The sour side of purchasing a lemon

Shelby is her name, 89 ethanol is her game. Standing a mere 5 feet off the ground and less than 3,000 pounds, I think she looked great in her prime. It’s a shame that after only 12 years she’s considered nearly obsolete. I know I’ve added to her deterioration.

My dad bought the car after I signed up for the junior year lottery in high school. I went to a predominantly white high school where almost every senior and a few juniors had cars.

Every senior is guaranteed a parking space and depending on availability, up to 40 juniors can get a spot in the “auto technology” lot.

My parents had hinted earlier in the year that this might be a good time for me to get my first car so when I came home with the lottery spot my dad said with a big sigh “well I guess we should get you a car.”  

Two weeks and $5,050 later, I was cruising the sunny summer streets of south Charlotte in my 1997 Toyota Camry.  Now, five years later I’m driving down the streets of Tallahassee in my same whip. My parents are savers – a credit company’s worst nightmare – so I’ll most likely drive her until she falls apart. 

That’s not the problem because, like my parents, I’m not one to covet the newest handbag, hairstyle or Hummer. Shelby was like putting chewing gum on an L-shaped pipe to prevent a leak. A month after we bought the car my parents had to replace the battery twice ($1,200). One year later water began to leak on passenger floor ($300). Two years later we replaced all four tires that were completely balled ($250), followed by noisy groaning and squeaking in the original break pads, we had to replace them completely ($350), which was a grand total of $2,100 in two years.

Recently, I’ve noticed a terrible scratching noise from the front end of the car when going over speed bumps or driving over potholes. said this could be corrected by installing revised spring bumpers on front struts because of defective upper strut-tower cushions.

Whatever that means, all I understood was the estimated cost of repair ($840).

That brings my total repair cost to $2,940. According to Kelley Blue Book, my car is worth $2,050 today. That means that we have put more money into repairing the car than what it’s worth.

Be careful with what you buy, although I am grateful for having a car I besiege used-car buyers to spend time researching the type of vehicle they want and to understand the lifespan of that used car.

We’ve been through a lot together. But now I see Shelby’s clearly a lemon.

Caryn Wilson is a sophomore newspaper student from Charlotte, N.C.  She can be reached at