By on August 31, 2015


“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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

53 Comments on “Hammer Time: A Shotgun Hit & Run...”

  • avatar

    I suppose a new Prius, or even a newer used Prius, is out of the question. Did she expect the old Prius to go on forever?

  • avatar

    Had a similar situation occur. A lady cut across three lanes and caught the front bumper of my 1998 Firebird Formula while I was stopped in a turn lane. The cops listed me as 20% at fault because there is always something you can do to prevent a crash. They were unable to tell me what that was, but part of the repair bill came out of my pocket. I’m still pissed about that.

  • avatar

    You should collaborate with steve lehto and sue the crap out of the other driver

  • avatar

    Welcome home Steve ;

    I had no idea Prius’ had any value ~ the ones in our fleet have terrible rearward visibility so I only drive the truck .

    Be that as it may , The City Of Los Angeles has a large fleet on Hybrids , mostly Prius’ and we’re selling them off right now very cheaply , do come and take the wretched things away ~ very few have any accident damage , most are grubby as old Fleet Vehicles tend to be .


    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Thanks Nate. Glad to have read your comments at a few other places.

      • 0 avatar

        If you have a feed , I’ll follow it as honest used car salesmen are hard to find and you have the writing gift .

        I’d hate to get that call ! I can always find another car but SWMBO is priceless to me

        L.A. too is full of @$$hats who hit and run off , lie through their teeth for no reason etc. .


      • 0 avatar

        Steve, I also work for a public agency with a small fleet, and we have a forlorn first-gen Prius with (peeling) fleet-white paint. I’d say “I’ll tell you when it goes to auction!” but we auction cars at 120k miles, and that little ’02 still has only 60k on it. Nobody wants to drive it when it’s time to select a set of keys. Oldsmobile Cutlasses, Dodge Strati, and Ford Fusions have come and gone alongside it over the years, and still the little Prius sits there hoping someone will drive it. I find the thing adorable, with its JDM styling and pillowy ride. It’s like someone put lawnmower wheels on a terrarium, put a La-Z-Boy inside, and equipped it with a hamster on a wheel for locomotion.

  • avatar

    My parents are a bit too “selective.” They want something to replace the 08 4.0L Pathfinder they hate (that I told them NOT to buy in the first place).

    Their requirements:
    Seats 7
    Is not truck-based
    Is not V8
    Is not German
    Is not a Volvo
    Is not a wagon
    Is not a Nissan
    Is not an Infiniti
    Is not a Lincoln

    How many people live in their household? Just them. I’m like – OK you don’t NEED seven seats. We are all adults and we all have cars. Mom: “No I need seven seats.”

    “Okay, just get a van then.”

    “No, I don’t like vans.”

    So I wheedle my dad down off 7-seaters to 5, temporarily.

    How about the RX? It’s often cheaper used than the Highlander, is nicer, and is fully loaded almost always and better maintained.

    -No, those are ugly and too common.

    How about the Venza? It’s cheap and the same thing as a Highlander, except nobody likes it. Much cheaper.

    -No, that’s a wagon.

    How about the Ford Fle–

    -NO it looks like a hearse.

    How about the Outback? New ones are pretty tall nowadays.

    -No, that’s a wagon.

    Why don’t you consider something smaller, like a CRV?

    -NO, that’s too small. No V6.

    “But what about the Traverse? And I like the Acadia too. But the Buick one is too mushy looking, girly.”

    Me: “Those aren’t good cars, and you really don’t want that.”

    So we’re back to Highlander. They had a gen 1 once, and it’s the only thing they really will consider. They’re very put off by the prices the used ones command. The ONLY other thing I’ve got my dad to consider is the MDX, and he only likes the ones built later, with the revised front fascia (2010+?). I think that will be a better (and less considered) option than the Highlander though.

    They’re far too picky. And my mom writes a model off if she sees one on the road in red. I think the first few Venzas she saw were red. So obviously those suck.

    • 0 avatar


      No recommendation of the Pilot? With a new generation out the previous versions should be both more commonly available and lower in price over the next few months. Nobody needs tell them it’s a less practical butched-up minivan underneath.

    • 0 avatar

      It sounds like they should just save their money and keep what they have until something they like falls in to their lap.

      But they should stop complaining because they clearly have the best vehicle for them!

      P.S. if they insist on continueing to grip, one of those Lincoln or Cadillac CUVs might be closer to what they’re looking for. Buy it used and let someone else eat the depreciation.

    • 0 avatar

      To quote the great John Phillips, Fido is barking the numbers hard on that one. I love my parents, but I’d just walk away if it were me.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps a Mazda CX-9? My cousin and his partner have a loaded 2010 model which has been flawless for 80K miles and counting…

      • 0 avatar

        I tried CX9 too, I swear. My dad said, and I quote.

        “I’m not too sure about Mazda.”

        Even AFTER I told him most of the bits in it were Ford anyway. So like KVN said down there, I just give up. They’ll keep their car until something breaks on it, then lose money on it in trade for some Highlander with two seats they don’t need and less equipment and nice things than the RX or MDX they should have got.

        • 0 avatar

          The parents’ “impossible to satisfy” criteria, with ongoing rebuttals of your suggestions kinda reminds me of a couple of my friends, when they were car shopping. They couldn’t have this or that car because of some pre-existing complex or irrational expectation. As it turns out, one friend just liked the emotional ride of egging on suggestions, only to say “No”and pick out a fatal flaw in the suggested vehicle. As it turns out, he wan’t a serious buyer or he’d have bitten on the many reasonable options. After two years of bitching, and needing a vehicle to haul two scooters and camping gear…he just picked up a shiny new Prius C. Double You Tee Eff?! The other scenario, a gal pal whose criteria were all over the map. She bought a Veloster when she needed a minivan. Emotional, foolish purchase.

        • 0 avatar

          Can you trick/manipulate them into an RX for a medium length drive? Worked on an older uncle/aunt. Didn’t meet many of the “needs” they listed, but once they already liked it the needs list changed from only meeting else to only meeting RX. they’ve loved it for 5 years and counting. Mention that they’re ubiquitous for a reason, nice to be in.

          • 0 avatar

            I could try that, were I to go out shopping with them. I’d have to research ahead of time and have them “come across” one at a non-Lexus dealer (they would never go TO a Lexus dealer, as that is “too expensive.”)

            When my dad gets serious about looking, I might try that. Until that time, I have already wasted too much of mine on their ridiculousness.

        • 0 avatar

          have him drive the cx-9. bet he likes it.

          we love ours (2011 grand touring). way better than my brother’s ’11 highlander. they have no resale value (mazda…) so you should be able to find one cheap if you are patient or can negotiate.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry but they’re inconsolable. Just walk away, parents or not.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford Explorer? Meets all your criteria.

      He’s got a point on the RX and MDX. Around here, they’re the default choices for everyone between 40 and 70 years of age. They’re ubiquitous, and the RX in particular has always looked awkward to me, because it tries so hard to be sporty when it just isn’t. They drive OK (especially the MDX) but… blah.

      Edit: another thought: current-gen RDX. Just don’t tell them it’s a CR-V under the skin. They’re cavernous inside for five-seaters.

  • avatar

    Stories like this is why I have my dashcam.

  • avatar

    I may be doing drugs but was this recent, thought I read about this before?

  • avatar

    A little thrown off by the two different prius pictures, one gen-1 the other gen-2, that lead the article. Hopefully the gen-2 wasn’t your wife’s, that door looks nasty!

  • avatar

    Sheesh!! Why do some headlights cloud over so?

    Besides these, 7th-Gen (2001-2015) Civics seem NOTORIOUS for this!

  • avatar

    Many moons ago..
    A friends sister had a 99 Prelude that got too nasty to keep driving. After a long search she found a rust free example that was identical to the one she had. She loved that thing..
    I never understood that type of attachment.

  • avatar

    I’m going through this with my wife right now.
    she adores her A3 and I can’t get her to give it up.
    I get that she loves it, but the car is DONE. the cost of the service parts to get it back to decent running order (clutch, tires, a few spent wiring harnesses ) pretty much exceeds the value of the car.

    When she rattles off her list of must haves: cloth, stick, AWD, decently powerful motor, sunroof, hatch/wagon body, roof rack, heated seats, I just cringe.

    What’s out there that even has that kind of shopping list? Maybe a Mini Countryman.

    • 0 avatar

      “…her list of must haves: cloth, stick, AWD, decently powerful motor, sunroof, hatch/wagon body, roof rack, heated seats”

      That woman is a keeper. Maybe look at a 3-series wagon or GT? That or a WRX are about as close as you’ll get.

  • avatar

    Steve, last year I bought my wife a Scion xB to replace her ’00 Honda Accord. It has seating for five, can be stuffed like a minivan, and gets great fuel economy. A few months later she let it slip that she hates it. It’s not luxurious enough, mostly because it doesn’t have leather seats. I did the Copart thing and picked up a loaded ’06 Beetle TDI on a whim. I’m nearly done replacing the hood, radiator support, and other random bits. I also decided to replace the timing belt while I have it apart. My wife loves it and is patiently waiting for me to fix it. It books out around $8k for retail, I figure with a rebuilt title and private sale it would be worth around $6500ish. Right now I have about $4k in it. Score!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      You nailed it. If you know what you’re doing, it’s far cheaper to just buy a salvage car with minor damage and get everything to day one condition.

      You end up with more money in it than you would probably be comfortable with if you were financing the vehicle. But that’s the sweet spot if you’re a car guy looking to get a great car for the right price.

  • avatar

    Somehow I strongly suspect your wife is well worth it, Steve.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    ?? 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…..


Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Carlson Fan: 26 degrees???? I don’t even bother turning the heat on in my Volt at that temperature. That could...
  • Arthur Dailey: Had that argument for years with my kids. And also tried to convince them of something that My Old Man...
  • RHD: What do the Air Born Buick and Airborne, the remedy designed by an elementary school teacher, have in common?...
  • Arthur Dailey: @brn, were you once an engineer for Mazda?
  • Arthur Dailey: @Dan, well said.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber