Hammer Time: A Shotgun Hit & Run

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

“Honey? I just got into an accident!” she said.

My body experienced an instant adrenaline rush as my mind wandered through the worst “what if?” possibility of that moment, something like the image above.

My wife… Hospital… Pain… Medical bills… The other driver…

“Is everyone okay?” I asked in reply.

“Yeah, everyone’s fine. We moved the cars and we’re now on the side of the road.”

Thank God! When I got there, this is what greeted me.

Thankfully, my wife had this Prius which was battered and bloodied, but still able to drive with what we call in the car business, “a whiskey lick”.

The other car, which dim-wittedly cut across two lanes of traffic, had simonized its own rear passenger doors, along with the rear quarter panel.

The other driver was far, far away, and within a few moments we both figured out why. The car wasn’t his. To make matters worse, he was going to change his story now that the cars got moved.

There was a small pile of orange debris where the impact took place to the right of the manhole, but for the next hour and change I would be stuck dealing with one of the many humanoid scumbags that we unfortunately find in our travels.

Stories were told and fabricated, and in the end the cop exclaimed, “I’m just going to let the insurance companies fight this one out!”

My wife wasn’t found at fault but the damage was done. The other driver’s insurance wanted to take the case to arbitration and, because we only had fleet insurance (through my dealership), we were only covered for what we hit — not what hits us.

The damage inflicted on our car would be stuck in legal limbo for months on end, so I decided to get a bit… creative. I perused the dealer auctions to see what was out there that would make my wife happy.

That list was painfully short. She wanted what she already had and Toyota only exported about 5,000 of these hybrids a year to North America from 2001 to 2003. These hybrids usually find themselves overseas sooner rather than later. The picture above is from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Older hybrids are becoming enormously popular in countries that don’t subsidize the purchase of diesel fuel — and rightfully so due to their over-engineering and outstanding fuel economy.

It took a couple of weeks to find one… at a salvage auction. When your car is smashed, flooded, burnt, or scratched up like an abandoned 60-year-old roller rink, it winds up at a salvage auction where everyone from junkyards to exporters get to bid on the remnants.

This particular 2002 Toyota Prius was the same exact car as my wife’s daily driver. It looks green to me, but light blue to nearly everybody else. Yep, I’m hopelessly colorblind when it comes to the greenish blue hues of modern cars.

The Prius had been sent on a one-way trip to the salvage auction due to a nice little whack on the rear bumper.

The cost of replacing that entire bumper assembly, straightening the frame, and blending the paint on this vehicle to OEM specs was too much for USAA. So they wrote their customer a check and brought this first generation Prius to Copart, which liquidates about two million salvage vehicles a year for insurance companies.

Was I really going to put my wife in a vehicle that already had frame damage?

Hell No! Not in this life, and hopefully not the next one either if I’m fortunate enough to meet and marry her all over again. However, I did have one not so small psychological issue.

My wife likes to stick with what works for her. Friends. House. Husband. She rarely buys and never sells. The same is true for her daily driver. That Prius is not only ‘cute’ but also offers fantastic visibility and averages her about 40 mpg. Those are the only two things she cares about. Luxury? Sport? Doesn’t matter a lick. She loves a car where she can see everything around her and hates the super-sized models. Minivans and SUVs are not her thing.

I couldn’t sell her car. So I wound up buying that bumper-less Prius for $1,050 plus a bit over $300 worth of inflated seller fees. The plan was to simply replace the panels for her car and re-sell what was left.

I tossed the bad bumper onto the passenger side seats and took the car to a body shop. And then I quickly changed my mind.

As a guy who used to inspect, appraise and liquidate over 10,000 vehicles every year for an auto finance company during, I got to know the difference between a physically sound vehicle, and one that’s probably worth more dead than alive.

A moderate impact like this is typically considered minor frame damage, while one that manages to smash up the C-pillar (the near vertical supports to the sides of your rear window) is considered a death blow for almost all older cars. It would take about $700 to make everything right on this car and then I could sell it after a state inspection and a rebuilt title.

The frame got straightened. A rear bumper assembly and a tail light were ordered. Some paint blending and a small battery replacement (thank God it wasn’t the big one). Now had a $2,200 Prius with 40,000 fewer miles than my wife’s daily driver. A nasty rainstorm and about a thousand miles of driving confirmed that the car was as good as used!

So it’s easy to figure out what happened next, right? Yep. I gave it to her. In this case “her” was a long-time customer whose daughter is taking classes at UNC Chapel Hill. I showed her pictures of the way the car was before the repairs were made, and she had it checked out by her mechanic.

She signed the paperwork which included an addendum for the salvage history, and that was that along with a $700 down payment.

In two years, I’ll either have a $4,500 gain, or in two months I’ll be sweating a $1,500 loss. That’s the risk you take when you self-finance cars. Lucky for me, “The Bank of Steve” tries to play a conservative game when it comes to financing folks, and I tend to say no to a lot more people than I say yes. My customer was successful with a 2000 Prizm they now owned, so hopefully the Prius will be her second keeper.

So that part of my life was solved until I got home that evening.

Wife with earnest smile: “Have you found another Prius like mine?”

Remembering that I haven’t forgot about finding her impossible dream: “Oh… ummm….. what do you think about a Versa?”

Wife, in mild snark mode: “What do you think about a glockenspiel? I have no idea what a Versa is. Is it blue?”

“Well… umm… it’s black. Like my coffee.”

Wife jokingly turning the screws: “Let’s see if you can find a blue one! I’ll keep driving my car in the meantime.”

Thankfully I have some time to unscrew this situation, but how about you? Have you ever been in the unenviable position of trying to find a used car for a family member who is a bit… selective? Feel free to share any wrecks of a mental or physical nature that came afterwards.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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3 of 53 comments
  • Mechaman Mechaman on Sep 03, 2015

    At least the hump stayed around. The one(s) who have hit me sped off.

  • -Nate -Nate on Sep 03, 2015

    ?? CC Effect ?? . Last night as I was having dinner a Lady walked in and talked to the Head Waiter , he pointed at me and she came over and said she'd just run into my Mercedes..... _SWMBO_'S Mercedes , dammit . She didn't stop when her Ford contacted our rear fender , she powered on into the parking space , liberally creasing the left real 1/4 panel . Her Ford had a plastic bumper/grille surround and it's far worse than the Mercedes but still and all..... -Nate

    • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Sep 03, 2015

      Damn! This is why I take beaters out. If they get hit it's just extra spending money.

  • The Oracle This thing got porky quick.
  • Kwi65728132 I'll grant that it's nicely kept but I'm not a fan of the bangle butt designs, and I know better than to buy a used BMW while living anywhere in the world other than in the fatherland where these are as common as any Honda or Toyota is anywhere else.
  • ChristianWimmer When these came out I thought they were hideous: now they’ve grown on me. This one looks pretty nice. Well-maintained, low mileage and some good-looking wheels that aren’t super fancy but not cheap-looking or boring either, they are just right.
  • Aja8888 Someday in the far away future, all cars will look the same, people will be the same color, dogs will be all mixed beyond recognition, and governments will own everything. That car looks like my son's Hyundai Tucson without badges.
  • Tassos Of course, what the hell did you expect? A SERIOUS, BEAUTIFUL car you can ACTUALLY USE AS YOUR DAILY DRIVER???............. NOOOOO, THIS IS TIM WE ARE TALKING ABOUT. SO HE FINDS SOME OBSOLETE POS WHICH IS 22 years old, .............AND HE PURPOSELY MISSES THE BEAUTIFUL MODEL, THE Classical Beauty E39 that ended in 2003. ...........So he uses his column as a WASTEBASKET once again, to throw the first year of BMWs BANGLED 5 series (as in the INFAMOUS CHRIS BANGLE WHO SCREWED UP THE DESIGN ROYALLY). ................................................ As Dr. Evil, Fake Doctor Jill Biden would scream at the top of her voice, so her senile idiot husband could hear her, "Good Job, (Tim)! You answered all the questions and ticked all the boxes!" ..... KEEP UP THE S---Y work, Tim!