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Buying & Leasing a Car

What Makes My Motor Run

My two favorite car stories -- one a purchase, the other a nail-biting misadventure.

Keep this issue! Keep it until next December's issue arrives! Then keep next December's! It can change your life. Yes, it's our annual celebration of and buyer's guide to new cars and trucks -- and the appropriate time to entertain you with my two favorite car stories.

Dream car

I loved my 1995 Buick LeSabre. I drove it everywhere for seven years. I could have lived in it. At 105K on the odometer, I brag to my family that a fully depreciated, top-of-the-line car in good condition is cheap transportation. It doesn't go over well. My son Patrick teases me for driving an "old man's car" (this is before Tiger Woods begins driving a Buick). But it's Liz, an eighth-grader, who cracks open the December 2002 issue of Kiplinger's and goes to work. How much could I spend? she asks. I tell her to look up the cost of a Buick LeSabre in the tables -- that's how much. "Daddy, you can afford to buy a Jaguar!" she reports.

Sure enough, the LeSabre Custom and Jaguar X-type sedans are almost identically priced. Off goes the Frailey family to check it out. Up close, the X won't do. Too small for my family. Not as stylish as I expected. But I see a tan Jaguar nearby that's bigger than the X, nicely proportioned, with a classy, teardrop grill. I lust for it. "That's the S-type," says the salesman, "but it's used." How used? It came off a one-year lease, he says. Great, now I can afford it. The next night it's in our garage -- the beginning of a great relationship that ends the month after I pay off the note and lease another S-type that looks exactly like the one it replaced. (Yes, I am a creature of habit.) May this issue lead to similar pleasures for you.

What wreck?

My first misadventure with a car was a nail-biter. My dad was the editor and principal owner of a daily newspaper in a small Texas town. In high school, I'm sort of Pop's apprentice -- a printer, a reporter, you name it. Joe, the circulation director, wants to go to Galveston for Splash Day weekend. If I'll throw a paper route and fill in for him for two days, I can impress the girls in the evenings in Joe's 1957 Ford T-Bird convertible. Deal!

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Sunday morning before dawn finds me driving the newspaper's ageless DeSoto at the edge of town, flinging folded News-Telegrams out the right-side window. Then I look up, and 20 feet ahead of me, parked at a curb, sits a milk truck. The collision doesn't even scratch the truck, one of those 10-ton jobs. But the whole front of the newspaper's car is DOA.

Desperate to keep my dad from thinking less of me, I take the car, barely drivable, to the owner of an auto-body shop just outside town and plead for help. The following day is a holiday. He tells me that if I can find another 1953 DeSoto in the junkyard and dismantle the entire front end of it for him that afternoon, he'll have the car looking like new by the next night. I do, and he does -- at my expense, of course.

Secrets revealed

Tuesday evening at supper, Mom asks Dad how his day went. Not well, replies Pop. On top of all else, he says, the DeSoto is out of action because of a bad radiator leak. I gag on my milk but keep quiet. Years later, I confess to Pop, by then wishing I had been forthright at the time and taken my lumps. Still, mine was creative thinking for a 16-year-old.

Now it's your turn. Can you top my misadventure with one from your youth? Write me at cars@kiplinger.com. We'll publish the best stories online. Please, no backseat stuff.