This was the post I intended to reply to:
16 years old - 1973 AMC Hornet, with failed alternator and engine top-end held together with 1980's RTV. I bought six batteries off the scrap pile behind the Marathon station and kept them on 24 hour charge in my mothers apartment storage closet, using them in rotation as the previous ones were depleted. I knew NOTHING about cars or how to fix them. The car lasted two weeks before stranding me and my good buddy in a snowstorm requiring a tow which wiped out my bank account. Then I couldn't get rid of it. Even scrap yards wanted me to pay them to take it away. Eventually I started to learn about cars by dismantling that one, piece-by-bloody-piece and discarding the pieces in various public dumpsters. It took over a month, but I threw that car away in trash cans. Ahh to be 16 again.
16.5 years old - Purchased a one-owner, 1976 Chevy Malibu with a 350 V-8 from my aunt. $200 and she took it in payments. Gasoline was 75 cents a gallon. World.... GTFO of my way! I loved that ridiculous land yacht and I took the time to learn how to maintain it. Things were going badly at home and the clock was ticking for my to emancipate myself and probably leave Illinois. I realized that a cross-country drive might be in my near future and that car, that I drove like I stole it, was going to have to carry me to wherever. I did trans service, coolant, changed the oil frequently. I learned about alternators and R-12 compressors. Heck, I even rebuilt a complete Rochester 4-barrel quadrajet on a small table in our apartment! I really LIKED working on cars. Soon though, things at home went to hell in a hand basket, very quickly and I had to leave immediately, which meant abandoning my beloved car, quitting school, hitch-hiking to O'Hare and catching the CO Red Eye to Los Angeles.
17 years old - Now essentially homeless in Los Angeles, with $300 in my pocket, I went to a Yamaha dealer to inquire about making a down payment on a motorcycle. The Sales Manager, kindly containing his laughter, and noting the desperation in my eyes, took me in his car to his girlfriends house in Van Nuys. She had a nearly-new, 1986 Yamaha Jog, a 49cc, banana yellow thing with a basket.... that she had just crashed. It ran fine, but the front end was munched. She let it go for $300. I drove that thing for four months. I had a job on closing shift, so I could just pick it up and put it in the back of the store at night. Vehicle thefts were huge in LA at the time, but no one could get my fruity little scooter. Eventually I managed to fry the electronic ignition module. The part cost more than I spent on the scooter. and frankly, I was getting tired of GUYS whistling at me, so with a few saved paychecks under my belt, it was time to part ways with the little yellow scooter.
17.3 years old - Purchased a 1968, VW Micro Bus, $600, off a couple of douche bags who claim to have recently rebuilt the engine. It lasted around five weeks, during which time I was able to transport a woman in late stage labor to the hospital because she was able to lay on her back with all the seats out. I'll always remember that.
17.5 years old - Back to the Motorcycle Dealer, in search of my testicles left there six months earlier. I rolled out with a right, proper Virago 650 street cruiser. I loved that bike. Making up for time lost aboard the the little yellow scooter, I got more umm, 'attention' from women than I could handle, which at that age, is saying a lot. Life was grand, for a couple of months, until I got hit by a couple of Vatos sliding across my path while in a curve in Burbank. Bastards just clipped my crankcase. Rear end slid out and my right handlebar and brake lever dug in to a parallel parked pickup truck and ripped the sheet metal almost the entire length of the vehicle. Inertia was arrested as the handlebar met the firewall of the truck, the bike spun a sharp 90 - right, my ass was launched right through the fairing, landing head-first on the hood of the pickup truck before crumpling to the ground on the other side. Miraculously, I got away with bruises everywhere and an injured neck that still causes trouble to this day. I grew up a lot in the next few weeks.
17.8 years old - Using an ID that passed me for 18 I went to my local Chevy Dealer in search of safety, frugality, and adulthood. I had a steady job, even got promoted to assistant manager. Housing was still an issue, but I reasoned that an actual car, in a pinch, could double as a shelter. Being a new car would subject me to less scrutiny from cops and others who chase away people sleeping in cars. They actually took my wrecked motorcycle in trade... and they put it in their showroom for a time to promote safety, or some goofy thing. I rolled out in a 1987 Chevy Nova, which was a less expensive version of the Toyota Corolla, made at the NUMMI plant up in Fremont, which has long since closed and is presently occupied by "SOLYNDRA". LOL
That little Nova/Corolla took me everywhere! I kept it for ten years and put well-over 250,000 miles on it. I brought my first born child home in that car in 1995. It never failed. It was a stick shift mated to a 4A engine. In the mid-90's I worked in automotive aftermarket, so I had access to low-mileage Japanese take-outs for dirt cheap. At one point, I had a couple of engines and several transmissions for the car laying around, as well as full ignition sets, carburetors, whatever. I took that car apart so many times that I really became quite an expert on that vintage of Toyota.
Early 30's - I've got a good job now. Managing a Technical Service department for a mid-sized Engineering firm in Los Angeles. The Nova/Corolla still runs perfectly. But I've kind of out-grown it, second child on the way, have to wear a suit to work each day. My wife was driving a Volvo 940 and it was a great car. So when the Used Car circus came to my credit union, I went down there and came across a high-mileage 1995 Volvo 960! Yea! An upgraded 940, right? Right? RIGHT?
No way! The 960 was an entirely different animal. I could write a book on all the incredibly expensive crap that failed on that car. The final straw was a blown engine with a hearty crack between # 3 and 4, which I did NOT detect, as I proceeded to rebuild the entire thing. 3 weeks and $5,000 in parts later, it ran like crap. I gave it to a friend who worked for Volvo and had access to less expensive options.
After Volvo - I figured Toyota had been good to me once, so I paid way too much for a used 99 Avalon. The car had been thrashed by a previous owner and it had the dreaded oil sludge issue common to that vintage Toyota V-6. AND it had this annoying as hell rattle in the front end that I could not get rid of, even after replacing the entire suspension. The car ran fine, but that rattle drove me insane.
Mid-30's - The Avalon was still rattling, and I had a lengthy commute to and from work each day.... and it was now after 9/11, and I was feeling like maybe I ought to be driving an American brand car. So I visited the Saturn Dealer near my work. I was interested not the the homely plastic crap boxes they typically pushed, but rather the new L-300 line which was essentially a re-badged Saab 9-5 for 2/3rd's the cost. I bought the top of the line and it truly was a sweet ride. Acceleration, handling, braking, pure SAAB. Also just like SAAB, came the major engine damage failures at 30,000 miles with their "quirky" little internal oil/coolant/ cooler combo stupid thing. But hey, this was a Saturn store, all about the customer service. So they did the job for me for free, all 16.5 labor hours of it. Six months later, I smelled coolant burning, again. On the same morning, the fly-by-wire system glitched on me while launching up a freeway on-ramp into traffic that was cruising at 80+. This was the second time this happened. first time was as I was turning in front of a moving cement truck. OK, that's about enough of this.
Later that morning, in FEB 2007, I rolled up to the Toyota Dealer. I found some half-asleep kid struggling to get his tie put on straight. I told him to leave the tie alone. I told him I had exactly one hour to get out of my car and into something better and if he could get that done, in one hour or less, I promised him a great sale. 47 minutes later, I rolled out in my new Camry Hybrid. Tie-less kid and his manager in my rear view mirror shaking their heads in disbelief.
Typical Toyota. The car was GREAT! The dealership was a den of thieves and liars. I went there exactly once for service. Then I went home, got my tools out of storage and proceeded to service the car by myself for the next 100,000 miles.
Fast Forward to SEP2013. The Camry is asking for donations. After spending thousand of dollars trying to keep the car in pristine shape, I come to realize that automotive engineers have honed their skills to the point where cars really do, just fall apart after the designed life expectancy has passed. One kid is an adult now, the other is a teenager, neither are home very often. I work from home half the time, travel the other half. I have a great job, with a generous car allowance. I can literally buy and drive anything I want. This has never happened before! It may never happen again! Being able to choose anything I wanted, I ended up in a C-Max Energi.
Great Topic by the way.