When you read the words, "My First Car", if you're anything like me, you remember everything about looking for that car and the pride of ownership when you first got the keys in your hands.
It was the summer of 1988 and I was looking for a reliable car that could manage multiple trips between Philadelphia and Louisville every year, no matter the season. This meant I had to look for a car that would cost more than one that would only be used for local driving since I'd need one in excellent condition.
My dad and I went to a number of dealerships and I figured I'd be purchasing a really boring Chevy Cavalier that was merely "okay" but did meet my price requirements. It definitely wasn't the car I wanted. On a whim, we went to the Nissan dealership where my parents had purchased multiple cars. Their used cars tended to be expensive so I didn't think I'd find anything there.
Sitting right in the front of the lot was a dark pewter 2 door 1985 Nissan 200SX notchback that had just come in off of a lease. It had 35,000 miles on it and was pristine. I immediately fell in love with the car and wanted it desperately. I knew it was more than I could really afford so I refused to even test drive it. Why drive it if I wasn't in the market?
We went home and I went to work. When I came home late that evening, the car was there, sitting in the driveway. My dad drove the car later that afternoon, decided it was what I needed and paid for the car. All I had to do was to turn over my savings and work during the school year to pay back the remainder of the money. No problem, dad!
For the next seven and a half years, I drove this car. I drove it not only between Philadelphia and Louisville, but to Atlanta
, Nashville, and Boston. I drove the round trip from Charlottesville
to Philadelphia each week for almost three years.
Overall, I'd say the car ran like a dream. I averaged 27 miles per gallon and never had a problem with burning oil. The last two years I owned the car, it was garaged but it was housed outside in all types of weather from blazing heat to ice and snow before that. I never had any problems with rust or fading paint. It looked just as new the day it was towed away as the day I first saw it on the lot.
The car was always fun to drive with four wheel independent suspension. It always had great pick up (except during problems with the alternator) and was a breeze to drive both in the city and on the highway. I never noticed any problems with rattling. Even on the hottest days (over 100 degrees), I never experienced any engine overheating.
I found the seats quite comfortable at the time, although my husband might have been uncomfortable. He's 6'5 and I know he wouldn't have fit in the back seat. The trunk was quite spacious and easily held 4 years worth of college textbooks (I never sold anything back to the bookstore - I was an idiot!). The interior also didn't seem to age with the car.
The car wasn't perfect. Problems over the years started during my first long distance trip when I noticed that the speedometer was registering 110 miles per hour. I was caravaning with my brother so I used my cb radio to ask him his speed. He said he was doing 60 and I was right behind him. Upon arrival, I had to have the speedometer cleaned out as it was full of oil and the speedometer cables replaced.
During my ownership of the car, I had to have the alternator replaced four times. That's right. Four times. Along with that, I had to have the battery changed each time the alternator was replaced. Each time, the mechanic swore that the old battery would be fine. Each time I found myself buying a new battery. Each time, it was a different mechanic. Personally, I think I had a bum electrical system.
I lost the FM radio at about the same time I lost the second alternator and I lost the AM radio with the third one. During the last year I drove the car, the a/c quit and the repair would have cost more than the car was worth. I decided I did not need air conditioning. A couple of months after that, the heater quit too. I didn't need heat. Then, the driver's side window refused to shut all the way. So what. I could get wet when it rained. Then the rear defroster stopped working too.
At that point, I decided to evaluate what still worked on the car. Obviously, I had the little engine that wouldn't quit. With over 375,000 miles and going strong, that was a big plus. The front windshield wasn't cracked and I had a new set of tires and new brake pads. Living in Virginia, another big plus was only having to pay about $45 a year in personal property tax on the car. If I bought a new one, I'd have to pay over $300 a year in taxes. I also couldn't afford a new car. I was heavily in debt from an unexpected surgery without any medical insurance.
I did have to come face to face with reality and figured that I'd get another car within the next year. In the meantime, as long as I didn't breathe too heavily when it was cold outside so that the windows wouldn't fog up (I had no defroster), I'd be okay.
Unfortunately, I was involved in an accident where the car was broadsided on the passenger side. The frame took the brunt of the accident and it was cracked, just as it was designed to do in this type of collision.
I like to joke that I'd still be driving this car today if it hadn't been totaled.
To be serious, I wouldn't recommend buying a car of this age unless you are a car collector or you have a lot of time and money to put into the cars. As cars age, they need a lot more maintenance. I also don't know how many people out there are looking to buy a car this old. If you are, you probably know a lot more than I do about cars!
I'm retelling this experience to also let you know that it's not atypical for Nissan automobiles. After this, I drove a Sentra which I got rid of after 250,000 miles and I'm currently driving a Maxima
with a mere 29,500 miles on it. My parents had a 1986 Maxima with over 670,000 miles on it that they recently donated.
The 200SX is one of two Nissans that I've driven that have been totaled (a fact I'm not proud of - and yes, my driving record is CLEAN) and I walked away from both accidents, even the one where the car rolled down an embankment. The cars are safe.
I'm sorry not to have the specific details on this car (such as the 12 gallon capacity gas tank) on hand but I disposed of my Chilton guide and the owner's manual when I disposed of the car. Since the car is older, those materials are no longer on line where I could readily find them. Thanks for reading my epinion (my very first ever car review) and for allowing me this trip down memory lane.
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