Her Old Car Helped a Family in Need

She thought her car would have to be junked. But some divine intervention gave the vehicle a new lease on life.

Posted in , Sep 25, 2020

The back of a car with a family sticker on the rear window.


A chorus of angry horns blared at me as I sat in my Altima, stalled in the middle of a busy intersection. It was a blazing hot August afternoon. Quite the time and place for my car’s entire electrical system to give out, including the power locks on my doors and windows. Trapped inside without air conditioning, I had to wait for a police officer to arrive to assist. He pried open my vehicle, shifted it to neutral, pushed me to a parking lot and called a tow truck to transport the car to a garage.

“It’s your alternator,” the mechanic told me. Really? I’d just had the alternator replaced. Twice. Then I learned my transmission was practically on life support. “You’ll be lucky to get 25 more miles out of it,” he said. “Cut your losses, ma’am, and find another car. Soon.”

This was far from my first issue with the Altima. Over the past months, I’d been taking it to the same garage I’d relied on for years. I was making frequent long distance trips for a health crisis, so I wanted to make sure my car was safe and well-maintained. There was a new guy in charge, one who charmed me with his concern for my well-being. When I first met him, he leaned over the counter and whispered confidentially, “When it comes to a vehicle, the best ability is dependability.”

I kept having issues with the car, so I was in and out of that place every other week. It seemed like an awful lot of effort was required for dependability. But I was so ill, I didn’t dwell on it.

When the Altima broke down, I finally discovered the reason for all the car troubles I’d been having. That new guy at the garage had been lifting parts from my car to sell, replacing them with faulty ones. I wasn’t the only person he’d done this to. In fact, I was part of a far-reaching scam that eventually ended up in court as a class-action lawsuit. Still, when I found out, I felt stupid and embarrassed.

Hoping against hope that I wouldn’t need to replace my vehicle, I sought a few more opinions. Two other mechanics confirmed that the car was indeed useless for anything other than parts, so I found a donation center that rehabbed vehicles for people in need. I figured that they could use anything in good condition to help refurbish cars that were more suitable for driving.

“Just so you know,” I stressed to the acquisitions guy on the phone. “This car has problem parts and a bad transmission. It should not be given to someone to drive.”

I made an appointment for the donation center to come pick up the junker and called my sister Rebekkah to tell her the whole awful story. She was the only person I felt comfortable confiding in about having been duped. I expected her to join me in righteous anger and give me some sympathy, but instead her voice took on a faraway quality.

“Roberta, I think this is divinely led,” she said.

“Are you crazy, Reb? How could this be anything other than bad?”

“I just have this strong feeling that it’s going to go to a family who really needs it.”

“That would be lovely, but the car is a hunk of junk! It’s just not possible,” I replied.

But Reb would not be swayed. The next day, she showed up at my cabin carrying a tote bag overflowing with every conceivable product to clean, condition and polish the Altima. After she’d spent two entire days working on it, I found her using a lint roller on the upholstery. “Why waste your time on this?” I asked. “This car is no good for anyone to drive. I already told you that I’ll be lucky if they end up parting it out and I get a $500 tax write-off.”

Reb went back to lint-rolling. When I checked back on things, I saw her buffing drink holders. As if lost in a fairy tale, she murmured to herself, “The mama’s coffee will go here when she takes the two kids in the back seat to school.”

It annoyed me to no end! I just wanted the whole humiliating episode over with so I could move on, but Reb was drawing it out. I started to walk away, then turned to my sister and that bomb of a vehicle. “If you think it’s such a present, why don’t you tie it up with a bow when you’re finished?” I said.

An employee from the donation center came to pick up the Altima the following morning. He strode toward the car. Reb was lifting lint from a hard-to-reach spot between the seats with some adhesive tape. The man’s smile was a mixture of amazement and amusement. “Why, I have to say, this has got to be one of our loveliest donations ever,” he said.

I wouldn’t judge this book by its cover, I thought. “Like I said on the phone, it definitely has some problem parts and a faulty transmission,” I said.

He towed the Altima away. Reb looked on, beaming. “Just look at that, Roberta!”

“Yeah!” I said. “That junker is finally gone!”

The donation center promised to send me a receipt for my tax write-off to include in my tax return.

The envelope arrived in my mailbox soon after. But instead of the measly $500 allowance that I’d been expecting to get, I was stunned to see that my car’s “full Blue-Book value” had been reported. In fact, it was enough to cover a good portion of the cost of my new car.

In a panic, I called the donation center. “This can’t be!” I said. “I told you that Altima wasn’t fit to drive. Remember? Please tell me you didn’t give it to someone. What if they wind up on a hill and the transmission goes out?”

“Ma’am, there’s no need to worry,” the man on the phone said. “Because of your warning, we were extra careful when checking the car over. We had three separate mechanics go over every detail. It was just as pristine under the hood as it was everywhere else. There wasn’t a thing wrong with it.”

How on earth could that be? Had the mechanics I’d gone to been mistaken, or was there something else at work?

I looked down and saw a small handwritten card peeking out from the same day’s stack of mail. I opened it to find a message that stopped me cold.

“Dear Ms. Messner,

You have no idea what your beautiful car means to my girls and me. We had been taking three buses for me to get to work and drop them off at school. Now we have a car. A car!”

Attached was a photo. A mother, her hand clasping the handle of the driver’s side door, and two little girls, peering into the back seat. The same back seat that my sister felt called to prepare just for them.

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