The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Beetle Bugs Me

My friends Dave and Eva are searching for a new car. They have decided that they would like to buy one of the classic VW Beetles - an honorable enough choice by any measure. They located such a car for sale in Aptos, but they live in San Francisco and did not want to make a 4-hour round trip for a car that might be a dud. I happen to live in Scotts Valley, a short drive from Aptos, and so they requested that I take a look at the car and report back to them.

These two have been very good friends to me, and I was (and remain) more than happy to assist them with this, and it was very simple for me to do. To that end, Kay and I set out for Aptos yesterday afternoon to have a look at a 1970 VW Beetle.

I call the car's owner, and he explains where to find the car - it's not at his home, but rather parked on a street near his home. This seems kinda' odd, but, well, if you know Santa Cruz, then this isn't quite enough to suggest a real problem, or even all that odd. When I arrive, the owner, who I will call Gonzo to protect the innocent, is waiting for us. The car is beaten up, the paint oxidized, and it generally looks like the 39-year-old car that it is. While Gonzo prattled on about the quality of the vehicle, I was busy doing things like opening up the hood (or the trunk - as these cars have the engine in the rear) to look at the engine, checking for signs of rust on the chassis, and trying to see if there is anything clearly wrong with any part of the vehicle. To all of this, Gonzo seems oblivious.

We finally move on to the interior, and it's thrashed. The seats have been patched with electrical tape, some of the wire connecting the ignition are no longer contained within the dashboard, and the seat springs have completey deflated. In short, it's clearly a vehicle that has seen 4 decades of use with little repair to the interior.

Finally, as per Eva's request, I ask to take the car for a test drive. Gonzo hands me the keys and says "yeah, that's fine, but if you crash it, you've bought it, because I don't have insurance on this vehicle."

Somewhat against my better judgement*, I take the car out for a test drive anyway. I get it started, the engine is louder than Hell, and I move down the street. I get to the corner, and brake in order to slow down for the turn...and the brakes don't work at first - I have to push all the way down to get it to brake, and the ride down is squishy, the braqke cylinder is clearly on its way out. I never bring the car above 15 miles per hour, navigate around the block ot the stopping point, turn off the car and get out.

Gonzo looks up at me and asks "So, what do you think?"

"The brakes are bad" I say, waiting for his response.

He quickly replies "yeah, they could use a little attention," turning a bit so as not to be looking directly at me when he says this.

A little attention? How about a complete fucking overhaul?

Here's the thing. When Eva asked about the car, she specifically asked if it would be safe to drive from Aptos to San Francisco should she purchase it. Gonzo said that it would be. This is bullshit. The engine would probably make it, but the brakes would do exactly nothing to stop the vehicle were it moving at freeway speeds - they barely worked when it was going 15 miles per hour! One spot of bad traffic, and Eva and Dave would have been in a world of hurt, or worse.

As I was handing bac the keys and walking to my car, Gonzo began to talk about how this was "one of the few un-restored VW Bettles from its era" - said as if to imply that the fact that it was a run-down deathtrap that appeared to have not had proper maintenance was something to be proud of.

So, this guy lied to my friends to sell them something that would endanger them had they bought it. I really wanted to smack him around a bit, but luckily I have enough self control (and sufficent fear of incarceration - I'll admit it, I'm a wimp) to simply hand him the keys back and walk away. In retrospect, I should have at least pointed out the fact that what he was trying to pull with this vehcile and the brakes could easily land him in a courtroom, but I wasn't thinking clearly enough at that time.

I drove about a block away, stopped the car, pulled out my phone, and dialed Eva's number.


"Hey, Eva, it's Matt."

"Oh, hi. So, what do you think of the car?"

"Well, Eva, how desperate are you for a car?"

*I say only somewhat because, frankly, I think he'd have a hard time legally forcing me to pay for a car that I was test driving because he, as the owner, hadn't bothered to insure it.


Kay said...

Yeah , I was thinking this morning that it would be nice if we could report him... maybe ask Eva where she found the listing.

Those brakes made me afraid.

Dave Haaz-Baroque said...

Yikes! It was even worse than how Eva described it! Thank you once again for checking it out for us... We really really appreciate it.

We eventually got one here in San Francisco which runs great, but has a bit of body damage on the door and fender. We figured it was best to have a car that runs great but looks a little janky rather than a nicer-looking car that'll need lots of internal repair.

Anthroslug said...

Glad to hear things worked out well for you, Dave. And it sounds like you and Eva made a good choice.

Also, no probelms as far as checking the car out went, I was happy to do it. As it turns out, it saved you two four hours in a car plus rental prices.

Anonymous said...

I found this ad on Craigslist. He is dropped the price again, saying that he has to sell it today, since Monday. In one of his emails, he also says that he wouldn't hesitate driving it to L.A. I guess stopping isn't on his list of priorities.

Evan Davis said...

The Judge on People's Court frequently yells at people "It would have been worth the $100 to have a mechanic look at it!"