A (Sideways) Look at a Lincoln Town Car

Yesterday afternoon I walked into the Avis car rental facility at JFK Airport in New York. The Preferred Customer board showed “N HAUPT – B5”. I walked out to the lot, found space B5 and my heart sank with every step I got closer to the car. I always rent intermediate-sized cars. Avis apparently had treated me to an upgrade. In space B5 there was a shiny silver Lincoln Town Car, a huge boat of a car.

I took one look at this monster and knew that I wanted nothing to do with it. I would be embarrassed to be seen in such a car. I would hate the gas mileage. And I would probably hate driving it. I didn’t even get close enough to take a better look at it, but headed straight for the office to trade it for a car more compatible with my tastes and needs. But then I looked at the line at the counter, nervously stepped from one foot to the other, two large suitcases in tow, the heat 94 degrees and muggy, starting to sweat. Waiting in the line could take half an hour. How bad could the car be, right? 

I went out, stowed my luggage in the huge trunk and got in the car. The air conditioner worked well. Off on my way on I-678 through Queens and the Bronx I was getting comfortable with my luxury ride.

I was not yet out of Westchester County heading north on I-87, about an hour in the car, when I concluded I couldn’t stand it. There were so many things about it that were wrong. I could not imagine driving this monster for a whole week.

The ignition lock is on the steering column. When the steering wheel is at a comfortable position and the seat is where it needs to be for my size, the key chain (with the tag, the other key and the remote) hangs over my knee and tickles it. No matter what I try, I can’t get away from the key. It’s summer, and with shorts this is particularly annoying.

The picture above shows this situation. Forgive my hairy leg. The only thing I could think of is to get a rubber band and tie the keys up to the shifter.

This solution works. If I owned a Lincoln Town Car, the rubber band would be a permanent fixture.

Another problem is the cruise control. The car is brand-new. It had 685 miles on it when I picked it up. But the cruise control, right on the steering wheel, does not work. The On button has no effect. If there is some other trick, I can’t figure it out. The problem with a bulky and heavy car like this is that you can’t gauge your speed very accurately. I find myself driving 90 miles per hour, then 60 miles per hour. It all feels the same. Cruise control is crucial in a car like that. But – there isn’t any that works.

The cruise control buttons are on the left side of the steering wheel. On  the right side, there is a volume button for the radio, which works, and a temperature button for the heater/cooler, which works too. However, who changes the temperature once it’s set? Why is valuable steering wheel button space wasted on the temperature control?  Instead, the scan button for the radio stations is on the dashboard, far enough away that you have to bend forward to reach it from a normal driving position. Even my long arms are not long enough. I don’t know about most people, but the scan button on the radio is  probably the one button in a car that gets more exercise than any other. Now that would be a good thing to have on the steering column. Alas, Lincoln engineers apparently didn’t think so.

One of my most serious gripes is the floating sponginess of the ride. Hitting a slight bump in the road, or a small pothole, sends the entire car into a gentle wobble. I have learned to ignore it and not try to compensate, and for the most part the car stabilizes itself again, but I must say that the experience is unnerving. Who likes to undulate down the road at 75 miles per hour?

It got so bad, I decided to stop at the Albany airport and get Avis to trade in the car. Unfortunately, Avis didn’t have any cars at 8:00pm on a Saturday night. I tried all other car rental companies and all of them were out. I was  willing to just hand back the car, eat the drop-off charge and mileage, just to drive a “normal” car again. No such luck.

The next day I called Avis customer support, and tried to talk them into letting me trade it in Albany. I was willing to drive 50 miles one way back just for the privilege of getting rid of the car. But the customer support agent said I’d have to call the desk at JFK, where I picked up the car in the first place. I called the desk, no answer.

I have had the car now for just 24 hours, and I have already taken pictures of what’s wrong, written this entry, and wasted an hour at least trying to get rid of it, unsuccessfully. I am resigned now. I have to drive this until Friday. Argh.

Avis: Please, don’t treat me to any more upgrades, or I’ll have to find another car rental company.

Lincoln: I think you need to try harder with your “luxury” cars.

Note to Self: Never, never drive off with a car unless you are sure you’re going to be okay with it. Stand in line as long as it takes, but give it back if you don’t like it.

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