2009 Nissan Versa 1.8S Hatchback

The VW New Beetle was a great driving car, but expensive to maintain. We dropped a lot of money on a brake job right after purchasing it, then a few months later dropped $1200 to replace the water pump. The following year we had a dashboard fault light that had to be cleared in order to pass the annual safety inspection. The problem turned out to be a faulty airbag sensor in the drivers seat. Repairing this set us back another $1100, at which point Winnie insisted that we trade in the VW for a new car that wasn’t so expensive to maintain. I really wasn’t ready to buy a new car, but Winnie had made a decision.

Winnie had looked at several cars even before we left Mississippi, and decided that the Nissan Versa’s were the best car for her. The big decision factor was being able to reach the foot controls. Most compact cars had seats that were so far back she couldn’t reach the foot controls without a pillow behind her, pushing her too close to the steering wheel airbag. Now that she’d decided on a new car, we spent several nights looking on the Internet at various cars and decided we would buy a new car, so we wouldn’t have to worry about maintenance.

We made plans to go to the local Nissan dealer on a Saturday. Winnie spent the entire day prior cleaning and waxing the VW in the thought that we would get a better trade-in price. Saturday morning, bright and early, we drove down to the Nissan dealer, Winnie in the VW and me in the Rodeo. We walked the car lot, had a salesman attach himself to us, and looked over the various car models.

We test drove a few models and both of us really liked the versa. After a bit of discussion Winnie decided on a Versa hatchback, and we moved to the negotiating phase of the sale.  First up was getting a trade-in value on the VW. I knew what to expect but Winnie didn’t; the dealer came back with a price and informed us that we could no longer drive the car as the trade-in value was based on mileage.

Then came the bargaining. I let Winnie do all the talking and she was more than able to deal with this very experienced car salesman. (Fun fact; the car salesman was once a member of the Green Bay Packers and still wore his Super Bowl ring. Interesting person indeed). Finally, they settled on a price. I enjoyed the show.

The options and color Winnie wanted was not at that car lot, and the salesman promised to have the specific model she wanted by the next day. We agreed and drove home in the Rodeo, leaving our VW behind. The next day we returned, and after a bit more paperwork Winnie got to drive home her first-ever new car. Before we left the lot, Winnie started asking a couple of the mechanics questions about the car; I whispered to one of them “this is her first car,” and they played it right in showing her everything about the car.

Even though we bought the car for Winnie, she wanted me to use it for commuting right away. I refused, on grounds that if the car got a ding in it while I was driving I’d never hear the end of it. So, for the first year Winnie used it for work. As she only commuted a total of ten miles a day, we had problems with warranty inspections. After three months she barely had 1000 miles on, which rather flummoxed the dealership service shop. We also used this car for all long trips after my venerable Rodeo broke down in rural Pennsylvania on a trip to visit my Mom and left us stranded.

After the first year, the Nissan had the usual number of parking lot dings in it, enough that I felt safe to start driving it. Once I started using it, the mileage increased to that of a normal commuting car. So, for the next several years I commuted to work in Winnie’s car, and she used my Rodeo. She would drive her Nissan on weekends and when I was on travel. To be honest, I enjoyed driving the Nissan. It had a lot of “zip” to her; quick acceleration, very maneuverable and overall excellent handling. Being a small car was also a plus for parking in Washington DC, particularly in the tight-spaced lots of underground parking garages.

The end of this sweet car came suddenly and entirely unexpected. One fine Sunday afternoon in March, 2013, we decided to go over to a restaurant near the local mall complex for a Sunday dinner. We took the Nissan, and were just a few miles from home driving up a hill on a four lane road with a 45 MPH speed limit. Traffic was light, I was in the right-hand lane, and for a few moments there were no cars visible in front of me. I crested the hill and saw a line of cars in front of me. Then, in horror, I realized the cars were not moving and I slammed the brakes just as Winnie screamed.

It was too late.  I skidded about 50 feet and slammed into the rear of a CJ7 jeep at the end of the line, hard enough that our front airbags deployed. After the impact, I checked Winnie and then got out to check on the CJ7 driver. He was fine, and in fact his jeep was apparently barely damaged. All we could tell was his rear bumper was bent a little.

Our Nissan, however, was obviously totaled. The issue was the low ground clearance of the Nissan versus the CJ7. Our car was so low, and the CJ7 (four wheel drive) had such a high ground clearance that we went under the back of the CJ7 and impacted a steel bumper against the Nissan hood and sheet metal. Essentially, the entire top of the engine compartment was smashed. However, neither Winnie nor I were hurt, so much as a scratch, for which I credit the design of the Nissan and particularly the airbags.

After the usual trading of insurance cards, and having our Nissan towed away, Winnie called one of her friends to come pick up us and bring us home. Then, to force ourselves back into normalcy, we got into the Rodeo and drove to the restaurant we had planned on having dinner at.

By this time the shock of what had happened began to sink into both of us. We got our drinks, and first toasted the Nissan for saving our lives then toasted ourselves for still being alive. Winnie, to her great credit, never even hinted that I was negligent in the accident.

As expected, the insurance company totaled the Nissan, but we made out pretty well. I had taken “replacement value” insurance on the car when I bought it and replacement value on the 3-1/2 year old car was almost as much as the current year models, a testament to just how popular this particular model car was at the time.

Our last sight of this car, a car that literally saved our lives, was seeing it in the auto scrap yard when we when to pick up our personal belongings and turn over title.

Ron Charest

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