We leased a Ford Fiesta in 2013. The party never stopped (but sometimes it stalled)
A story about a bad lease and a good marriage
The other day, I received an email with the following subject line: Important Safety Recall Regarding Your Vehicle from Santa Monica Ford Lincoln. A lesser man might’ve panicked. A more cynical man might’ve thought he was being scammed. But I knew better. This email was sent to me for two reasons:
Nine years ago, we signed a three-year lease on a Ford Fiesta.
Ford manages their email lists about as well as they make cars.
But sometimes an errant belch from a mismanaged data mine can be a godsend. Case in point: I didn’t know what I was going to write about this week, but now I do.
Sign this lease and party with Ford
Back in 2013, Christina and I needed a new car ASAP. We had tied the knot two years earlier, and my parents had given Christina their used 2003 Lexus. That car saw us through some tough moments: my broken ankle, a failed start-up, and the Mayan Apocalypse. But then one day, some dipshit slammed into Christina’s Lexus, totaling the vehicle. A few days after our insurance company cut us a check, we began shopping for a new car.
“What kind of car should we get?” Christina asked.
“No clue. I don’t know jack about cars.”
“What’s your dream car?”
“We can’t afford my dream car.”
“Just play along,” Christina said. “Tell me your dream car, and maybe that’ll help inspire our search.”
“OK, my dream car is a Toyota Corolla.”
“You already drive a Toyota Corolla, honey.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t let me finish. My dream car is a Toyota Corolla with a driver who makes a six-figure salary, with health, dental, pension, and six weeks paid vacation.”
“You’re right, we definitely can’t afford that.”
Eventually, for reasons I don’t remember, we ended up at the North Hollywood Ford dealership, which incidentally, is where dreams go to die.
Our salesman was new. He looked like he was twelve going on thirteen. I think we were his first customers ever. Speaking of firsts, this was our first major financial decision as a married couple. We were no match for this novice car salesman.
We told the salesman we were on a budget. He showed us a silver Ford Fiesta. Christina was able to pair her phone to the stereo on the first try (something of a technology coup in those days). We took it for a test drive and everything went fine. Back at the dealership, the rookie salesman played his ace card.
“Check this out,” he said as he flipped a switch on the dashboard.
Suddenly, the Ford Fiesta’s interior lights began to change colors: blue, purple, green.
“Party mode,” the salesman said.
We immediately agreed to sign a three-year lease. Six hours later, we finished the paperwork for a silver Ford Fiesta, named it The Silver Bullet Band, and drove home.
This fiesta is no party
About a month into the lease, we noticed something odd about The Silver Bullet Band. Although our Ford Fiesta had an automatic transmission, things would go kerflooey at low speeds.
“It feels like a manual transmission being driven by someone who doesn’t know how to drive stick,” Christina said.
We decided to swap cars for a few days. Christina drove my Corolla, The Midnight Rider, and I drove The Silver Bullet Band.
“Yeah, that transmission is fucked six ways from Sunday,” I said. “It reminds me of when I learned to drive stick. The car would shake until I managed to get it into gear, but I always had trouble getting into gear because the shaking made me giggle, and my driving instructor would yell at me about how I needed to be serious.”
“That all tracks, especially the image of young Michael giggling while he mashes the gears on a manual transmission.”
Since The Silver Bullet Band was an automatic, and therefore immune to the bumping & grinding associated with poorly-operated manual transmissions, we decided to take it back to the dealership so their mechanics could take a look.
“Nothing wrong with the transmission per se,” the mechanic told me.
The mechanic looked around to make sure nobody was eavesdropping.
“Truth?” he asked.
“The geniuses at Ford,” he began, “and you understand when I use the word genius, I’m being sarcastic because we’re really talking about idiots… well, the idiots who designed this transmission tried to do the impossible.”
“Yeah, they tried to marry the efficiency of a manual transmission with the user experience of an automatic. There’s a computer chip that actually does the shifting.”
“And there’s something wrong with the chip?”
“No, the chip works perfectly.”
“Then why does it shake so badly in low gear?”
“Because this whole idea is dog shit.”
“You’re saying it’s a design flaw?”
The mechanic looked around again to make sure we were alone.
“I didn’t say anything. But if I were you, I’d get a different car.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. I took The Silver Bullet Band home, explained the situation to Christina, and for the next year, whenever we drove our Ford Fiesta, we made believe we were student drivers struggling to master a manual transmission.
Then one day, Ford sent us a letter explaining that there was a recall on our Fiesta’s transmission. The mechanic had been right about the design flaw, although that’s not how Ford’s lawyers put it in the letter. Regardless, Ford invited us to schedule an appointment to replace the transmission free of charge. So, I dropped The Silver Bullet Band off at North Hollywood Ford. A week later, I came back to pick it up.
“Did they finally dump that stupid idea for a transmission?” I asked the mechanic.
“Nope. It’s the same design, but this time they swear it works.”
Then the mechanic laughed, which was the opposite of comforting.
The new transmission didn’t improve anything. So, I called Ford corporate and gave them a piece of my mind. Naturally, Ford gave my complaint their full attention, which is to say, a vice president of customer service uttered some boilerplate words of sympathy, explained that nothing could be done, and then assured me that I was a “valued customer.”
A few months after my experience with Ford corporate, I went back to the dealership and demanded that they fix the transmission. To my surprise, they agreed! But to my chagrin, the second replacement transmission suffered from the same design flaw.
“Are we just supposed to drive this piece of shit car forever?” Christina asked.
At first, I didn’t know what to say. But Christina’s phrasing—piece of shit car—reminded me of the underrated Adam Sandler song, Ode to My Car.
“So, what’s the plan here?” Christina asked. “Are we just going to drive around in a shaking Ford Fiesta that can’t get into gear, listening to Adam Sandler sing about his piece of shit car?”
While that didn’t seem like a solution in the classic sense of the word, the Sandler plan did seem like a decent way to cope. And that’s what we did. We coped until the lease came to an end. And on that day of freedom, I drove that shaking piece of shit Ford Fiesta back to the dealership in North Hollywood.
“Is there anything we can do to put you in a new car?” a salesman asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “You can sell me a Toyota.”
Post Mortem Fiesta
Of course, this three-year lease wasn’t all fun and games. There were times when our piece of shit car really got under our skin. In fact, driving around in a shaking shit bucket, as I sometimes referred to The Silver Bullet Band, occasionally caused some bickering. After one argument, Christina suggested we do a post mortem on our car search and the decision to lease a Ford Fiesta.
“Post mortem, who died?”
“It’s just a phrase we use when we do an analysis after a project, or a product launch,” Christina said. “I do them all the time.”
“You mean, like, we talk about what went right, what went wrong, and then we try to learn from our mistakes?”
“You got it.”
So, we talked about our ill-fated car search. Christina walked us through a timeline of our search, from reading online reviews to showing up at the Ford dealership in North Hollywood. As much as possible, we tried to stick to facts without inserting our feelings into the analysis. It took about an hour.
We learned that we could’ve done more research into the Ford Fiesta. But of course, you can always do more research. We also learned that we make better decisions when we don’t feel like we’re under the gun to solve a stressful problem like transportation. But of course, minimizing stress isn’t always possible, even if doing so contributes to better decision-making. The real learning, however, was that we both made the exact same mistake at the car dealership.
“I didn’t really question the salesman because I thought you wanted the Fiesta, and I didn’t want to upset your plans,” I said. “You’re the person I respect most when it comes to making decisions. I figured if you were on board, don’t be an idiot and rock the boat. Is that weird?”
“Same thing with me! I respect your judgment more than anyone else in the world, Michael. I thought you were all in on the Fiesta, so I didn’t say anything.”
“Wait a minute. Did we lease a piece of shit Ford Fiesta because neither one of us wanted to look like a dumbass in front of the person we love?”
“I think so,” Christina said.
“So, what do we do with this information?”
“Well, what we got here is failure to communicate.”
Whether she knew it or not, Christina was quoting the dirtbag-poet Axl Rose, who had sampled those very words from a speech in Cool Hand Luke for the opening of the Guns & Roses classic Civil War. But I didn’t point that out because I didn’t want to interrupt Christina’s flow.
“The thing we didn’t do,” Christina continued, “was have a pre-meeting?”
“It’s a meeting between you and me before we talk to a third-party. The idea is we use that time to get on the same page about what we want. Plus, we can game out negotiation strategies, set expectations, articulate dealbreakers, and even pre-plan a good cop / bad cop routine.”
“Wow. This seems way better than our previous half-assed approach.”
“Absolutely. The pre-meeting is a full-ass approach.”
We decided then and there that every big decision—a new car, buying a home, investments, etc.—would require a pre-meeting. In fact, we’ve been doing pre-meetings ever since the Ford Fiesta Fiasco. Whenever friends ask us for relationship advice, we stress the value of the pre-meeting.
“If a couple isn’t hashtag aligned,” Christina likes to say, “they’re hashtag fucked.”
Stick around and chat about the story!
I love hearing from readers like you because it makes writing Situation Normal so much fun! If you enjoyed this story, please let me know by leaving a comment below. Or, if you’re the type of person who likes a prompt, consider the following questions:
The Ford Fiesta was the worst car I’ve ever owned or leased. What was the worst car you ever owned or leased?
The names of our previous cars were music references: Midnight Rider and The Silver Bullet Band. Our current cars are Shuttle Tydirium (Star Wars) and Dark Helmet (Spaceballs). Do you name your vehicles? If so, please share those names!
I wasn’t kidding about my dream car. It remains a Toyota Corolla with a driver who makes a six-figure salary, with health, dental, pension, and six weeks paid vacation. What’s your dream car?
If you’re lucky enough to live without a car, how do you get around? Please share everything you can about your car-free paradise!
Pre-meetings have helped us work through some difficult decisions with minimal stress. What’s your best piece of relationship advice?
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