Review: The Death of a Car

This review will be slightly longer than normal, owing to the fact that I'm actually reviewing a whole bunch of different things. The scores are at the end.

Executive Summary: A pickup truck murdered my beloved 1988 Toyota MR2. The insurance company totaled it. I found a 1987 MR2 in much better condition and bought it. In between, I was treated very well by everyone involved.

Part The First: Clash of the Titan

On a Wednesday morning, I stopped by the mail building to get the company mail. I usually just leave the car running and run in for about 20 seconds to do this. As I was getting back in my car, I noted with irritation that my left taillight was out. Shall I replace it this afternoon, I wondered? No, it can wait. I am eating dinner at Mom's house. I shall do it tomorrow.

In retrospect, I probably would have been insanely irritated if I had replaced the bulb.

On Thursday morning, I drove my hour commute to Camp Murray, contemplating all the while the many minor things that my car should have, starting with an oil change and ending with a viking funeral. New latch for the moon roof. New seals for the trunk. Brakes, possibly. Some new belts, probably new spark plugs, and almost certainly a new air filter. Paint, obviously. A replacement for the bent rim that caused the car to wobble horribly at 25 mph. Also, I was noting some intermittent pinging, even with the plus gasoline. Just how much was I going to spend on this thing, anyway?

Slightly bummed from this mental wheel-spinning, I decided to stop by Vic's for coffee. Vic's is the only place on Camp Murray you can get coffee; as such, it could be terrible and still do a brisk business, but it's actually pretty good and reasonably priced. I park across from the entrance (not in the line of spaces right in front of the building) and go in to order a 20 oz Americano. The gentleman ahead of me gets his coffee and heads outside. I make small talk with Vic.


"Oh dude," quoth Vic. "That guy just backed into the little red car."

Sigh. "I'm going to need my coffee before I go look at that."

Sure enough, by parking across from the entrance, I placed my car in just the perfect location to be murdered by a 2004 Nissan Titan.

The left light cluster is left dangling, and the metal around it is crunched in a bit, too. It doesn't look that bad, but given the age of the vehicle and the difficulty of getting parts, I knew I was looking at a potential car-killer.

The driver was very apologetic; he "just didn't see" my car. I have another photo where you can more easily see how the top of my car is still lower than the top of the bed of the Titan. We exchanged insurance information, and then he left for his meeting, almost hitting another car on his way out. I took pictures, picked up shattered plastic, and went back inside to put more sugar and creamer in my Americano.

I was not terribly upset. Annoyed? Yes. Angry? Not really. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was shooting at me. It just wasn't that serious. You can't have 500 million cars running around this country without them occasionally overlapping in time and space.

Part the Second: Releasing the Hounds / Insurance Adjusters

I delayed calling USAA, the insurance company for both vehicles. I didn't want to deal with it and I had lots of other things to do. However, it needed to happen, so at 1500, I called and reported the accident. I had his insurance policy information on hand, and they asked a whole bunch of questions. They were very professional and sympathetic, even laughing weakly at my weak jokes. The call took 10 minutes.

They called back at 1640. The other driver had been contacted and accepted fault. They made arrangements for me to bring the car to a shop (suggesting one when I had no particular input) and had a reservation for a rental car. I could drop off the car the next morning at the shop and then Enterprise would pick me up.

Part the Third: Letting me down gently

I slept in on Thursday morning, since Precision Collision didn't open until 0800. They were kind and sympathetic. Yes, it was tragic, and no, they really don't make cars like this any longer and that's a shame. 36 miles per gallon? Really? Wow.

The adjuster came out to look at my car and immediately got that expression on her face. You know the one. The one that the doctor gets when he has to tell little Emily that grandma isn't going to wake up. That was the look she had. I could tell she was searching for words, so I saved her some time. "You're going to total my car, aren't you?"


For those who haven't gone through this, the repair shop does up an estimate and sends it to the insurance company, which then decides whether it is cost effective to fix the car or whether it's better to declare it a total loss. If it's going to be a close thing, the insurance company might send another set of eyes to look at the issue. I'm sure there's more complexity to the issue, but it's mostly under the hood.

They called Enterprise, which sent someone to pick me up and bring me back to their lot to get my rental car.

Part the Fourth: Wheeled Titanic

Stephanie at Enterprise was also quite sympathetic. She rushed me through the paperwork and was quick and professional throughout. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but she got me the damage waiver coverage on the rental at no charge, which was cool. Alas, the only thing they had available on the lot was a 2009 Chrysler Sebring. This is a very nice, very comfortable car that I utterly detested on sight; driving it didn't generate any more positive feeling. I will say that it had a pretty great audio system, but it's about 17 times the size of my beloved MR2, and it felt like I was taking up two and a half lanes. However, I was at least on the way to work. Also, it would prove to get about 30 miles to the gallon, and that's not bad.

Part the Fifth: Waiting around

Meanwhile, my wife had already been looking on Craigslist for another MR2--just in case. Why? Because my wife is awesome. Most wives would make me replace my MR2 with a 4-door sedan because I'm a responsible parent and stuff now, but my wife is the coolest. Several tantalizing possibilities presented themselves, but we were waiting for the estimate and then the verdict from the insurance company.

The estimate came that afternoon: $1,337. Ouch. The verdict didn't come until the following Thursday, so in the mean time I drove my land yacht (with good tunes) and searched Craigslist compulsively in the evenings.

Part the Sixth: Value is relative.

USAA decided that $1,337 was too much to pay for a 1988 Toyota MR2 of dubious value, so they totaled it, giving me $2,287. Sweet. I had meanwhile scheduled a 4-day weekend, so I had time to go car shopping.

[Also on Thursday, I called Enterprise to find out if I could get a smaller car, but all they had was a Dodge Avenger. No thanks.]

About this time, a guy living in Maple Valley named Bill decided that he was going to get rid of his garaged silver 1987 5-speed Toyota MR2, mostly to make room for his new ungaraged Mini Cooper (blue with racing stripes). He posted this car on Craigslist, offering a free 1977 Ford Courier to the purchaser of his MR2. 40 minutes later, I responded, and within a few hours we'd set up a showing on Saturday afternoon (so my brother/mechanic/smart guy I know) could look at it.

Somehow my parents got involved. I think it was so we would have enough drivers in case we took the Courier, too. The four of us drove over in my wife's Subaru. The short version: although it needed a few odds and ends, the car was a VERY good deal. The Courier was more than a little scary, and we respectfully declined.

Cash switched hands. Titles were signed. Bill was a little disappointed that we wouldn't clear up his Courier infestation, but still happy to send the car to a new home--enough so that he inexplicably knocked $100 off the price.

We discovered a few minor deficiencies in the first five minutes of driving it homeward, however, which somehow escaped detection during the test drive.

  1. The brake lights didn't light up, although the driving lights did.
  2. The driver's side power window was a little fidgety; we drove home with the window 1/2" down.
  3. World's Worst Windshield Wipers.
  4. The fancy Kenwood stereo would only play Abba.

We solved the last one at the gas station, fortunately.

Halfway home, we realized that the t-top was slowly leaking icy water onto my brother's jacket, which absorbed about half a gallon before it all soaked through at once, eliciting the most amazing screams.

Triumphantly, we stopped for dinner at the Big Apple Diner in Chico, outside of Bremerton. I don't know why I look at the menu; I almost always order the corned beef hash, which is fantastic.

Part the Seventh: Making Adjustments

Title, insurance, bridge toll transponder: lots of little things to do. Expensive, some of them. A 15a fuse fixed the light issue. A good deal of fiddling resolved the Abba issue (yay iPod) and also enabled the Bluetooth so my phone calls route through the car stereo (helpfully pausing the music). I figured out a temporary workaround for the window. New wipers (on sale!). More air in the tires and a cheap car wash. My car is ready to commute.


A Titan killed my car. The insurance company hooked me up with a rental (that I hated, but not their fault) until they decided to pay me for my car: specifically, two and a half times what I originally paid for my car six years ago. I then used most of this money to purchase another, similar but much cleaner and prettier car, and after a long weekend of not very hard work, I'm ready to drive my new car to work. I should total my car every year.

2004 Nissan Titan: Great for killing MR2s, but watch that spoiler, since it will punch out a reverse lamp. Poor visibility to the rear and apparently some control issues. 4 out of 752 smashed beloved MR2s.

USAA: Friendly, quick, and helpful on the front end, though I could wish they'd made a decision a little sooner. They sprung for a large rental; no skimping. Not their fault I hated it. 11 out of 13 proof of insurance cards.

Precision Collision: Friendly, sympathetic, and quick. We had the estimate same day. They also helped me remove my personal effects from the murdered vehicle, and were appropriately somber at the occasion. They didn't actually fix my car, so I can't judge that, but if I needed it done, I would probably go there first. 46 out of 52 demolition derbies.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Bremerton, WA): I hated their car, but they tried. And the stereo was truly kick ass. They also didn't bat an eye when I chose to ruck march home instead of accepting a ride. 17 out of 19 fifty-ton sedans.

Craigslist: You have to sort through a lot of people who are just dreaming ($7k for a non-turbo '91? Please.), but overall pretty helpful. Still can't find any Cortinas, though. 1 out of 1 misclassified personal ads.

1997 Silver MR2: Time will tell. But it surely does clean up nicely.


  • Vic's Espresso and Eats
  • USAA
  • Precision Collision
  • Enterprise Rent-a-Car (Auto Center Blvd, Bremerton, WA)
  • Craigslist
  • Big Apple Diner [review]
  • Comments

    Good Read

    Glad to see that you got another ride. I have a friend who had a newer MR2 and loved it. It was known as The Mister 2.

    Your story turned out better than most. When my 91 Sunbird was totaled by a late night run in with an air conditioning repairman's can (he peeled the passenger side back like a sardine can) I fought with insurance companies for about a month before I ended up getting a my Dakota.

    The driver initially told me had insurance with one company but when I called them, the company said they did not insure him. I called the guy up and tried to the insurance info but was given the runaround for a couple of days. Then his insurance company told me that it was just as much my fault as it was his (he ran a stop sign) so they denied my claim...even with a police report. I had to get a family friend (who happens to be a lawyer) to make a few calls to get things taken care of. I still did not get what the car was worth, or even what it would cost to repair it, but they did let me keep the totaled car so I sold it for parts.

    Could parts from the totaled car help fix the replacement vehicle?

    We were blessed

    We were very blessed that the other driver was also a USAA customer, although it helped enormously that this occurred on a military base in clear view of every car coming on to the base during morning commute hours; there was no chance of avoiding accountability.

    Most of the things wrong with my car don't really have an analogue in the other vehicle, and I chose not to buy it back from the insurance company when they totaled it anyway. I might have if I'd had a garage to put it in, but even my new hotness parks on the street until we close on our house...