The first car I ever bought was a lemon. The vehicle had been in some sort of terrible accident, pieced back together and sold to me under the false pretense of awesomeness.
It was not, in fact, awesome. While driving 70 mph on the highway, it would turn itself off. One moment, everything was fine; the next, I was weaving my way over to the breakdown lane with as much grace as a 22-year-old can manage while steering a ton of metal and laziness.
Looking back on that experience, I realize that for me, owning a lemon was a lot like going through the five stages that often accompany any sort of tragedy. Is that an exaggeration? Perhaps, but make no mistake, when you spend $10,000 on a vehicle that turns out to be a lemon and you are a poor college graduate, you have experienced a tragedy.
They often say that talking about your experience is cathartic, so I thought it wise to share what I went through.
The Five Stages of Owning a Lemon:
1. Denial and Isolation
You never want to admit that you have been taken advantage of. I remember trying to convince friends that my car wasn't a lemon. I tried desperately to find the silver lining in my very gray cloud of a car. "I know the exhaust doesn't work and that window won't roll up, but listen to the stereo. Isn't that great?" And talk about isolation. When your car breaks down on the side of the highway, you experience a deep sense of isolation. At least until the tow truck driver gets there, and he doesn't want to chat much.
Let it out. Let it all out. Your money has vanished like birthday balloons into the sky. It's better to get mad now than pretend that it didn't happen. It did happen and it stinks. Pretending it doesn’t won't help. Don't bottle up that frustration. Get it out, but put it to a productive use. Take your lemon to a mechanic you trust. Ask him to do a rundown of the things that are not up to par and get an estimate of how much it would all cost if you did the entire list. There's a chance that the list will be shorter than you think, and that might help deflate some of your anger.
It's natural in this stage to think, "Maybe if I went back to the person who sold it to me, he would understand my dilemma." That is adorable. Don't waste your time. I mean, you can try to bargain with the seller, but chances are he's moved on. Once your check cleared, he forgot you even existed. It wasn't anything personal as far as he is concerned. It was just never about you. He would have sold that car to a million different people. It just so happens it was you. But there's really no motivation for him to bargain with you, so coming up with some alternative plans doesn't matter a whole lot.
Go ahead, put on some Counting Crows, old REM or another slow band and be sad. It's OK. Getting taken advantage of is no fun. It's like being in a bad relationship. You'll see other drivers motoring along in cars that work and you'll feel a little jealous. "How come they found each other? They seem perfect together. Will I ever find The One — a car that completes me?" You will, but it might take some time. Go slow, it's OK to need some space. Start riding your bike. Get some distance between you and that lemon. Let the healing begin.
I bought a lemon. Someone took money from me in a really uncool way. At some point, you'll start to get comfortable with those sentences. It won't happen overnight; it usually sneaks up on you. Anger comes in loudly and dissipates slowly. But I promise, one morning you'll wake up, see that big, ugly lemon in the driveway and think, "You're not so bad, lemon. You taught me a lot of things about life and about being smart with research. Come here, you." And then you'll give it a quick hood rub like a dad gives his son a head rub at the end of an after school movie.
I have to believe that there are other stages. I think each lemon experience is unique, but those are the five I went through. And I hope it never happens again to me or to you.
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