The quest for the right clunker: After saving money, student encounters trouble in finding affordable, reliable car

When you give a mouse a cookie … you have to give it a glass of milk too.
Well, when you give a girl a drivers’ license … you have to give her a car as well. Right?
Wrong.
As a sophomore, I dreamed about my 16th birthday. Waking up, seeing a shiny new BMW sitting in my driveway.
On that day, my life would be complete. Unfortunately, that day never came.
I did wake up on my sweet 16th to a nice card and two American Eagle shirts. And, on that day, I knew I would be on my own as far as cars were concerned.
When I looked out the window to a vacant driveway, I was prepared to save my cash and buy the best clunker I could find in time for junior year.
Believe it or not, I did.
My car search began a month before school started.
I flipped open the classifieds, and found a ‘97 Honda Civic. White, two door, manual transmission, 135K miles on it.
For the money I had, it looked pretty good.
My dad and I went to a small lot and met a guy named Steve who led us to the far back corner of the cracked-asphalt square off 69 Highway.
I climbed into the passenger seat and watched as my dad put the key in the ignition.
A loud, defying thump filled the air, and a millisecond later, my heart sank.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
Steve replied with an answer that solidified my decision.
“Oh, that there’s the air compressor. Doesn’t work good.”
Doesn’t work good?
My search continued.
A day later, I found myself at a residence in Independence, Mo. Another Civic, this one fire-engine red, was frying under the hot, August sun, in a gravel driveway.
The owner tossed my dad the keys, and we took it for a spin.
Unfortunately, whenever my father’s foot touched the gas pedal, a deafening roar sounded that could be heard up and down the block.
A hole in the transmission.
Not to mention, no A/C. After five minutes, I couldn’t bear the feeling of my legs sticking to the vinyl seats any longer.
This car was a no-go.
My quest for a good ride led me from way up north to way down south.
The day before school started had arrived. My dream of being a junior with my own car seemed out of the question.
My family traveled down to Harrisonville, Mo., to see one, final car before school resumed.
We drove down a gravel road and pulled into a long driveway.
Sitting at the very end of the lane was a dinged-up ‘97 Toyota Corolla.
I made my way around the car, examining every minute detail. The cosmetics were not good. There was paint chipping from the roof as well as some from the doors.
A massive hole was torn in the fabric of the ceiling.
The grill was missing.
Nevertheless, we gave the thing a go.
It drove very well, for a 12-year-old machine. There were no strange noises like some of the other cars we tried had. It accelerated and braked like a car half its age.
By the time the test drive was over, I had fallen head over heels in love with the little car.
This was the first time in my life that I knew I could do anything I set my mind to. No matter how many people told me my goal to buy my own car wasn’t feasible, I stayed with it anyway.
The choice was 100 percent mine. I was the one with the money, and therefore the one with the decision to make.
We filled out the papers, and a half-hour later, the forest green beauty was mine.
That moment was the proudest of my life. Every time I look at my little green car, I feel a sense of accomplishment that few other students can.
And as I walk through the parking lot on my way to school each morning, the shiny new BMW I pass isn’t as appealing anymore. by Caitlin Holland.