I Bought a Lemon

The first time I took on debt was the spring when I graduated from high school.  When I was a senior in high school, I was not 100% sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I knew that I would ultimately attend college, but I was not mature enough yet at the age of 18.

After talking about it with my parents, we decided that I was going to work for a year or two before I went to school.  They were not thrilled with the plan, but also did not want me to just go to college without a solid direction.  Looking back, I still think that was a good idea.

Since I was going to get a job, I needed a means of transportation.  I grew up in a part of Pennsylvania where public transportation was limited.  To get to work, I needed a car.

It was 1995, so all the online car buying resources were not available.  At that point, there was Consumer Reports and Edmunds.  As you will find out, I did not read those magazines.

I decided that I wanted a Jeep Wrangler.  I started shopping by looking at the classified ads in the newspaper.  After looking for about one week, I spotted a 1991 Jeep Wrangler with a hard top.  My dad and I took a ride down to this local used car lot to test drive it.

The Jeep was nice, but when we were at the lot, a different car caught my eye.  The other car was a 1986 Audi 5000 CS Turbo.  The salesman called it a 4-door Porsche.  We test drove the car and we really liked it.  It was a solid driving car.

At the time, I had zero credit.  My dad agreed to co-sign for the loan.  He had one condition, he said if I missed a payment, he would sell the car.  I agreed to his terms and bought the car.

The car had less than 60K miles and only cost $6,500.  The loan payments were around $165 per month.  Because that it was a turbo, the insurance was higher than the car payment.


I had the car for about 2 months before the trouble began.  There were many issues, but the major issue was that if I was not driving with my foot on the throttle it would stall and not start back up.  When I was at a red light, I had to slip the car into neutral, put my left foot on the brake, and keep my right foot on the gas pedal.  Yes, very dangerous.

I took the car to a few different local mechanics and they did not know how to fix it.  I took it to a mechanic that specialized in European auto repairs.  He was not able to pinpoint the issue.

After I owned the car for about 4 months, I had to sell it.  My Mother was driving it on a major interstate highway when it stalled and would not start back up.  She was lucky to not have been injured or even killed.  The state police came and they called a flatbed to tow it away.  The car was simply not safe and had to be sold.

I took it to a dealer to find out what it was worth on a trade-in.  The dealer offered me $2,500.  I owed over $6000.  I did not want to lose $3,500.  At that time, $3,500 was a fortune because I was broke.

On my way home from the dealer, the car stalled at a major intersection.  I tried to start it for 15 minutes, but it would not restart.  This time the state police were not needed, but a flatbed was.

The car had to go.  I spoke to the owner of the car lot who offered me $2,500.  We worked out a trade for a 1986 Honda Accord with a bent frame and 115,000 miles.  The salesman told me to be careful with the car because it had a bent frame that causes it to drift to the right.

This whole situation truly had me upset.  I was not upset about losing the Audi.  What had me worried was the amount of Debt that I now had.  Plus, I felt that I had very little to show for it.

For the next four years, I had to make monthly payments on a $6,500 loan, but drive a $2,500 car.  This experience left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to debt.  I never missed a payment and paid the loan off.  I told myself that I would never get another car loan again.

The Honda lasted about 8 years.  My next few cars were hand-me-downs with well over 100K miles on them.  I received one from my parents and one from my wife.

I did not buy another car until I was 35 years old.  This time I did my due diligence and did some research before making the purchase.  That car was certified used Subaru with a 100K mile warranty.  I also paid cash.

Have you ever had a negative experience with debt?  If you have, please share your experience and what you learned from it.

10 thoughts on “I Bought a Lemon

  1. Team CF

    Oh darn, that really was a lemon. Must have been annoying and scary to drive that thing!
    No such horror stories here, most cars we have had were fairly reliable with only minor issues. Guess I have been lucky 🙂

  2. Save Splurge Deny Debt - Cameron

    I have gotten lucky with cars, starting out at age 16 buying a classic car with cash and making money when I sold it. I also had a nice Camaro that I bought at a great price. When I was hit and the car was totaled, I actually came out ahead on that as well.

    Those experiences have always kept me right side up with car debt. I now drive my wife’s old Nissan while we upgraded her car when baby came.

    I suppose now my worst experience with debt is my student loans. While I don’t regret the college experience, degree, and job opportunities, I can’t help but think I could have done some things smarter, or tried harder on my ACT, instead of just doing well enough.

    1. thefinancialjourneyman Post author

      That is terrible that your Camaro was totaled. I hope you were not injured.

      Student loans are an economic challenge for most.

      I have paid on mine for about 12 years. I only have a few years left.

      It is a challenge because the degree is required to get the high paying job, but the cost of the college keeps getting more expensive by the year.

  3. Wall Street Physician

    I’m sorry to hear about your lemon car story. I bought a used Toyota Camry 7 years ago. In retrospect, I put a lot of trust in the seller that they were not giving me a lemon. I found them on Craigslist, test-drove the car for about 5-10 minutes, and then put down around $8,000 in cash on the spot and took the keys and drove away. I did look up the VIN on Carfax but I don’t know how reliable those reports are. I feel very lucky that the car has been very good to me.

    1. thefinancialjourneyman Post author

      Thanks for the comment.

      I have never owned a Toyota.

      A close friend of mine drove a Toyota Corolla for many years. He put well over 250,000 miles on it. They seem to be very well built cars.

  4. Finance For Geek

    That’s terrible must have been so scary to drive it! I’ve always had really old cars since I was 18, but I guess I was a lucky guy also.. I think I didn’t have any single problem in a 13 year span (except usual oil stuff). But I have so many friends who had horror stories with their sometimes 1 week old car!!

    1. thefinancialjourneyman Post author

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, it was scary. I guess I was lucky to not have been hit from behind when it would stall.

      It was also very depressing to be in debt and to not have anything to show for it.

      It sounds like you have been lucky with cars.

      I too have had better luck with all of my cars after that one.

  5. Josh

    Cars are a potential nightmare for even the most educated and careful – sometimes just you just never know when you’ll get a lemon. It’s probably good, in retrospect, that you learned a lesson about debt the hard way back when you were young and it didn’t impact you in a significant way. Although I’m sure at the time you thought things could never be worse!

    Luckily, my first car didn’t treat me as horribly as yours did!

    1. thefinancialjourneyman Post author

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I was really worried at the time.

      I did not know I was ever going to pay the money back.

      In the long run, I learned from the situation.

      It helped to shape my view on money, debt, and cars.


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