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LeBarely’s LeLast Day

Driving he LeBarely for the Last TimeYesterday marks the end of nearly ten years of a friendship with my car, my fire-engine-red, convertible Chrysler LeBarely.

If you have followed my history with cars in general, but especially the LeBaron—subsequently dubbed the LeBarely by my then wife — you know it’s been fun to own this car, but of late it has turned into a loathe/hate relationship.

Two years ago, at about this time of year, I received my DMV Registration renewal notice bearing the dreaded Smog Test Required notice. I had my doubts as to whether it would pass, since two years earlier the gentleman at the Smog Check facility gave me a raised eyebrow Passed certificate, muttering a prophetic “…barely.”

From there it was a downhill story leading to the eventual parking of my ’91 LeBaron out on the street awaiting the necessary cash to fix it up and sell it out of state, or… I dunno… somethin’…

Part of what led to my eventual parking of the LeBarely was the CAP program California has, which — after throwing a minimum of $450 at mechanics to attempt to desuade your vehicle from being a gross polluter — eventually waives your responsibility to be smog compliant for the remainder of the registration period during which time you must either fix it at any cost to make it compliant or terminate driving it at the end of the registration period. [CAP Application Form – PDF]

I opted to park it, and drive instead a cheaper-to-insure ’83 Mercedes Benz we had lying around. And then we began mulling over what to do with the LeBarely. I was advised by the friendly gal over at the Referee Scheduling Center that I may not sell the car within California without it passing smog. I asked “What if I want to sell it to someone who knows it cannot pass smog, but who wants to fix it.” I was advised that that was unwise because they may come back and sue me for selling them an unregisterable car.

“But what if they agree to buy it unregisterable in writing?”

“I cannot advise you on what to do with your car, sir.”

“Well, what if I sell it to someone who lives in another state who doesn’t have environmental laws protecting the Ethiopian Mildew Moth, or whatever, from slightly polluted air?”

“I do not know the environmental laws from other states, sir.”

“Is there any law prohibiting me from selling it on eBay to someone out of state telling them they must take it out of the state?”

“How much do you expect to get for it on eBay, sir?” she enquired, sounding both fascinated and condescending at the same moment.

“I dunno. $300? $600… whatever the market will determine. I don’t care. I can’t drive it, and I can’t afford to fix it. It’s of no use to me.”

“Why don’t you wait a month or two until you get your next Registration Renewal Notice, and then apply for the Vehicle Retirement Program? If you’re accepted—and it sounds like you will be — they’ll pay you $1000 for your car.”

“A thous….?!” I choked. I could maybe get $1500 for it with a new ragtop and a smog-passable engine. No way could I get $1000 for it in its current condition any other way.

Long story short. I applied, was accepted, and…

I Sold My Car to Arnold Schwarzenegger

In preparation for yesterday’s drive to the Approved Vehicle Retirement Facility in Chula Vista—the only one in San Diego County— I charged the battery overnight on Monday, because

  1. the battery was so dead the LED on my stereo’s fake security system wouldn’t even light (and I think those things glow if you merely rub a balloon on your head).

I then disconnected the charger once it indicated the battery was fully charged, and turned the key.


Nothing, except that everything else except the engine–lights, radio, horn, interior thingies—everything worked.

Battery must not have enough cranking popwer. Even with jumper cables I coudn’t even get a click out of it.

I called Marland, the mobile mechanic here in Carlsbad that got my LeBarely back together after I “totaled it” who confirmed that it probably didn’t have enough juice.

So I took the battery to Wal-mart from whence it came in September 2001 and they gave me a $15 pro-rated credit toward a new one. $28.80 was my final price for new juice.

Drove home, plopped it in the LeBarely, turned the key.


Called Marland. He came over. “Oh, that’s gotta be the starter. I’ll see if I can rebuild it.” he removed the started, popped it open and told me “The brushes are toast.” They were. I saw them. They were worn down to the nubs and were no longer making any contact with the starter motor.

Bought a new starter: $104.99. Paid Marland $60. Un-needed new battery: $28.80. That’ll just have to be the cost of doing business with Arnold, I thought.

This next section contains links to individual pictures from Lebarely’s last day.

I got up early yesterday morning and realized I would not be able to see out the windshield through the dirt it accumulated from dust and rain in the last few months [Picture]. so I decided to give it one last, loving bath. [Picture]. Now, I am not a car lover, by any stretch, but there was something in me that wouldn’t let me drive it to the car morgue dirty.

At around noon, my friend George came over to follow me to the facility so I could have a ride back—nice to have friends like that.

I decided that since it was such a nice day, I may as well put the top down for one last time [Picture] and enjoy the one thing I bought a convertible for—riding with the wind in my hair. [Picture]

The tank was on “E” so I stopped at the local gas station and put $5-even into the tank. I figured at 20 miles to the gallon, I could make it 46.6 miles to the Pick-Your-Part [Map] on less than two gallons—after all, I would be making a one-way trip to an obscure spot 5 miles from the USA/Mexico Border.

With 161,850 miles on it [Picture], and me about to pull the plug on it—it felt weird. But I buckled up, pulled out of the gas station and started on my last ride with the LeBarely. [Picture].

When I got there, I realized I was in a typical neighborhood of auto-wreckers. I was directed to the back lot. George was not allowed on the premisis.

I was directed to park “next to that blue car” and hand over my letter from the Bureau of Automotive Repair—the one that states clearly that I have been selected to participate in the Revivable Junk Automobile Retirement Program.. I thought the term revivable junk was a little odd, yet hopeful. It gave me visions of some inner-city highschoolers being delivered a smooth-running, nice looking red convertible. They could learn a trade and become a valuable asset to the community as they learned—from the taxpayer-funded learning center—how to re-bore the cylinders, add new rings to the pistons and make this car a non-polluting babe magnet once again.

My previous ex-wife was told by her girlfriend Carla, when the two of them saw my red convertible for the first time, that I had bought either a babe magnet or a mid-life crisis car — like I’m going to be interested in a gal who says “Oooooooo! Nice red car!”

We were divorced six months later. She may have been right on the mid-life crisis part.

A gal from the iron-barred office came out and grabbed the letter and walked over to my car and started writing on the windows with a big white wax crayon. It was theirs now. [Picture]

I asked her “Where does the car go from here?”

“We crush them.”

“But this one has a brand new starter. A brand new battery. I bought them yesterday! And two months ago I put on a brand new power steering pump and a new water pump, all new belts and radiator hoses. It runs great. Why not give it to a school or something where they can—”

“These cars belong to California now. Since we started doing their program over a year ago, they have instructed us to crush every car they buy. We cannot take any parts off, nor sell it to anyone. This will be crushed tomorrow.”

After filling out a survey, they gave me a check for $1000 [Picture] and I turned and walked away.

One last glance at the LeBarely [Picture] and I got into George’s car and we rode home.

Your tax dollars at work.


  1. Great story! Unbelievable about them crushing all those cars… you’re right about giving the cars to some inner-city high school program.

    But I’ll tell you this: $1,000 eases a lot of angst. 🙂

    Pizza Port tonight, baby!

  2. mom

    August 18, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Almost made me cry. That cute little car looked so much better than so many others around town….

    Oh well, can’t take it with you.

    Pizza Port does have a comforting sound.

    Love you, LeBarely or not,

  3. Laughed out loud a couple of times! Thank you for sharing about the expensive demise of you car…it will be strange to not see you driving it ever again, or at least, not see it at your home. It definitely had a good life.
    Hugs–love you-

  4. I searched the net to see if anyone had a story like mine, and I found yours. Thanks for sharing. I just retired a car through the vehicle retirement program. And instead of feeling good about it, I feel nothing but remorse.

    The car had been my father’s for 4 years. When he passed away, my mother then drove it for 14 years, until she died. I then drove it for another 3 years. But alas, it recently failed the smog test. According to the test technician, it would probably have been an easy repair. But instead, I was lured in by the vehicle retirement program, and greed set in. How could I justify spending another dime on the car? After all, $1000 was more than I could ever get for it on the market, even after making the smog repairs. So I took the easy way out and retired the car.

    Big mistake. I cried myself to sleep that night. I called the wrecker the next day to see if there was any way I could get it back, but it had already been crushed.

    And with that news, I was crushed. I had just destroyed what was probably the only vehicle still in existence that belonged to my parents.

    So here is a warning to anyone who is considering vehicle retirement: think long and hard about that decision. You can never go back.

  5. Wow! Thanks for your comments!

    I don’t know if my story conveyed it, but I really felt a lot of guilt—and a sick-stomach, really—over driving away from my otherwise fantastic car. It really sucks that I couldn’t keep it. It was just above smog tolerances, and I had to take it off the road.

    Knowing that I had just put on a $120 starter the day before (and paid to have it installed) made me even sicker. What a waste. An absolute waste.

    I’m indebted to you for taking the time to tell your story!

  6. Agreed. So sad. Hope you will get your column published in the newspapers… and may it spread to the politicians….

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