What Is The Worst Automotive Decision You've Ever Made?

Illustration for article titled What Is The Worst Automotive Decision Youve Ever Made?

While it would seem more automotive knowledge would lead to better automotive decisions, from our own experience far too often the opposite is true. Misery loves company, so this weekend we want to know about the worst of your inevitable automotive blunders.

Whether you bought, sold, crashed, optioned, destroyed or did something that falls outside the previously mentioned options to, with or around a car or truck—we want to know about it. What is the worst automotive decision you've ever made?

This is certainly a topic I could dedicate pages and paragraphs to, but the decision that recently seems to be haunting me is the choice to sell the 1988 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS I spent my late teenage years driving. The reason this was a bad decision likely isn't the one you might expect—I wish I had kept it so I didn't develop an overwhelming urge to buy another one as I look down the stretch of my late twenties.


As I've mentioned before, it was a horrible rat of a high mileage abused car. Although I still have memories of the roadside strandings and once a month alternator replacements a seemingly inevitable nostalgia has slowly started to color the nightmarish experience that was owning the car with a rosy glow. I should have parked it somewhere and tried to drive it once a year to keep myself in touch with what a disaster it was.

Instead I sold my Monte Carlo for next to nothing after I was done thrashing it. I feel what this bad decision really did was set the stage for my real answer to this question several years from now—the inevitable decision to buy another one.

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Mike Kopstain

I owned a V10 M5 for 18 hours. I spent months reading about E60 M5s, what went wrong with them, what to look for in a used one, etc. I set myself a budget of $30,000 and got to shopping. $30,000 doesn't get you much in an E60 M5. You're generally going to be looking at a higher (75,000+) mile example and you'll definitely be sitting in a 2006. I had allotted myself an additional 5k for a good warranty though so mileage wasn't too big of a concern.

I spent months shopping and finally found one in Cincinnati with just 72,000 miles on it. It had all the options I wanted, was a one owner car, still had some free maintenance left on it and best of all: was only $27,995. Now that's a deal...

Ever the negotiator, I called the dealer and told them I could only get approved for $26,000. They mull it over, call me back and accept my offer. I. Am. Stoked.

Now there's two things that go wrong with the E60 M5's. The less common problem is a failure of the VANOS system (BMW's variable valve timing); the second is a failure of the SMG pump. The transmission in the M5 is a full manual with a hydraulically controlled clutch, as in there's no clutch pedal. The car hydraulically controls the clutch and shifts the gears for you. You just tell it up and down and it does the rest. The bad is that when you're not hooning the car the shifts are slow and clunky, as if you were driving with someone who was driving a manual transmission car very slowly. The good was that under wide open throttle the transmission shifted faster than humanly possible... literally. It was neck snapping quick. You were driving a race car that someone put a couple extra doors on as a cruel joke. But I digress...

So the power behind this SMG system is a hydraulic pump that provides the power to shift the transmission and engage the clutch. This pump likes to fail. When that happens the car fails to shift, sometimes doesn't start and it displays a red COG on the dashboard. The M5 folk call it the "red cog of death" or "RCOD". The other thing that happens when the pump fails is your wallet gets lighter to the tune of $6000.

Now I could afford the car but I wasn't keen on buying it and immediately having to deal with a $6000 repair so I purchased a legitimate $5000 warranty that covered everything on the car. The only caveat was that BMW needed to inspect the car and there was a 1000 mile period between that inspection and when coverage of the warranty would start. The warranty companies do this so that people with non functioning cars don't just go out and buy a warranty when they break.

So I had all my ducks in a row. I hop on a bus from Chicago, head down to Cincinatti and get my car. It's a gem. It is everything I wanted. But then I freaked out. What if it breaks within that 1000 mile period? It won't be covered. I panicked and just wanted to walk away from the car. I didn't know how to do that other than to walk into the dealer and offer them an impossible scenario: my bank won't pay over $25000 on the car and I don't have any more money to put towards it. I thought for sure this would get me out of the car but the situation got worse... or maybe it got better: they accepted. I had unintentionally negotiated my way down to $25,000 for a 2006 M5 in cherry condition. I took that as a sign from above, signed the papers and drove home.

It was raining that day so I didn't get a chance to drive the car that hard but the next morning I went into the garage to admire it. I hit the ignition and the first thing I get is the red cog of death. You've got to be kidding me. Maybe it's for something small. Maybe a sensor or something. I call the dealer, explain the situation to them (I had only had the car for 12 hours) and tell them I'll get the codes run. I get the codes run and sure enough it's a bad SMG pump. What are the chances? I mean seriously, talk about a stroke of bad luck.

I call the dealer back up, explain the situation to them and they offer to take the car back. That is more than fair. They said they'd just tear up the paperwork and it's all history. They insisted they had no idea there was a problem and said that it had no codes nor did it have any drivability issues. I believed them. Throughout the whole ordeal they were nothing but straightforward and helpful.

At this point I'm disappointed... The whole car buying process had really sucked the life out of me and I didn't want to do it all over again. I priced out the pump, priced out the install and figured I could get it down to $5000. At my purchase price ($25,000) plus the $5000 to fix it, I'd be at my original budget of $30,000 plus I'd have a car with a new SMG pump. At that point I had already settled on the lower price though.

So I arrange to ship the car back and as I'm on my way to my house to give it to the transport company I call the dealer and ask them if they're going to fix it. They say no. They'll probably wholesale it at a loss. So I ask them if they'd be willing to cover a portion of the repair instead. It's a crummy situation. They're under no obligation to help me but they realize that you can't send someone home in a car and have it take a dump 12 hours later. So the manager offers me $2000 as a good will gesture. Now it's just too good to be true. This essentially means I'm getting the car for $23,000 and then putting $5000 into it to put a brand new pump in there which will still put me $3000 under my original budget.

Ultimately I bailed on the deal. I put the car on the truck, just too unsure of what would happen. About 2 hours later I called the truck driver to see where he was. I wanted the car back. He was 2 hours away... It was too late. I ended up buying a 6 speed manual 550i with the hopes that this summer I'd again look for M5's and they'd be a little cheaper. Well, I'm looking again and if anything they're more expensive. For me to get the deal I would have had with that dealer I'd have to spend another $7,000 now. I should have kept the car.

Throughout the whole ordeal I have to say I've NEVER dealt with a more professional dealer. Everybody I spoke with, the salesman, the sales floor manager and the dealer manager were all exceeding forthright, empathetic and more than willing to try to rectify the situation in a manner that would make me happy. At no point was I concerned that they weren't going to help me and not only did they help me but they all seemed to genuinely care.

So Cincinnati Jaguar/ Land Rover... This Bud's for you.

On another note, since I'm M5 shopping again that 550i has to go. Won't you buy it?