Thursday, December 10, 2015

Goodbye, My Trusty Steed

It was Summer 2010 and I was diligently searching for a car. Or a truck, SUV, Jeep, wagon, hatchback...even a minivan. ANYTHING that would replace the untrustworthy 1998 Jetta I was driving. My preference was a Dodge Intrepid in the 2001-2004 range, equipped with the rare 3.5L high-output engine.
Must see! Sunday driver, garage kept!
Previous owner was a wee little granny!

But as the word "rare" implies, there just weren't any 3.5L Intrepids to be found unless I'd settle for a retired police cruiser with 200k miles and a penchant for guzzling oil.

The engine rattles a little...we spent most of the past 198,000 miles chasing
little grannies through corn fields and gravel quarries on Sundays.
They sure knew how to evade capture...but their cars were always in the local Garage.

Dad and I stopped at a dealership to view their 2003 Intrepid with the 3.5L engine. A fully equipped  3.5 for sale, loaded with luxury options and under 200,000 miles on the odometer! Sitting inside it was like shaking hands (hooves?) with a unicorn. The salesman, fully equipped with a smug grin, seemed to know that and quoted a price two times higher than the one we were offered on the phone BEFORE we drove an hour to look at it. When we just absolutely refused to pay the amount, Smug Grin consoled us by showing us other options, like the Jeep Commander sitting in the parking lot. "I can get that to you for Thirty-seven-five!" He boasted. "Thirty-seven hundred dollars?" I asked, confused. "No, $37,500." He replied, his grin managing to somehow produce even more smugness. I was unable to purchase the car I came for so he offered me a vehicle that was six times more expensive? A curious sales technique, to be sure. I left the dealership wishing I could have done some non-non-resistant (so just, regular resistant?) things to Smug Grin.

There were plenty of Intrepids to be found but the vast majority of them had the dreaded 2.7L engine in it. Not only was it almost guaranteed to seize after 150,000 miles and leave you stranded somewhere but it was also underpowered, which we can all agree is the worse of the two. Sellers were especially sneaky about this aspect when posting their car for sale. "It has a V-6 engine!" They'd crow. Unfortunately, the 2.7 and the 3.5 are both V-6's. Each Intrepid sale that turned out to be a 2.7 was like a tantalizing carrot that ended up being an orange tongue depressor.

During this time, the Chrysler 300M was not even on my radar. It was the luxury upgrade of the Dodge Intrepid and therefore way out of my league. But I eventually discovered that no matter what 300M I looked at, it had the trusty 3.5L engine in it. No need to worry about the pesky 2.7. And there were tons of Chryslers available, some even at the price range I was able to afford! It was a Christmas miracle, but in June.

When you hear "Chrysler 300", a giant thugmobile might immediately spring to your imagination. I'm referring to the previous generation.

 On the left, the 2004 300M. On the right, the 2005 300C.

One day, my family was traveling home from the Adventureland theme park. My friend Solly was along for the day. We had just gotten off the Space Shot after nine back-to-back rides and we were feeling a little vertigo. So to help keep our insides from lunging out, we started looking through CARS 4 U magazines to look for deals. Solly pointed out a dark blue Chrysler 300M that met all my criteria for price and mileage. I called up the dealership, and they told me it was "Pre-Salvaged" which was supposedly better than "Regular Salvaged". Evidently, the car was a Frankenstein hybrid of two separate Chryslers. The rear end belonged to a purple 2002 Chrysler 300M that had been wrecked in the front. The front end was a dark blue 2004 Chrysler 300M that had been wrecked in the rear. This small body shop had sawed the cars in half and put the two good halves together. The engine and transmission belonged to the 2004 and had fairly low mileage. The vehicle had been repainted a dark blue so everything matched, mostly. The leather-and-wood-panel interiors of the two cars matched perfectly. Dad and I test-drove the car and I knew it was the one I was looking for. We haggled on the price and purchased with cash. On the way home, my odometer rolled over 107,000 miles. The date was July 17th, 2010.

The car had just over 186,000 miles when I plowed into the side of a deer this December. As I coasted to the side of the road, I realized with sadness it was the last mile I would drive this car. Dad came and towed me home with the pickup.

For nearly 80,000 miles, that Chrysler warmed my posterior with heated leather seats and cruised me comfortably around the United States. The independent suspension handled the gravel road pot holes with poise. I often drafted the car into use as a work truck, and it did a swell job. The roomy interior and trunk carried my friends and I with style. Before you giggle that I said "trunk" and "friends" together by mistake, let me clarify that once we packed 9 humans into the 5-passenger car to save a few bucks at the Shiloh Fireworks, an event that charges admission per vehicle rather than per person. My friend Shane rode in the trunk. He said the ride was "very uncomfortable" which may have been a result of the load of Mennonite Hymnals he was laying on. It also could have been a result of him riding in a trunk, but the results are inconclusive.

I have a lot of fond memories of the car but I also have a few not-so-fond memories. I once made a Summer trip to Pennsylvania without a working air conditioner. The car stranded me in the middle of a busy intersection in Iowa City one afternoon with a faulty fuel pump. The combination of a thirsty V6 and a heavy car gave me lousy fuel mileage. Once I left it parked at the church and it got backed into by one of the Kids Club vans. I've replaced the water pump, the timing belt, six tires, the battery, the brakes, the air conditioner duct damper, and the headlight bulbs. Maintenance on the car was difficult and frustrating. The battery was located ahead of the front passenger wheel, so replacing the battery required removing the wheel. Because of the fancy independent suspension, there were absolutely no axles or tow-hooks to attach a rope or chain to the underside. This caused serious trouble when I needed to pull the car out of the snow drifts and sloppy mud pits it occasionally ambled into. The oil filter was in a difficult spot and required three hands to remove. Replacing the headlight bulbs required two people and...well I'll just let "ScottB" from a Chrysler forum explain his experience.

"Anybody have the "pleasure" of replacing headlight bulbs on a 300M? I just had one blow out on my 2004, but after 11 years and 137K miles, how can I complain? What I will complain about it how difficult it is to get at the bulbs.

When I started reading the owner's manual and realized I was going to have to disassemble half the nose of the vehicle, I ended up replacing all four bulbs so I wouldn't have to do this again anytime soon. What I thought was going to be a 15 minute job took 90. You have to loosen the crossmember that the hood latch and front fascia/grille are attached to after you remove the windshield washer reservior and cruise control servo from it. Then you have to unscrew the headlight assemblies themselves and remove them while prying the crossmember/fascia/grille forward enough to get them out. Thankfully, the urethane bumper is flexible enough. Then you get to reverse all those steps to get it all back together. I don't normally advocate violence, but whoever designed this needs to be slapped silly. I imagine that if I had a mechanic do this that I'd be charged at least $100 in replace a headlight bulb. Ridiculous design."

 My dorm of crafty ninjas, Spring Valley Bible Camp. June 25th, 2012

A blizzard in Iowa. February 14th, 2014
 My brother Shane, copiloting the 300M. March 11th, 2012.

I didn't ask Shane permission to load that photo, which isn't very nice. To make up for that, I'll load one of myself.

 Myself, piloting the 300M. March 11th, 2012. Yes, those are evergreens
blurring in the background as I make silly faces in the foreground. 

 My brother Shaylon, lovingly washing the car for some Summer cash.

This photo was taken moments after my car hugged a doe at 55 mph. December 1st, 2015

The front bumper fell off while we towed the car. The good news:
the headlights are much more accessible now.

I had full insurance coverage on the car, and the insurance company estimated that the cost for repair was double the value. They wrote me a check and hauled the car away. 

If you hustle to the Davenport insurance auction, you'll get a chance at this STEAL of a deal! Non-smoker, new front tires, engine is very quiet/makes no noise at all! 

I may have had several complaints about the design but this car was truly a blessing and I'm having a hard time saying goodbye. I suppose that's what nostalgia is all about. Remembering the awesome moments and fond memories (I have spent many hours driving my little lady around in this car on dates) and selectively forgetting all the repairs and setbacks.

I'm currently searching for a replacement. I've grown very fond of large 4-door sedans and their versatility, but I could entertain the idea of a different mode of transportation. What do you drive, and what do you like about it?