The Little Beater That Could

Last September I moved to Germany for work.  It wasn’t to be anything permanent, mind you, but I knew I’d be working in the country for a solid year and that would require personal transportation.  Unfortunately, my travel allotments didn’t cover vehicle transportation from the states, so I knew I’d have to buy something once I arrived and got settled.  I didn’t want to purchase anything new and expensive as that would have been futile considering the length of my assignment.  Plus, even if I bought a new car and decided to ship it back home the cost of the shipment would have been on me, and the conversion, the taxes, and the strict U.S. Customs regulations would have been more aggravation than the effort would be worth.  All I needed was a good solid beater that would get me from point A to B and back again.  I found a used car lot in an industrial section of Mainz, a small town on the Rhine.  Most of them were owned by Syrians, Turks, or Lebanese immigrants, etc.  I came across an ad on the popular German online classifieds portal, AutoScout24.  There was a 1983 Mercedes sedan that caught my attention, as I have a taste for classics. I went down to look at the car, which became a difficult ordeal on account of the language barrier.  I neither speak German, nor Arabic, but I waited for the owner’s son who spoke decent functional English to come down and translate.  It appeared to me at first that there was a fuel pump malfunction, but when we popped the hood the mechanic began taking apart the air cleaner assembly.   I was advised to hang out in town and come back at 5 p.m. when they said they’d have the car ready to test drive.  So I kick back at a local dive for a few hours and talk politics with a curious bartender and waited for the nice owner to pick me up and take me back to the lot.  We get back and she’s running smooth, but oddly enough the guy’s son tells me “we don’t really know much about the car yet, because we haven’t examined long enough.  We just got it in.”  Meanwhile I’m standing there thinking, “Well what the hell did you have me waiting 6 hours for?”  They offer me a beat up Mazda for 1800 Euros and I just said “yeah, all right, fine,” and we shook hands.

They were kind enough to drive me back to my quarters and we set up a time to meet the next day.  Then I walked to the nearby bank to draw the funds and it was there that I ran into a colleague of mine who had just picked up a ’94 BMW for to two grand.  I complemented him on his purchase and told him about my hellish day.  He said, “I’ll take you back down there tomorrow and we’ll go look at this Mazda together.  So the next day we hop in his Bimmer and while we’re waiting for the place to open up we take notice of the other lots on the block.  My buddy says, “Let’s take a look at this one across the street.”  We walk in and are greeted by a friendly Turkish man who, while not fluent in English, was able to understand prices.  He offered me a couple of units at a price commensurate with the 1800 for that beat up Mazda.  His best deal turned out to be a 2003 Volkswagen Polo hatchback.

The choice was between the Polo and a ’94 Passat Sedan.  Both were being offered at the same price.  While the Passat was powered by a diesel engine, which has always scored high in fuel economy and durability, it took me but one look under the hood at the rusty engine compartment to come to a fast decision.  My buddy agreed.  I picked up the Polo for 1830 Euros.  It had just been inspected and had new tires installed.  The only issue I had was a radio that was missing, which was a small burden to bear.  I handed over the cash, shook hands with the nice owners and returned two days later to pick up the car.

For the past ten months I’ve put over 20,000 kilometers on that little beater and it’s been in ten different countries.  The oil light comes on periodically, but I never even bothers to change it.  I would just dump a quart whenever it needed it.  The temperature light also comes on and the little 3 cylinder definitely idles too high, but thus far it’s never overheated on me.  It will easily rev up, though, to 4,000 RPM in fifth gear at 120 clicks.


The engine was built with about 65 hp and with all the use it’s had over the past 14 years, it probably only punches out about 50 now.  Passing slow drivers on the autobahns requires great caution, because she’s not exactly a GT silver bullet.  Other drivers in the left lanes will come blazing down at 120 mph while I’m lucky to get up to 120 km, so if you’re not a hundred percent clear on the left there’s a good chance of getting slammed in the rear by a BMW while you’re trying to pass some old Opel.  Regardless of her performance capabilities (or lack thereof) she’s always been faithful.  Perhaps that’s thanks to the St, Christopher stick-on badge that was left behind by the previous driver. For all I knew it had some significance to someone, who may have wanted it there for the next driver, so I didn’t have the compunction to remove it from the console.

Now I’ve come to the end of my duties here, it’s time for me to hand her over to the next generation of used hatchback drivers, while sh’es still got some life left in her.  I think it’s way too soon to be scrapped for parts, so I’m hoping it will find a match that’s willing to keep the tires spinning on the road.  No doubt, I’m anxious to get back to my car in the States, but I can leave here with the assurance that I definitely got my money’s worth.  Thanks for all the journeys, little beater.  Auf Wiedersen!






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