The most useless car there ever was…


I passed my driving test in my early twenties, after giving up lessons in my teens as I ended up moving into the pub where I worked so had no need to learn to drive (or that’s what I told myself when I started spending the money on cider instead of driving lessons!) I finally passed (after four attempts, two in my teens though) and my dad offered to buy me a cheap second hand car, hurrah! Instead of researching what sort of car was cheap to run/repair/has a good reputation I instead headed straight to to closest wheeler dealer type second hand car showroom which was three roads away from where I lived. In fact ‘showroom’ is probably a much too good a word to describe it, more like ‘scrap yard with a few cars for sale’. Anyway, I was too scared to actually test drive it myself because the entrance to the yard was really tight so I got my mum to do it for me. It went forwards and backwards so I bought it! I’m kind of sad I don’t have a photo of it actually, after all the strife and money it caused me!

It was a Renault megane, ’96 and navy blue. It was 1.4 litres and I ragged that poor little car around like it was a mazerati! It took me up and down the country a few times to visit my dad in the lake district, and herded friends in and out of Brighton and around the Sussex countryside with music blaring and the sun roof open. What I didn’t realise when I bought it was that the boot wouldn’t stay open on it’s own and it had a funny rattle if you drove without the stereo on…

About 9 months after I got it the MOT ran out, so off I went to Kwik Fit (first mistake right there!) who later that afternoon presented me with a long old list of fails. I handed over my credit card and they charged me around £800 to get it through the MOT. They clearly saw me coming a mile off, but I had no idea that they were rip off merchants, or that half the stuff was probably not actually in need of being done. Next year I took it back to the same place (stupidly) and when they told me what needed doing I just didn’t have the money to do it, so I said thanks but no thanks! I actually had a friend who was living with a mobile mechanic at the time, so he did the work for me for less than half the quoted cost and put it through its MOT for me (it miraculously passed even though the horn didn’t work due to Kwik fit messing something up the year before when they did something to the steering column, which they of course denied and said they would fix only if they charged me!)

Oh, and at one point as I went over a sleeping policeman on a hill the exhaust just dropped off at one end, and needed to be held on with string tied round the whole body of the car and very noisily driven to a garage for expensive fixing… that car was destined for the scrap heap from the word go!

A year later I moved a ten minute walk from work, so declared the car off road as I didn’t need to use it and parked it in the underground car park at work, where it enjoyed an almost four year hibernation with only the odd pigeon for company when they flew in through the air vents. Keeping a car in hibernation for four years does not do a car any good, I’ll tell you that for nothing! The petrol all separates and settles in the tank, the tires go flat, everything seizes up and it’s practically good for nothing! This however sounded like a challenge to Sam, as when we had Athena we moved out of Brighton and needed a car to get to and from work again.

We didn’t have the money to buy a new car, so Sam and his friend spent a lot of time, and a fair amount of money (pretty much what I spent on it in the first place six years before in fact!) with a Haynes manual getting it road worthy again!

It lasted us another 9 months or so until it gave up the ghost and became irreparable, and we replaced it with what I lovingly refer to as ‘the tank’ but is actually an Astra estate car, perfect for the babies and all the other crap we seem to need to transport around on a daily basis!

However all the learning and amateur mechanic skills that Sam had acquired with the Renault came in handy and we’ve already saved money in the year we’ve had The Tank by him replacing the brake discs and pads and heating resistor thingumy (that’s the technical term you know) as he had many of the tools he needed from before.

So, from someone who’s had a pretty naff experience as a car owner here are a few tips to help anyone starting their car ownership:

  • Don’t just buy the first car you see because you need/want one
  • Get it checked by an independent mechanic, well worth the money!
  • If you don’t know your axle from your gear stick take someone with you with some knowledge so you don’t get done over when you’re looking at cars
  • Learn what your warning lights mean so you can fix problems before it’s too late!
  • Buy a Haynes manual, there are actually a lot of little jobs you can do yourself with the aid of the manual and/or a youtube video that can save you money!
  • Don’t rag your car around like you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, it doesn’t do it any good at all!

Do share any disastrous car stories with me, it’ll make me feel better to know I’m not the only daft person out there! But hey, we all make mistakes!

This is an editorial collaboration, all words and opinions are my own.

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  1. 19th April 2015 / 10:15 pm

    Oh goodness, I know the feeling of terrible vehicles. Yours sounds rough, especially all the money that you put in to it! Luckily, my father in law is a mechanic and loved working on vehicles, so he always did the work for free other than the price of parts. I had an 1985 Volkswagen Jetta and it worked well, until I drove it from British Columbia to Alberta. After the out of province inspection, so I could insure it in Alberta, the head gasket blew on my way to work. My car filled up with white smoke and the oil buzzer kept going off! We got it “fixed” and the next time I drove it, all the oil dropped out when I was going 120km/h on the highway. A 3am pick up call for my dad who’s a tow truck driver (my family have convenient jobs, haha!).
    Then I had a Toyota Camry from my sister in law. Rob borrowed it one day to take to work and someone backed in to it. We went through insurance and it ended up being a write off. Off that went. Then I received an Intrepid from my Step brother in law, and it started to sound like a diesel on my way to work. I thought, no way will I get home in this thing…it didn’t even start after work. The air filter blew up when we tried boosting it. Off it went. We broke down and instead of accepting free vehicles from family, we decided to just get a newer one from a dealership. Now I drive an ’07 Chevy Impala and I love it! This all happened in the span of 12 months, too. To say I was stressed is putting it lightly 😉

    • 20th April 2015 / 12:46 pm

      Oh my word, okay you’ve had it so much worse than me! I just googled a chevy impala as we don’t have them over here, it looks nice and sturdy! Yay for mechanics in the family though!

  2. davidelkinns
    11th May 2015 / 12:02 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience and tips. These tips really will be helpful for everyone who are starting their car ownership.

  3. 6th May 2016 / 7:56 am

    The gas pedal in the Chevette. Essentially, it couldn’t get out of its’ own way.
    A semi-useless item was the floor-mounted dimmer switch. I mentioned often a while back how much I used the bright lights. Many I spoke with never used them. With the floor-mounted switch, it was at the mercy of the elements which led to corrosion and rust. The turn signal switch is much better.

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