The end of an era…

Well, my 1996 Explorer is no more. Or at least, it’s no longer in my possession and I would imagine that it will not soon be in anyone else’s possession either.

It’s a tragic tale, but it has a happy ending. Shall we begin?

Over the last couple of weeks, there was some bizarre behavior exhibited by the Explorer. Every time I had to brake hard for any reason, a plume of black smoke would billow out from under the hood. Of course, it led me to do two things, 1) Check under the hood for something obvious, and 2) try to figure out exactly which actions caused this smoke to billow.

After some investigation, I opted to take it to MIDAS (our local garage) on Friday (9/5) and let them take a gander. They called me back and told me that the smoke wasn’t from under the hood, it was actually from transmission fluid leaking onto the exhaust pipe.


I had a feeling that a leaky transmission wasn’t a good thing, especially with a 1996 vehicle. He said that the pump assembly was leaking and it looked like bad seals. He would need to remove the transmission to replace the seals and it would be expensive to do it. In this scenario, given the age of the car, he would recommend rebuilding the transmission to be sure that we wouldn’t be back in there in a month or two with another failed part on a 12 year old transmission.

To give you a bit more background, prior to this, here’s what I *knew* was … umm … “not ideal”.

  • Front driver-side quarter panel damaged
  • Back springs completely worn-out, replacement needed
  • Driver’s seat unable to remain upright, board propped up by folded rear seat
  • Passenger seat belt buckle required “finesse” to open
  • Passenger side brake light cracked
  • Air conditioning untenable, needed complete replacement
  • Driver’s side door unopenable from outside until opened from the inside, if outside handle pulled while locked
  • Several rips/cuts/stains in interior
  • Bizarro security system requiring random driver actions for car to start

And now, a transmission replacement. All told, that would be about $6000 to get it all fixed, and the car, in perfect condition, is worth ~$5000.

This meant only one thing, I would have to go car shopping. Now, I cannot describe to you how much I loathe shopping for cars. It’s like going into a very sneaky, but extra vicious lion’s den and I never feel like I’ve prepared enough for what I’m about to face. I started praying straight away that God would provide some extra discernment and that he would really help me to remain calm and patient.

We had planned to go look at some cars the next day (9/6), but after browsing the web at some auto sites I had absolutely no idea what kind of car I wanted, much less which make/model. As I wasn’t anticipating buying a car anytime soon, my perfect (or maybe my *tolerable*) car was the furthest thing from my mind.

Needless to say, it had to be done as the Explorer would need to be topped off with transmission fluid weekly to keep it from leaking dry and ceasing up, and that was a risk that I wasn’t ready to take. We got a late start after waiting for me to finish my DVD polishing exercise (I got 1984 on DVD from my in-laws, but it was scratched. You see the only way to get this DVD for a reasonable price is to buy used and this one wouldn’t play, or at least wasn’t entirely readable due to the depth and location of the scratch, but thanks to a rouge wheel given to me a while back by my father-in-law, I was able to slowly polish the scratch enough that the DVD was readable. This, however, took longer than I had anticipated). So after a quick BK lunch, we decided that Jaime would take Emma home and I would drag myself to a couple of car lots. We had seen the Saturn dealership’s “$17,999 VUE” banner on our way there, so that would be my first stop.

They were nice enough there, but the Vue was a bit crowded inside. I’m a giant person, so I need a fair amount of room to feel comfortable, and the Vue was too cramped for me to hang out in there. Plus the $17,999 model was pretty stripped down, but that wasn’t nearly the concern of the size issue.

They had an Outlook in the showroom, so I gave it a go and was impressed. It was very roomy inside and was setup like a minivan, but looked more like an SUV on the outside. The Employee Price sale was still in force, and this model was the lesser of the two Outlook models at ~$27,000. I grabbed some flyers, filled out a customer info card and said I may be back. $27,000 was a bit more than I wanted to spend for the car because we were w/o a car payment and were really driving our debt down. I was hoping to get a payment ~$400-450, regardless of how low that figure was feeling.

I was finished for the afternoon after that one stop (105 degrees and no A/C in the Explorer makes Chris a sweaty mess) and so I was heading home. I came up to the BMW/Mercedes intersection and thought, “What the hell? The worst thing is that I find out that I can never afford to drive a BMW.”

I pulled into the BMW place making sure to stop a bit hard and get that nice plume of smoke billowing. In my shorts and T-shirt I trudge to the door as a salesman named Ritchie opens the door and greets me. I’m sure that I looked like a joyrider trying to score a test drive with no hope of being able to afford a car, and in some ways that analysis was spot on.

Ritchie asks me what I’m looking for in a car, so I told him that I need to fit comfortably and I wondered if there was a BMW that would work. So, he took me to an used X5 and I sat in it. Quite comfy, not too cramped, except in the price department at ~35k. So, to remedy that situation he got me into a 2009 Alpina B7, also quite comfortable to sit in, but even more troubling ~$147,000 price tag.

Certified Pre-Owned? Sure! We head to a 5-series for ~$26k. It fits pretty well, not too cramped and quite roomy. It’s also a *sharp* looking car, so i was tempted. This would get better mileage and certainly is a bit classier than the Outlook, plus we already have the Durango, so we have the SUV if we need the space. I was about to have Ritchie cook up some numbers for me when he stops me and says, “I think I may have the perfect car for you.”

We walk around the dealership (I’m sweating profusely from the heat, fyi, and Ritchie is wearing a suit w/o a bead of sweat. Felt like a real goon by this time.) and he walks me up to this black Land Rover. It’s a beautiful car, but so were many other cars on this lot. The price was the first thing I noticed: $19,997


“Sooo, was this pulled from a lake or something?”
“No, it’s about to go to auction at that price, the wholesale price. It’s not negotiable because we will get that price from the auto warehouse that handles our auctions. It will most likely be gone by the weekend.”

Riiiight, that’s a pretty good story, but we’ll see. It’s a 2006, and has 43k miles. Not the best mileage, seems a bit high, but oh well. Even with those miles, the price was ~12k below blue book. They got me a carfax for the VIN and it was clean as well. Did a bit of scouring on my blackberry regarding auto auctions and his story checked out, that how it works (as best I could tell). Maybe, just maybe, this guy wasn’t swindling me.

I text Jaime and tell her I’m bringing a car by and it’s a Land Rover. “Of course it is” she replies, I’m sure thinking that me, the moron, went and fell in love with some $40,000 car that we are going to have to stretch every penny to afford. She came outside and liked the look, when I told her the price she was as shocked as I. She took it for a spin and thought it was a dream to drive as well.

So, we went back and he started working up the papers. After the deductions on the explorer due to the numerous problems, I netted $500 for it which I happily took. They got it all approved and printed and lo and behold, $450 payment. Both Jaime and myself were surprised that God was so good as to help up meet our budgetary goals with a nice car that works so well for me.

To bolster my confidence in the purchase, there were 3 couples that came in inquiring about the black LR3 and leaving irritated when they found out it had been purchased. Maybe I had found a diamond in the rough after all!

Well, I drove it to work the first time today and it was so nice. It was quiet (WINDOWS UP!) and cool (A/C ROCKS!). I was comfortable and it drives really well in traffic. It (supposedly) will do 12/25 mileage, but we’ll see how that goes. It does has a 6-speed transmission which will help mileage a bit, but if I get 20 on the highway I’ll be happy!!

This one’s not mine, but it looks *exactly* like it.

2006 Land Rover LR3 SE

So, the next era begins! Here’s to another 10 years of driving the same car! 😀


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