I bought a used car about three weeks ago from a man who said he is a deputy sheriff and the head of the bus department for a school system not far from here. I had never met the man before, but I trusted him when he said he had used the car every day up until recently and there was nothing seriously wrong with it. It seems to me that there should be some trustworthy souls left on earth and with this man's responsibilities, it seemed to me that he should be one of them. I paid top dollar for the car considering it was a private deal and he sold it "as is."
The car wasn't registered so I couldn't test drive it, but I overlooked a few key items in my zeal to get a good deal on a relatively low mileage used car. One was the heavily worn rubber on the clutch pedal. After I started driving the car, I realized that the clutch chatters, the pedal feels tiny bit softer than it should, and twice now with little provocation, the clutch has smelled hot, a sure sign of a badly worn clutch.
The second sign was two new tires on the front and two badly worn ones on the rear. After I started driving the car I realized that the rears were even unsafe to drive on and made strange road noises.
The third warning sign was that the driver's "automatic shoulder belt" was jammed in its track halfway between engaged and disengaged. Driving a car this way was illegal despite the fact that this man is a deputy sheriff. He told me he didn't know if the problem was serious or not but that it might be as simple as a door switch. I didn't notice at the time, but both the dome light and the ignition switch chime worked on the other tree doors but not on the driver's door.
He did tell me that the engine had been changed since he bought the car, but there was some confusion about how long it had been since that was done and also about how long ago he and his wife had bought the car. He assured me that the replacement engine had fewer miles on it than the one that failed shortly after he bought the car.
I bought the car, a 1996 Escort with 83,000 miles on it, for $2,000 and the seller marked the bill of sale "Vehicle sold as is." I gave him $200 to hold it till I could raise the cash (he wanted to give me one day to do that but I asked for 5). I got the money, then got the title, registered and insured it, and drove it home.
I began with the automatic seat belt by testing the door switch. It worked fine. Then I bought a repair manual and took apart the track for the seat belt. The first thing I found was that the wire for the whole assembly was unplugged in the door post behind the plastic trim. A small access door made that a simple thing to do. But plugging it back in didn't solve the problem so I kept digging and removed the whole assembly. I found that the drive cable was pinched in the track and when I pounded the cable back in place and hooked it all back up, everything was back to normal. But...
1. The seller, a deputy sheriff, sold me the car in a condition where it was illegal to drive.
2. He acted as though he knew nothing about what was wrong with it.
3. Someone had disconnected the plug after the cable jammed in its track.
After that, I thought I should check the spark plugs since the engine seemed a little bit rough at times. I couldn't believe what I found. The car had Motorcraft Platinum spark plugs that had been in the car so long they had burned open to a gap probably twice as large as the original .055. The odometer was just over 83,000 miles and this seller assured me that the engine had fewer total miles on it than that. OK. But why weren't the spark plugs EVER changed and just how many miles does it take to wear Motorcraft Platinum plugs this much?
The first trip we took in the car, I realized it was unsafe to use the rear tires any more, so we bought two new tires at Sears, "H" speed rated to match the two new ones that were already on the car. That quieted things down and really helped the steering, but it was evident that the wheel alignment was way off so I made an appointment for an alignment at a reputable shop this week. When I went in for the alignment, though, I was told that the right rear strut was leaking and that the right rear was sitting lower than the left, an indication of a probable broken spring although the mechanic didn't find a break in it. The estimate was outrageous so I just brought the car back home. But on the way home, I stopped at this seller's home and had a talk with him. I told him about the strut situation and the $680.00 estimate I got from the shop. I told him about the chattering clutch. He told me he had no idea about the strut situation, but that the clutch was new and he couldn't believe it was worn out. He did tell me, though, that the clutch was replaced before the engine so I was hoping I might find that there was a new clutch bolted to a broken engine in some mechanic's back yard. I found out who had done the work for him and had him call the garage and let them know I would be coming over to ask a few questions.
Here's what I found out...
1. He had owned the car for well over two years and had put about 22,000 miles on it. That is significantly more use than he seemed to be saying when he was selling me the car.
2. The engine went soon after he bought the car. The crankshaft had broken in half. The clutch repair happened a year or so later and the mechanic had noticed clutch chatter the past couple of times he had driven the car, a sign that someone was rough on the clutch. I'm guessing that the engine flywheel is warped from overheating from slipping the clutch too much. This man's wife was in a bad accident about a year ago and had a hard time even walking for awhile, but apparently she continued to drive this car.
3. Nobody seemed to know anything about the rear struts, but they aren't too expensive to repair and broken springs are common on the rear of a Ford Escort. It shouldn't cost me $680.00 to repair.
So I did some pricing and then took the car home and removed the rear struts. Here's what I found...
1. Someone had removed the struts at least one time before. There was evidence of this on the nuts on the left side of the car.
2. The right rear strut was indeed leaking, but instead of there being a broken spring, there was a brand new spring on it. Apparently the new spring didn't sit quite as high as the old original had even though it still had the labels on it clearly identifying it as a Ford part. I called the Ford garage in our area and their records showed the sale of a single spring in January of this year. My guess is that I am the proud owner of that spring even though the car's owner didn't seem to have any idea that it had been replaced!
OK, I confess, I overlooked a lot of clear warning signs when I bought the car, but I trusted the man I bought it from. I trusted that he was telling me the truth. Clearly, though, it was ignorant of me to place trust in a stranger even if he was a deputy sheriff and worked at a job in which he must have had knowledge of mechanics.
My guess is that this man is a Republican... Probably his wife is too... My guess is that Karl Rove and George Bush are role models for this pair. But that's just a wild guess, isn't it?
A correction: I found two new springs on the rear, not just one. For that, I thank whoever did it, but jeeze, why springs and not struts while you're in there?
I replaced the struts today and test drove the car. Things are looking pretty good. It still needs alignment but at a total cost of around $225, not $680. That I can handle. I do love driving this car and I love the feeling when I gas it up and put $15.00 worth in the tank!!
Now for the clutch.....