.8L supercharged engine.  I bought at a Ford dealer years ago when it only had around 30k miles on it, it looked and drove like new.  It was a great car when it was working, great lines, fantastic torque, smooth ride.
    I could not believe what a piece of junk that car was, just about every component needed to be replaced.  I spent around $6,000 in 3 years of ownership.  It made me run into the arms of the Japanese, and I’ve never had issues since, even ones that had well over 100k miles.

  • avatar

    1989 Lincoln Continental bought used with 43,000 miles on clock in 1992.  Loved it, Hated it!  What a wonderful ride it was except couldn’t get cold air in summer and couldn’t get heat in the winter – not a good thing in northern Ohio.  Dealer refused to find anything wrong even after service manager drove it for 3 weeks and gave me a Tracer loaner.  Had to be towed in for serpentine belt at one point.  Temperature gauge would suddenly run up to HOT for no apparent reason at most any time.  After a bit more than a year of messing with it, it turned out to be a good trade for a brand new 1993 Nissan Maxima.  I made sure that I backed the Lincoln into the dealer parking place so the test driver wouldn’t notice there was some delay in reverse taking hold after moving the gear selector.  Apparently the air conditioner must have been working that day as well because it was July and no mention was made.  The Maxima was kept for 10 years and 250,000 miles with no engine or transmission problems.  It ran as beautifully at the end as it did at the beginning.  Ironically the Maxima also had touchy air conditioning but we learned how to massage the switch to get it going.  Sadly, the Maxima ride was far inferior to the Lincoln.

  • avatar

    A 1972 Gremlin.
    It was 15 years old when I got it…an old man’s car, a Polish immigrant.  Well preserved for a Midwestern specimen – no body holes, very little rust, in fact.  A 232 six and a three-speed manual…lever on the floor.
    About two months after I got it, the 3-4 shift fork got trashed when I tried to make a NASCAR shift on a freeway on-ramp.  Now I was down to two gears, reverse and first.  Okay…we’ll get a tranny out of the boneyard.  Plenty of them around.
    Turns out that unit was a Warner Gear model…it was commonplace; there were plenty of AMCs in the wrecking yards in those days.  But they were all set up for COLUMN shift.  I would have had to replace the steering column and make a number of mods under the hood.  Not good; not price-competitive.
    All right…there was a shop that advertised rebuilt transmissions at a cut-rate price.  I got my wrench to give him a call, and order one…and it was put in, R&R.
    And it was trash.  I forget now, what exactly was wrong with the rebuild…whether synchros or what; but it had to go back.
    Order another.  Same thing; it was junk after a week.  Now my mechanic’s mad at ME.  He tells me to use MY time to go back and get MY transmission, and he’ll send it ELSEWHERE for a rebuild.
    The rebuild shop says, they sent my box out for remanufacture.  Now I have the dead rebuilt only…I can turn it in for the money; or I can send it out myself elsewhere.  Not knowing what else to do, I go for the money.  After nearly a month, my garage finds a model in another part of the country; orders it; installs it.  Total price was over a grand; almost as much as I paid for the car.
    So, about four months later, the gearbox starts making…ready for this?…more funny noises indicating an incipient fail.  If someone had come up to me with a Cricket lighter, near a gas station…I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions.
    Instead, I did the second-worst thing.  I took the thing down to the local slimy used-car dealer…asked him what he’d give me for it.  He offered $250.  Wouldn’t go higher.  Didn’t take much to wear me down, either.
    So, as an adult college student, trying to make a go of it on less than a thousand a month in part-time work…I was out $2000 on that POS.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t predisposed to hating AMCs, either.  Just THAT one.

  • avatar

    My 2002 C32 AMG was a dealership queen. People at work thought I owned a dealership I came in with so many loaner cars. The engine being replaced was the last straw.

  • avatar

    1985 Buick Skyhawk I bought for $100. Wouldn’t start under 50* for still unknown reasons. All the dash lighting was out, so I carried a flashlight to see the speedo to drive to my night shift job. One day the water pump started squeaking and leaking, so I started to the parts store for a new pump. On the way a rack seal let go and dumped all the power steering fluid. I altered my course from the parts store and drove it to the bone yard and got $50 for it. Still not real bad for getting a couple of months out of it..

  • avatar

    I have told this tale of woe many times over the years, but what the hell…
    In April ’77, I went to buy a 4×4 truck. I went to one of the local Chevy dealers, and thought I had a deal worked out, but somehow, the price went up $1200 between 5PM and 6, when I came back with a check from my mother to put down on it. I was going to pay cash for it, and they still played games. Even my mom’s boyfriend, usually a nightmare for car sales weasels to deal with, as he was more of a slimeball than almost any of them, and knew every trick and head game. He ended up being angrier than I was! We left and went down the street and I saw it, the thing that would become my nightmare for the next 4+ years, a ’77 W150 Dodge Macho Power Wagon, bright yellow and black. An hour later, I was driving it home. I won’t go into the dealer’s games, this is just about the issues the only real lemon I have ever had was plagued with. They were never ending.
    It ran ok for about a month, then started missing and popping out the carb. It turned out the coil was leaking and I replaced it with an Accel Aftermarket one on Sunday morning, not wanting to have it towed to the dealer and since I had the coil anyway, why not use it? Then the first electrical issues started up, the dash lights would go out, and then come back on when I hit a bump. I found that problem right away, and saw that the plug on the firewall had corroded contacts. I cleaned them up and sprayed them with some contact cleaner/enhancer stuff, but it didn’t help. Soon it was losing power to the ignition, and the only way it would run was with the key held in one spot. Of course, it did this the first time on I15 East of LA in rush hour traffic! Soon the leaks started, everywhere, along with the first water pump failing just about a week before the warranty ran out. They put a cam in it that day too, but later denied it! I have no idea why. As time went by, I had leaking head gaskets only once, but the intake manifold gaskets leaked vacuum, and sucked oil into the #1 cylinder all the time. It took machine work on the heads, and some horrible gooey gasket sealer to finally seal it up. The left rear axle twisted off just past the splines due to improper heat treating, and the power steering pump self destructed at about 24K. It went on and on and on, even catching on fire twice! Why I put it out, I have no idea. I worked on it constantly, and wasn’t planning on getting rid of it, as when it wasn’t being worked on, and after a lot of mods, it was a lot of fun to drive, but one weekend, I finally had enough, and could hardly wait until Monday, when I went out in Aug 81, and bought a used 79 Trans Am, a slug stock, but after a couple of weeks of minor issues, was rock solid until I stupidly sold it in 1987. After modding it, it was a fantastic street car, the best throttle response I’ve ever experienced. I saw the PW constantly for over a year, always with a for sale sign in the back window. I always wondered what happened to it. I have seen several near twins to it on Ebay and in AutoTrader, and almost bought one of them as a toy, but I caught myself. I don’t know why, but I really want another one! One that has the bugs out of it, I hope. After 34 years, it should.

  • avatar

    1988 Seat Ibiza. Rainwater leaked in the car through the ventilation and pooled inside, the right rear wheelwell rusted horribly, auto choke almost never worked properly, radiator cap rusted away, head gasket blew, valve cover bolts (all 2 of them) snapped, plastic door handles snapped off, the front wiper failed, and overall the car wouldn’t start in temperatures below -20C. In the end the coolant circulation failed due to a crack in the cylinder head, so I just drove until the car boiled all water away and poured new water in.
    I spray-painted “JUNK” on the trunk lid to warn other roadgoers, and finally shot the car full of holes before driving it to the scrapyard at 97000 km.
    Granted, it was a dirt cheap car, and most likely poorly maintained by the previous owners. Still, it’s no surprise that I haven’t seen a MK1 Ibiza on the road for years, even as other cars from the same era are commonplace.

  • avatar

    Every Chrysler product I’ve ever owned. Seriously.

    Start with a 2000 Dodge Intrepid with the 2.7. Timing chain tensioner went TU – had warning with the timing chain rattle, but two days before its appointment at the shop, it slipped and bent every one of the 24 valves. I loved that car, too. That was a genuinely nice car, with a genuinely terrible engine in it. If I’d gotten one with the 3.2 I’d probably still be driving it.

    1998 Grand Caravan. A604 transmission blew. Only had it for two years.

    1995 Dakota. Bought cheap while I was building my house, to move building materials. Went through two fuel pumps in less than six months, the first time stranding me and the kids on a freeway at night. Had electrical problems too.

    Replaced the ’98 GC with a 2005 Grand Caravan. This time I was smart, and bought the extended warranty. Drove it for just 30K miles & 3 years. In that time, had two (yes, two) steering rack failures, brake problems, suspension problems and interior parts breaking.

    I swore up, down and sideways that I’d never own a Chrysler product again, but for some reason the wife loves the Dodge design language and insists on having them. So the ’05 GC was replaced with an ’05 Durango Ltd. She’s always wanted one and I figure it can’t be any less reliable than the GC. So far so good, knock on wood, and since she has a short commute the gasoline expense isn’t a killer.

    My other cars (the ones I commute in regularly) have always been GM. None of them ever left me walking or gave me any powertrain trouble at all, I just ran them into the ground and replaced them when I got tired of driving an old beater to work.

  • avatar

    Does anyone else remember this (Fawlty Towers)?

  • avatar

    I guess I’ll weigh in on this. First of all, a sledgehammer is a very useful tool – we like to refer to it as a “persuader”, something to “help” something work properly. I have no one car that caused me as much trouble as some of the commentors here, but I did use the sledge on my 1976 Dart Lite – the front brake calipers were sticking on me, so the advice I received from a reliable source was to beat the daylights out of it with the hammer. It worked until I could afford to replace the calipers. Otherwise, my 1976 Gremlin, bought in 1977, used and heavily “modified” and already half worn-out, kept me and one of my friends occupied for a while – my buddy worked at Carter Carburetor at the time, and the poor Gremlin needed a new one. He got one for me. I also had to replace all the pollution control equipment, as it had been removed by the previous owner. Also, the heater core kept getting plugged up with rust, so as I couldn’t afford to replace that, I just pulled it in my parent’s garage, disconnected the hoses, attached the garden hose, reversed the flow and watched all the brown garbage come out until the water ran clear, then hooked everything up until next time. Eventually the pressure plate collapsed, so had to replace that twice – the second time, my mom (who lived with us after dad died) had to help me by working the scissors jack while I wrestled the tranny to the engine (our son was just born, so my wife was unavailable to help). That had to be quite a sight, as we had our house then, and had a carport, so this little drama was enjoyed by all who happened to be in the vicinity of our home! Of course, my trusty 4 lb. “persuader” was at arm’s length and always ready to lend a hand! That Gremlin was a lot of fun, though – my wife and I enjoyed driving it. Amazing how you scamble when you’re young and “resource-challenged”! One more: my 1980 LeBaron: working in sub-freezing temps in the carport with an Arvin electric heater from WW2 vintage (cloth cord) propped on top of the firewall, trying to keep me from freezing while I replaced the third water pump at night, because I didn’t realize the fan clutch was shot. Amazing how much power that will rob from an engine! Looking back, those were adventures my wife and I laugh about, and even at the time, I regarded them as challenges, even though I was frustrated at not being able to afford something newer and more reliable, but I always enjoyed the oddball cars I owned because they were a bit different and that made them unique, thus making it worthwhile! The “persuader”, my trusty 4 lb. sledge? I still have it after 36 years. Replaced the handle last summer. Still works fine!

  • avatar

    This tool has always been referred to as the “Polish Micrometer” in my neck of the woods – for “fine tuning”.  Anyway, my worst (and that’s saying something since I have owned a ’68 Corvette, a Pinto Squire wagon and ’81 Buick Skylark Sport Sedan w/ manual trans) was a gen II Mercury Sable (’94, I believe) with the 3.8L engine.  The car was beautiful in the period monochrome white treatment, grey leather, etc., but on a return trip from Chicago on I90 it began to leak coolant from the head gasket into the engine.  Because it was about 95 degrees out, the usual white smoke was not visible, plus you’re doing 75 mph, not really looking for something like that.  The coolant began to dilute the engine oil and the resulting friction began to cause a loss of power.  Then the engine began to overheat just as we got caught in a huge backup at the toll gate of the Indiana Turnpike (it was, of course, Fourth of July weekend).  With the heater going full blast to aid in cooling, we made it into Ohio just in time to throw a rod through the block.  A call to AAA got us a tow only to the next exit (it was Fourth of July and “he was too busy to go any farther”).  A second call to AAA, this one laced with a bit more colorful language got us towed home and the car to the dealership.  It turned out that this was common with the 3.8L engine, enough so that there were no used ones available anywhere.  A rebuild was going to cost $4000 on a car with a retail value of $3500.  Sold it for scrap ($500) to someone who was going to wait for a used engine to show up.  I wonder if he’s still waiting.

    • 0 avatar

      Your term “Polish Micrometer” reminds me of what we call an adjustable crescent wrench: A “Mexican Socket Set”! TTAC should start a thread about tools and “affectionate” names for them!

  • avatar

    I grew up in a Ford family, and purchased many of them. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the 1990 Topaz I had for seven years. (I had posted this when the discussion of the imminent demise of Mercury was upon us. Read the last paragraph of my post to see the list of stuff wrong (repeatedly) with that Topaz:
    If I hadn’t sold the car to the Mexican guy, I would have loved to have taken my two pounder to it.

    • 0 avatar

      I replied to that comment, but about every TempoTopaz I find makes some interesting engine noises. They weren’t very good cars.

    • 0 avatar

      @William: I saw your reply. I have to point out though, the 2.3 in the Tempo/Topaz was a pushrod motor, I believe a variation of the original Falcon six. The 2.3 OHC (Lima) in the Pintos and Mustangs was a different motor entirely. 25 years ago, I would have given a left testicle for a SVO Mustang. Not these days, however. Too bad Ford won’t reprise the original SVO ‘Stang with an Eco Boost version. I bet it would come in handy with the predicted $5.00/gallon gasoline predicted for summer 2011…

  • avatar

    After trading a Mustang I wound up with a old but low mileage VW Fastback which was… awful.
    The brakes went bad after just a few short trips, the engine smoked, ran on only 3 cylinders, one of the wheels couldn’t hold air (the tires were brand new), rarely shifted into 3rd (it was an automatic), had serious rust in the front fenders, ate fuses like a kid would chocolate, the steering would come off alignment, turn signals didn’t work, gas fumes would get into the car, horn didn’t work, and the engine was hard to work on as it was tricky to reach around (like modern engine bays).
    After that I was done fixing up old VWs and after reading more and more stuff I’m pretty much though with German engineering. Had I not needed the money I would have torn that thing apart over some jumps, or junked it so I wouldn’t be intoxicated by its fumes.
    After that I grabbed a Horizon that had 87k on it, this was a better car by miles and you could work on the engine!

  • avatar

    I don’t have any automotive horror stories (knock on wood), but the name of the post reminds me of Peter Gabriel.

  • avatar
    Acc azda atch

    Mr Lang…
    You dish out the most intelligent of advice and urge us to buy the right cars, at the right times with the info you run across as you “our king of the Atlanta BHPH lot”.
    But turning around and picking up a S500 and admitting its got plenty of issues.. seems to tell me you have failed to take your own advice. I cant imagine buying one of those.. for the concept of the overpriced german tag and the sheer size, on top of the electrics and cheap parts.
    People who buy the damn things..
    Really want a Panther or a Linc with the airbags to drive around. But since Benz’s dont hold their resale more than a SIV does… and everyone wants a Benz badge…
    I have to ask..
    How did you fall into such a trap?

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