Part 1: Saving the Ugly Duckling
I'm very outspoken on buying cars. I force friends to come with me on car buying expeditions regularly, and leave notes with my contact info on windshields of prospective cars nearly every day. Occasionally, the consistent trolling produces a result from my inner circle. A good friend let me know that he wanted to get rid of a car on his property, a '99 Ford Taurus SE that was giving him a few issues. It had a parasitic electrical drain, and was about as clean as a game of prison basketball. Mechanically it was in running condition, and looked like it needed some maintenance, but not an overhaul.
There were two things that attracted me to this car: The design and the price. To address the design: I hated it. I thought the body lines were horrendous and out of proportion. It's as if the lead designer's 5 year old blind nephew drew what he thought a car looked like on the side of a balloon, using instructions recited in Latin on a Motorola StarTac. It was without a shadow of a doubt the ugliest car I had ever owned, and I loved that about it. I loved that this car could trigger such a reaction out of me, while technically ticking all the boxes that would render it boring. It was beige on the outside AND inside, had a front-wheel-drive slushbox with coumn-mounted shifter, a tape deck, and a V6 that was rivaled in power by a mid-range lawnmower.
Here's the actual commercial that Ford put out in '97 to promote this car. If you played a drinking game in which you drank every time someone in this commercial said something remotely human, you would have to apologize to your designated driver for wasting their time.
A notable feature in this car was its ability to seat 8 people, with a rear-facing jump seat in the back for children that wouldn't mind seeing their life flash before their eyes in a rear-end collision, and a 3rd seat in the front for children that wouldn't mind having a oval-shaped radio act as an airbag in a front-end collision.
The price was a much more than reasonable $300, which was less than me renting a brand new Taurus for a few days, so I took the keys, pumped up the air-powered lumbar support (S-Class, anyone?), and drove it home.
Unfortunately, I don't have any pics of when I first got the car, so please accept this as an accurate representation of what the car looked like when I got it:
Now with 0% APR Financing for well qualified buyers!
Part 2: Aiding the Lemon (Get it? GET IT?!)
In order to get this bull ready for market, I had to sort its electrical gremlins.
Quick tip: When you're doing a diagnosis of a new car, one of the most useful things you can do is to start with the little things first. When you're trained and experienced in doing many in-depth procedures, it's often diffcult to envision the problem being simpler or easier to solve than you initially thought. Never rule out a small bug being the culprit in favor of a major rebuild.
The first thing I tackled was the parasitic drain on the battery. After desulfating the battery and trickle charging for a few days with a battery charger, and cleaning the stock cables and replacing the oxidized and pitted battery terminals with new, gold plated terminals, I noticed that the interior dome light wasn't turning off with the car off and the door closed.
Using the advice I got from this thread on TaurusClub.com, I sprayed the door switch with generous amounts of electrical parts cleaner and sensor-safe silicone lubricant, as well as used lithium grease on the door locks themselves. Problem solved. I left the car locked overnight and checked the battery status in the morning, which was in perfect shape. After replacing some burnt out bulbs in the back of the car, I cleaned up the engine bay a bit to make it more presentable as well.
Now that the car was mechanically and electrically sorted, it was time to clean up as best I could.
To tackle the interior, I needed an arsenal of reliable and effective weaponry. Here's what I used:
- Dishwashing Soap
- Spray Bottles
- Mr Clean Magic Eraser Pack
- Leather Conditioner/Cleaner
- Microfiber towels
- Invisible Glass (Ammonia free)
- Bissell Little Green Machine
I washed, clay barred, polished and waxed the car using these products:
- 2 buckets
- Dishwashing soap
- Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash
- Meguiar's Clay Bar
- PC 7424XP w 6" backing plate
- 3 pads for agressive cut , medium cut and fine cut/polish.
- Collinite 845 wax
- Microfiber Towels
I also followed these tutorials, made by Larry Kosilla at AMMO NYC and /DRIVE:
- Audi R8 BLACKBIRD: Basic Car Wash Techniques -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Top Ten Detailing Mistakes -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Interior Detailing: Tools, Techniques, and Materials -/DRIVE CLEAN
- Polishers and Swirl Removal Tips -/DRIVE CLEAN
And the finished product:
Part 3: Selling Lemonade to Save a Family
I posted this car for sale on Craigslist for an asking price of $1399, and I immediately got a few offers, but one stood out against the rest. Here was the unedited message I received:
Thank you very much for responding, I am very interested in you car I ask if you can please give me priority. I know that, that is not fair and I would not ask you if I didn't desperately need a car.
Im in a little dilema as I have been here for the past 2 months on a job contract ;yesterday we were told that the work must stop due to some back order on some material (We meaning my brother and best friend) . Now the man is refusing to pay us and told us that we can only stay one more night here (his daughters basement) we were making an addition to her house.
We have tried all day today to get a car rental and we cannot get one because we need a credit card and they only card I have is a debit card. they need a credit card because we will be renting the car only one way and they want to verify the credit. We are stranded here. We cannot fly to Los Angeles becasue my friend hasn't any proper government issued ID.
We thought about the greyhound but to we were told we will pass a immigration inspection somewhere between Denver Colorado and Las Vegas. And affortunately the bus takes that route to Los Angeles CA.
We have no way of coming home. we are short on money.
I had to call and see if they were legit, and after a short chat, they hopped on the next train to come see the car. I spoke with them about their jobs, checked their IDs for the test drive, and understood that they got dealt a bad hand and just wanted to cut their losses and head home. Politics aside, I felt it was my duty to make sure this honest bunch got to where they needed to be. They offered me my asking price, but I gave it to them for $1200 and told them that the leftover funds would be better used on fuel on their trip. As a person that tried to make his own way in life by trial and error, I can recognize the qualities of hard working individuals pretty easily, and I had no qualms with giving them the keys and wishing them the best of luck on their journey. I felt good, made some money, and helped a family down on their luck. That feeling was solidified when I got a message a few days later:
I just wanted to send you an email to let you know that my husband and brother are in California already. They are about 2 hours away from getting home.
I want to thank you for selling them your car. They said she was excellent the whole way. Never gave any problems.
I really appreciate it. Without you good heart they probably would not be any where near getting home.
I'm very, very gratefull.
Here's the rundown of costs for this flip:
|1999 Ford Taurus SE Wagon
Nearly $900 for what amounted to cleaning an old station wagon. Who needs the stock market with profit margins like these?
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