Rebecca Rider column: Car facts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

By now some of you may have gathered that I have terrible luck with cars. This is something I realized back in high school, when my car broke down in a Food Lion parking lot one Halloween.

It’s something I realized again last week when my car – though a different one from the high school incident – refused to start. It was in the middle of a workday, and I’d just finished covering the Red Cross’s Camp Ready Kids. I climbed into my car, looking forward to the blast of air conditioning in the 90 degree weather. The key turned, the engine revved — and revved, and revved — but did not catch.

I keep a running, mental list of things I never learned in school, and every day, I add to it a little more. Last week, I added “how to diagnose car problems,” to that list. I knew it wasn’t the battery – I’ve had enough of those to spot one right off — but other than that I was lost.

But thanks to my tumultuous past with cars, I have learned a few things. For instance, AAA is probably a good investment. The only problem is, AAA insisted it was a battery problem, and sent out a battery mechanic. Who, very helpfully, told me it wasn’t the battery, and that I should call for a tow truck.

Which brings me to the next item on the list of things I never learned in school: what to do when your car gets towed.

Luckily for me, it was an easy lesson, and I just had to deal with the uneasy knowledge that my car was being sent to a mechanic I knew nothing about. The entire ordeal, however, took almost four hours.

Thankfully the Red Cross was very accommodating, and let me sit in a corner (inside the blessedly cool church) while I waited for the battery mechanic, the tow truck and a ride back home.

I’ve spent the past week playing catch-up at work, rearranging missed appointments and interviews, or trying to write articles I’d planned to work on Wednesday afternoon and promised my editors would be in two days ago. And over the course of the past week, I’ve decided that I need a new car.

I’ve had other issues with this car, though they haven’t been column worthy, and have only rarely interfered with my work. But the trust has been broken – I don’t feel like I can rely on this car to get me where I need to be.

Which brings me to the biggest item on my “things I never learned to do in school” list: car shopping.

There are so many things to consider, and there’s so much information available – it’s hard to know where to start. It’s not as easy as figuring out the kind of car I want and making sure it runs well – there’s a whole host of other possibilities.

If I buy a used car, was it ever in a wreck? Does it have the original factory paint? Does it have rust, or uneven tread on the tires? Is the mileage suspiciously low for the age of the car? If so, is the speedometer broken or has it been tampered with?

If I buy a new car, or a used car from a dealership, I have to consider dealing with salespeople, which means doing my research on, well, everything. And this isn’t even getting into financing and loans.

To buy a car, I’ll have to become an expert on them in a very short period of time –that, at least, I did learn in school.

Several people have asked me when I plan on buying a car, and the answer is: when I’m confident I’ve found the right one. It’s not something I want to rush into, just because I’m paranoid about getting stranded. In the meantime, I’ll keep crossing my fingers every time I turn the key in the ignition.


Contact education reporter Rebecca Rider at or  704-797-4264.