Nine Lives Of Neon

Passenger side shows fire damage and impact damage from Ford truck. Neon’s excellent impact protection minimized the damage while the Ford had to ride a tow truck home.
John Self himself.

We’ve all heard about a cat having nine lives. Well, what about a Neon? If you think  you’ve got troubles, listen to the tale of John Self and his 1996 Neon. John picked up this ride in 2005 for $300 after he left a note for the owner under the windshield wiper. The broken timing belt became the least of his problems, because while the car was at his brother Paul’s waiting on parts, the garage next to it burned down! After some insurance wrangling, the car was bought back in the first of what would be many buybacks. The melted plastic bumper covers and other parts were replaced from a white junker Neon that Paul sourced. The Neon was repaired and became such a reliable daily driver it has since piled over 400k miles on the odo.

Those were not easy miles, either. The Neon shined on despite atire blowout at 95 MPH, having two tires slashed by John’s then-wife’s jealous ex-boyfriend, hitting a deer at 65 mph, hitting a fox on the same highway, and then hitting another deer, getting T-boned by an F250 that ran a red light, and more.

Hitting the deer on the highway was really bad, but not because of the animal. It was the unrestrained bottle of Argon welding gas laying between the seats. On impact, it flew forward, bounced off the dash, and punched a hole in the windshield from the inside out. Between the deer and the bottle of Argon, this was to be chalked up as “Neon totaled” #2.

#3 was the T-bonin’ truck. John explains that the lady that hit him had a small favor to ask: “You can’t call the cops, because my boyfriend is in the truck with me, and I’ve got a restraining order against him.” Well, that’s life in Springfield, Missouri. John called the police anyway and the boyfriend got off the hook after the insurance proved valid.

After John moved from Springfield to Kansas City, he recalls the next one. “I was sleeping on the couch at a friend’s house when I heard the Neon fire up and peel out in the street.”  Of course, John wasn’t the one driving it. He had always figured the disfigured Neon was too ugly to steal, what with those white bumper covers and all. The joke was on the thieves this time. It was laundry night, and aside from some school books and a Weird Al tape, the car was full of dirty underwear.

John got the call two days later that the car had been recovered. The thieves had cleaned it—not cleaned it out. They had actually vacuumed it, wiped down the dash, cleaned the glass, and even pried the door open where the Ford had smashed it in. John was always afraid to open that door for fear it would never latch again. But the nice bad guys even got the window to roll down. However, the thieves either tossed or wore of all of John’s clothes, so he had to buy new ones, but the car came back. That became “Totaled” numero quattro (and there was no sign of the Weird Al tape, either)

The best part about the first theft was that the cop that recovered the car said, “for $45, the department will sell you a copy of the dash cam footage of the police chase”….Sold! The video shows the Neon leaving the Crown Vic Police Interceptor in a literal cloud of dust before blasting through stop signs and traffic, ending when the thief lost control on a turn and drove over a bush, ripping the fuel line out of the car. Lights and sirens give way to the cop arresting the perps at gunpoint, and the video includes the police interrogating the suspects in the back seat of the cruiser. We expect to have that vid up here as Joh can lay his hands on it and send it our way.

But wait, there’s more. Due to initially citing the wrong license plate number during the police report, John continues to get pulled over for driving a ‘stolen vehicle’ years after the first theft occurred. Seems the cops had both the wrong and the correct plate numbers listed as stolen, but only ‘recovered’ the wrong number and there’s no way to report both as being recovered for the same vehicle.

Wait… First theft? That’s right, the car was stolen again in April, 2013 from a university parking garage in Kansas City. John explains, “I came out after being in school all day and the car was just…gone!” After calling to report the car stolen, John called the impound yard. Sure enough, the thieves had driven the car less than four hours, ghost-ridden it in reverse into another car, and had left the Neon to hock something better (probably a Pontiac Aztek). A city tow truck had come across the Neon idling in the street and towed it in. Totaled again, #5. John got it out of impound even before the cops had fully filed the theft report. John elaborates, “I had a shotgun in the back seat under some [clean, we hope] laundry and the thieves had put that shotgun in the trunk. Since the cops didn’t get a chance to go through the car, it was still in the trunk when I got it out of impound.”

John changed the oil only four or five times in 300,000 miles. That’s gotta count as another one of this Neon’s “nine” lives.

All that is pretty impressive, but what’s even most impressive [sick?] is that John has only changed the oil four or five times in the 300,000 miles he’s put on the car. “It got to the point where I just kept adding oil (Mobil1 exclusively) and never bothered changing it. There really isn’t even that much sludge since I commute 45 miles every day and don’t do a lot of stop and go driving.”

Let this be a lesson to you, peeps: when you see a $300 car on the side of the highway, it just might be your next decades-long daily driver!

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