”Dude, it’s a mess.”
”How big a mess we be talkin’ about here?”
”Big. I don’t think it’s salvageable.”
It was another sh*tty day at Dishonest Used Car Dealership, and I was standing in Colossal Redneck’s office, giving him a report on a Golf we had just gotten in.
CR: ”Well, why don’tcha tell me what’s got y’all so worked up ‘bout it?”
Me: “It’s a Bondo bucket. Both rear quarters are munched, and it’s all filler underneath. The hatch sits a good half inch to the passenger’s side, and it leaks, but it won’t open. The paint everywhere aft of the doors looks like rattle can. It doesn’t have a straight panel to save its life, half the lights don’t work… I took it on a test drive, and it tracks bad, and the brakes are f*cking spooky. It creaks, moans, and shudders on every bump and curve. It’s parts, man.”
CR gave me the cockeyed look he usually gave me when he thought I was jumping to conclusions.
CR: “Well, we’ll just be seein’ about all a’ that. Gimme them keys, I’ll take ‘er fer a spin.”
CR drove out of the parking lot and returned no more than fifteen minutes later. He walked into my office cackling and tossed the key on my desk.
CR: “That right there is the single worst hunk’a sh!t I think I’ve ever driven!”
He cackled some more and shook his head.
CR: “Why don’cha get on the horn with Rom and The Amazon and see what all they might wanna do about this. We can’t be sellin’ that pile of sh!t.”
CR started to leave my office, and then stopped.
CR: “While you’re at it, have Miami Vice take it for a spin around the block. That’ll scare him good.”
I called MV into my office, handed him the keys, and told him to have fun. He was new enough at the company to not yet know we were setting him up. The look on his face when he returned from driving that deathtrap would be delicious. Meanwhile, I IMed Rom.
Me: “So, you know 6197, that silver Golf we just got in from a hotshotter?”
Rom: “wat about it”
Me: “Where did it come from?”
Rom: “chicago craiglst”
Me: “Did you buy it as-is?”
Me: “So, FYI, CR and I have looked it over, and it’s rough, man, real rough. Neither of us think we should go any further with it. If you want, we can go over its issues with you so you can see what we mean.”
Rom was not pleased, but he agreed, and a couple hours later, after Miami Vice had been scarred for life by his test drive, he and The Amazon appeared from the sales office. We walked around the car in question.
Me: “All that cottage cheese-looking stuff, that’s Bondo under there. It’s been hit hard, looks like more than once, and it wasn’t put back together right. With how much of the car is body filler, how bad the panels fit, and how bad it drives, I’d hazard a guess that the unibody is bent bad. Miami Vice took it for a test drive, and he nearly had a heart attack. It’s my opinion that it’s unsafe and cannot be made safe for any reasonable sum.”
The Amazon: “And you agree, CR?”
CR: “All y’all ain’t gettin’ a sellable car out of this here. Now, the interior ain’t bad, and the engine feels alright, so I can have the techs strip ‘er down, all y’all can sell the parts, and make back some’a what’cha spent on ‘er.”
Rom’s mood snapped to seething. His voice hissed as he pointed and glared at us.
Rom: “I haven’t lost money on a sale in a decade of business, and I will not lose money on this car. We will make lemonade out of this.”
Me: “You know, that’s a good metaphor, ‘cause it certainly is a lemon.”
My bon mot was not warmly received, so I retreated to my office before I got assaulted. A few minutes later, CR poked his head in my office door.
CR: “They wanna fix it.”
Me: “What in the f*ck. Look, dude. I don’t put my foot down about much, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m letting you know right now that I will not have my name on any paperwork associated with that car.”
CR started to argue.
Me: “No. This isn’t one of our usual sh!tbox lemons we push out the door on people.”
CR: “Now, wait a minute…”
Me: “Shut the f*ck up and listen. That car is a liability. It’s not safe and you admitted it yourself. It is a parts car, plain and simple. Now if you wanna toe the company line and get that pile sellable for Rom and The Amazon, you can get off your ass and type up the paperwork yourself for once in your life. Write me up if you have to, I am not, repeat NOT, going to take part in pushing a terminally damaged and dangerous vehicle on someone. That’s it.”
CR sighed and shook his head.
CR: “Alright, alright. Look, I got an idea. Give them guys at the bodyshop a call, and have one of the lackeys drop it off. Ask ‘em what it would take to get ‘er all nice n’ straight again and to put a coat a’ paint on ‘er.”
Me: “You know that may not even be possible. And even if it is, you know that number is going to be huge, right?”
CR smiled, nodded, and closed the door.
”Service, this is 36055512.”
”So, we have your Volkswagen here, and… um…”
I was on the line with the young lady who ran the office at the body shop we always used.
Me: “You can tell me how bad it is, I ain’t gonna cry.”
Body shop: “It’s… well, it’s bent.”
Me: “How bad?”
Body shop: “It’s not something we can pull out. The whole shell is tacoed inwards a good couple inches on the driver’s side. My guy says its done.”
Me: “But, just in theory, could it be fixed?”
Body shop: “Um… hang on.”
There was a long pause while she set the phone down to talk to one of the guys in the shop. In the background I heard a loud “what!?” and a bunch of laughter.
Body shop: “So… no, not easily. I mean, you can get all the parts from VW, and we could basically cut it apart and make a new car out of it. But the cost would be… a lot. Oh, and one other thing – it’s all rust under there. I guess the Bondo and such just soaked up water and road salt – so we’re talking about replacing not only both rear quarters, but the rust has gotten into the rockers and the floorpan as well.”
Me: “This is going to sound really stupid, but I’d consider it a huge favor if you’d write up an estimate for me.”
The response was incredulous, but she agreed.
”I’ve got a… um… “list” for you.”
Felonious Monk shook his head and thunked a pile of papers on my desk, each page covered in his chicken scratchings.
Me: “What’cha think?”
FM: “Well, you weren’t lying, it’s as bad as you say it is. You know the brakes? The left rear, somebody just capped the line. It’s not even hooked to anything! And the caliper’s just missing!”
Me: “That would explain why the brakes are so spooky.”
FM: “Tell me we’re not going to sell that thing.”
Me: “Rom and The Amazon are pretty convinced they can make a peach out of it.”
FM: “It’s not a peach, it’s a lemon.”
Me: “Yeah, well, funny thing, I had that very conversation with them…”
FM: “What’d the body shop say?”
I held my hands wide like you do when you’re telling someone how big a fish you caught. FM laughed and began flipping through the paperwork.
FM: “Well, I didn’t look it all up, but I’d bet you got another ten thousand in that pile there, maybe more if I find more stuff. Brakes, obviously, are done, and it needs that one caliper and line replaced, and the rest of the calipers rebuilt. It also needs pads, rotors, and a system flush. Shocks and struts are shot, and near every bushing in the suspension is trash. The front left lower control arm is bent and the driver’s rear wheel is also clearly bent. Both tie-rod ends are bent, and I suspect the steering rack is damaged as well, though we won’t know for sure until we try and align it. Electrical is a mess anywhere behind the front seats – somebody’s been into the harness, and it’s nothing but vampire taps and electrical tape. Hell, half the fuses pop as soon as I put a new one in. Looks like there was an electrical fire at some point. It’s a god-damned natural disaster in there. It also needs a full exhaust replacement, including the catalytic converter – someone cut out the cat, probably to sell the platinum in it for scrap.”
He paused and rolled his eyes at the whole situation.
FM: “Oh, and one last thing. The dash doesn’t match the car’s VIN, which means the air bags blew at some point. Looks like they put it back together without bothering to put in new air bags, so we’ll have to get those from VW. We’ll also need to have The Diplomat get in touch with the Volkswagen and the Department of Licensing and see how they want to go about getting the right VIN tag in there. Usually that means an inspection before it can be licensed again.”
Me: “That’s about what I expected. I’ll let you know.”
Felonious Monk started to walk out the door, then at the last second turned back around.
FM: “Why are we doing this?”
Me: “Because we work for people who hate us.”
”Repeat that, I don’t think I heard you correctly.”
”$22,642.73 to make it right. I can shave $400 out of that if you don’t want to change the timing belt.”
CR and I were sitting at one side of the table in the conference room, Rom and The Amazon on the other. I slid the estimate, which now filled out every bit of ten pages, over to the owners.
Rom: “That is horsesh!t. There’s no way it needs all this.”
CR: “Look, we can’t even begin to get ‘er drivin’ right until the body’s back to bein’ straight, and that’s more than twelve grand of it by its lonesome on account a’ all the damage an’ all the rust. After that, it’s needin’ a full suspension and brake overhaul, the interior’s needin’ to be stripped down so we can replace all the wirin’, it needs new airbags which ain’t real cheap…”
I chimed in.
Me: “Also, this is an initial estimate. It’s entirely possible that we will find additional things needing attention once we get in there. I wouldn’t count on getting out of this car for less than $25,000 in repairs.”
There was a long pause. Rom riffled his thumb through the estimate and flicked it toward The Amazon. She picked it up and pointed it toward the two of us in turn.
TA: “Here’s what’s going to happen. You have $1000 to spend getting the car ready for sale. After you’ve spent your $1000, it will be straight, it will drive right, and it will pass inspection. If you can’t get it done, I’ll find service staff who can. That’s all.”
I started to protest, but Rom and The Amazon stood up and walked toward the door. The Amazon punctuated her statement by throwing my estimate into the trash. The door slammed, leaving CR and me sitting by ourselves.
CR: “So much for that plan.”
Just then there was a knock at the door and The Raver slinked in.
TR: “You two look a sight. What’s going on?”
I rescued the estimate from the trash can and handed it to TR. TR looked it over and shook his head.
TR: “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen some shady sh!t, but there is no way this car can go out the door.”
Me: “I agree, man, but short of mutiny, we’re all out of ideas. Hell, even if we all were to quit, they’ll just find some assholes even shadier than us to patch it back together and sell it.”
CR shrugged in hopeless frustration and walked out of the room. I followed a moment later, leaving The Raver at the table to ponder.
It was the following Friday, early in the evening. The sales and office staff had long gone home, having worked their full four to six hours for the day. Some kind of horrible racket was coming from the other side of the parking lot. Dishonest Used Car Dealership was in an industrial park with all kinds of weird businesses, so strange sounds were not completely unheard of, but this sounded like it was coming from our part of the complex. I walked out to investigate.
I followed the racket across the parking lot and through the service bay, heading out the back door and into the empty lot we used as a trash dump. A circle of technicians and The Raver stood, beers in hand. In the middle was the silver Golf, with Miami Vice standing on the roof. He jumped up and down a few times, and held aloft his weapon of war, a Sawzall with a 12” demolition blade. From atop Mt. Volkswagen, he shouted down to his enthralled audience.
MV: “BEHOLD, MERE MORTALS, I AM THE INVINCIBLE GOD OF DESTRUCTION!”
He placed his weapon against his victim and continued cutting across the roof. The racket was unbelievable.
MV: “NOW I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF VOLKSWAGENS!”
Amid the chaos, I walked over to The Raver, who was standing alongside the technicians. I waved at MV to knock it off for a second and the technicians booed at my pausing of their evening entertainment.
Me: “What the f*ck is going on here?”
TR: “Miami Vice is cutting that Golf in half.”
Me: “Thank you, I’m so glad you’re here to fill in for my eyes. You convinced Rom and The Amazon to junk it?”
Me: “Wait, what? I mean, I want this car gone as much as anybody, but aren’t they going to flip out?”
TR took a sip of his beer.
TR: “We’re going to cut it in half, and then it’s going to disappear, and we’re allllllll going to shut the f*ck up about it.”
TR relayed his cunning plan. In our part of the world, auto theft for scrap value is a huge issue, so any cars coming in for scrap have to come with the title and a whole mess of paperwork signed by the owner. But there’s a loophole. If you cut a car in half first, it counts as just plain old scrap metal, and all you have to do is sell one half to one scrapyard and the other half to another, and nobody will ask any questions. Over the past couple of evenings, he and Felonious Monk had conspired to salvage anything good off the Golf and remove any flammable fluids in preparation for its demise.
TR: “And then Rom and The Amazon assume it’s been stolen, so they file a police report, and then, nothing happens, ‘cause nothing ever happens with stolen cars. And even if the cops do find it somehow, they’ll just tell Rom and The Amazon it was stolen for scrap, which is sort of exactly what happened, and nothing further will come of it. Done and done. Like hell are we going to sell anyone that deathtrap on my watch.”
His morality system operated on a very different set of principles than mine, but I had to admit, his was probably more effective.
Me: “Won’t that throw a red flag when there’s another TDi engine and a bunch of extra parts in the inventory?”
TR: “When was the last time the inventory was accurate?”
He had a point. TR hollered toward the spectacle in the middle of the empty lot.
TR: “Oh great god of destruction, or whatever? Go ahead and do your thing.”
MV grinned and held the Sawzall over his head.
MV: “I AM THE DESTRUCT-O-TRON 2000, ROBOT ALIEN FROM THE FUTURE! I EAT VOLKSWAGENS AND SH!T YOUR DOOM!”
He revved the Sawzall a few times for drama and went back at it. Careful application of a Sawzall makes surprisingly quick work of your typical family hatchback, especially when half of it is made of Bondo. In no time, the car cracked open like an egg, held together only by its belly pan. Felonous Monk grabbed the forklift and tipped the car on its side to allow MV to continue, and in no time we had two halves of a Volkswagen Golf. Just as quickly, The Raver pulled the big Dodge and its trailer around and winched the pieces up, disappearing out into the evening to drop the halves at a couple of scrapyards on the other side of town.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve got a gift for you.”
It was the following Monday. Rom and The Amazon had done exactly as The Raver had supposed, calling in the silver Golf as stolen. The police in our city were hopelessly underfunded and overworked, and their level of enthusiasm for finding said stolen car was, predictably, low. Nobody who was in on the scam was saying a word.
The Raver plunked something down on my desk. It was a Volkswagen shift knob. He raised a finger to his lips as if to shush me, and then tiptoed out of my office. I looked over the shift knob and placed it on my monitor stand.
I opened up our database and scrolled down to the entry for the silver Golf. I clicked a button.
“Are you sure you want to delete this record?”