Blowing a fuse on Craigslist

Published on: August 16, 2012

Every old Porsche I have bought required that I crawl underneath it for something on the way home.  Maybe things will be better this time as it went to a mechanic before I handed over a check. What could go wrong? Mitch Traphagen Photo

Every old Porsche I have bought required that I crawl underneath it for something on the way home. Maybe things will be better this time as it went to a mechanic before I handed over a check. What could go wrong? Mitch Traphagen Photo


Here’s a tip for someone selling a car or anything else:  Don’t sound like a homicidal maniac in your advertisement. I can say that because I am an experienced car buyer and I don’t want to buy from someone who sounds like he wants to kill me.

Each day in the Tampa Bay area alone, literally hundreds of people try to sell their cars, and just about everything else imaginable, on Craigslist. I just wanted a decent, sporty car at a price I could afford.

I clicked on a link for a Honda. The photo showed a very sad-looking green car with a bright blue hood. The ad text had an angry tone stating that the original hood had been stolen (who does that?) and that the blue hood in the picture was merely borrowed from a friend (who does that?) and not included in the sale. Basically, it was a sad little Honda with no hood.

I clicked on a link for a BMW. That car had a hood in the photo, but the ad text had an addendum that said the hood had been stolen so it was being offered without one. Until then, I never realized that people stole car hoods in large numbers, or in any number for that matter.

Car after car looked OK but so many had “stories.” You know what “stories” are: it doesn’t start but it’s probably a fuse and the seller hasn’t had time to replace it, or it starts but doesn’t actually move, probably because of a fuse that, again, the seller simply hasn’t had time to replace, or it has air conditioning but it doesn’t work because of, yes, that’s right, a fuse.  It’s a good thing fuses are cheap because lots of them seem to blow out.

More than a few sellers had angry warnings, threats even, towards potential buyers who might try to “low ball” them on their nightmarishly modified, 20-year-old Japanese econoboxes. They all said the same thing “I know what I have here so don’t try it!” Yeah, I knew what they had — pieces of junk with skinny oversized tires that could scare Alfred Hitchcock. I could almost picture the horror of the scene that began with me pulling into the parking lot of the Sun City Center Community Association with a car that could bounce. Worse yet, they sounded like they wanted to kill me more than they wanted to sell their car.

My wife and I like Porsche cars. Unfortunately we can’t afford new models so, over the past many years, we have bought several really old models. I bought my first one in 2005 on eBay for $3,500. It was a 1986 Porsche 944 with rust on the body. The car was located in Manchester, New Hampshire, which worked out well because I was in Philadelphia handling some family business and it was just a quick hop to New Hampshire. Driving home in a car I had long dreamed of owning was an adventure.

Shortly after, a second and even cheaper one was added because Michelle fell in love with the first one.  We drove that car for a few years and then sold it to a guy my age who lived in rural Iowa, probably fulfilling his own dream.

A few years later, we purchased a third and very special car.  It was a gift from Michelle to bring to life a childhood memory of mine, involving my first real camera, a silver Porsche 911 and memories of my Dad who had passed away when I was 15. Michelle found that car near Washington, DC and we had yet another adventure getting it home.  Unfortunately, it turned out that an old, air-cooled car wasn’t necessarily well-suited for the climate in Florida.  Just last year I sold it to a man from Germany who shipped it home to restore it.

But the sale of the last one meant that we were down to one Porsche, the original one, for two Porsche-lovers. Five months ago, that problem was solved as I found another old, cheap 944, again near Washington, DC, earlier this spring. Life was again in balance.

I’ll leave it to you to decide why Washington, DC is a great place to buy sports cars. Whatever the reason, it is at the top of my list for car shopping. The owners tend to be older, and the cars have low miles as many of them are garaged during the winter months. In Florida, a cheap Porsche is easy enough to come by, but they tend to be owned by younger people with less resistance to beating the living daylights out of them after tearing apart the interiors to install ginormous speakers. Porsches last forever if you take care of them. Fortunately, I enjoy doing that work. Apparently, a lot of younger people aren’t so picky about things like oil, belt and tire changes.

This is Ayman, a very nice car dealer in Virginia trying to figure out why the air conditioning, which worked previously, suddenly wasn’t working when I arrived.  At first he thought that it could be, yes, a fuse. True to his word, however, Ayman got the problem fixed and no fuses were required.  Mitch Traphagen PhotoWell, actually, Porsches don’t quite last forever. Michelle came home from work recently to say she discovered her car, the original one, was low on oil. The car rarely used oil so that wasn’t a good sign. Yes, the problem was fixable but we’ve been driving it for seven years and it has nearly 300,000 on the odometer. It was time to say goodbye. This also meant that it was time to start car shopping again, which brings us back to people who sound like homicidal maniacs while selling cars.

After a few depressing days of reading depressing “stories” and threats, a new car with payments was starting to sound pretty good. At least until I remembered that the last new car we purchased (from a car company that ceased to exist in 2009) ended up costing us far more than our $3,500 Porsche with enough miles on it to have passed the Moon. I know that a new car is the right thing to do, but what can I say?  I’m cheap. So once again, I looked north to our nation’s capitol via the Internet and found the car I was looking for at a price I could afford. The seller even offered to pick me up at the airport. I found a $113 one-way flight, filled out all of the passenger information on the web page and stopped. I looked up at Michelle and asked, “Are you sure we should do this again?  Sooner or later our luck will run out, probably in some horrible fashion.”  Not to mention, the flight was scheduled to leave in 14 hours and I hadn’t exactly managed to clear it with my boss.

Michelle looked at me, smiled, reached over to the computer and clicked “Buy Now” on the airline ticket.