That Time I Traded an Audi S4 for a Hummer H1—and a Hummer H1 for a Mini
Because it was raining, you see.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my new Ford Focus RS. While many of you enjoyed that piece, there was one standard argument that consistently came up: my rather high lease payment. The general consensus was that it was simply too much money for a car that moves my ass from Point A to Point B, and is not a BMW. A fair enough argument from one point of view, but I will argue that if the price vs. automobile equation is fair to me, then y’all can go fuck yourselves. No one is making you lease this car. My money, my ass-mover.
When it comes to my cars, one continuous internet debate is You've Wasted Your Money Matt vs. I DisRespectfully Disagree. Well, today you win, internet. I’m going to tell you a very true story about the time I really did waste my money—and how you can use that advice to improve your own automotive situation going forward.
Today is the day where I fill you in on the time I bought a Hummer H1. On impulse. Because it was raining.
In the fall of 2006 I was working at Gotham Dream Cars, an exotic car rental company in New York. I was a customer service representative, which means that whenever someone would rent a car, I would be responsible for delivering that car to him (either in a trailer or, if close, by driving it), checking it over, doing paperwork, showing them how to use the car, and then when their rental was over, going back to pick it up.
I wasn’t “Matt Farah” then; no YouTube channel, no television shows, no social media following. I was just a fat kid who loved cars and wanted to get into the industry any way I could and learn, learn, learn. And Gotham Dream Cars was the perfect place to do that. I learned all about exotic cars: how they drove, when and why they broke, what they cost to fix, and how certain exotic cars held up over time compared to others under the worst-case scenario—rental customers. This became invaluable knowledge down the road, in my current career, but it also gave me endless stories to tell about the kinds of characters who would drop $15,000 on a weekend with a Lamborghini.
I was living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and commuting the 20 miles each way to Gotham’s headquarters in Englewood, New Jersey, just on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. This drive is what's commonly known in New York as a “reverse commute,” and normally pretty light on traffic. I had bought a lightly-used 2005 Audi B6 S4 sedan, in Avus silver, with a stick, and man, at the time what a nice car that was. Shod with a set of Blizzak’s, the S4 was unstoppable in a brutal New York winter. The Labree exhaust made it sound like a Spyker. It was a great car, but I spent eight hours of the day surrounded by a fleet of exotic material, not to mention Gotham general manager Rob Ferretti’s personal collection of thousand-horsepower monsters, and our mechanic’s collection of oddball Italians. The Audi got bland quickly.
One November day, I was on my normal morning commute out to Jersey. It had been raining all night and traffic had built up over the bridge in both directions. By the time I passed Route 4, it was clear the highway couldn’t withhold all the water being dumped on it, and massive, car-swallowing puddles started to form. I attempted to bail off the highway and onto a side street for the last two miles to the office, but as I merged into the exit lane onto a cloverleaf offramp, traffic came to a dead stop. And on this single-lane cloverleaf, with a two-foot puddle of water at the end, is where I sat for the next two hours.
To say I had some time to think would be an understatement. For 20 minutes I stared at the grassy field down the steep embankment in the center of the cloverleaf, quickly filling up with water and forming a trash-filled pond, just saying to myself, “If I had a fucking Hummer, I would crank the wheel hard alee, drive down this grassy embankment, through that puddle, and up the grass to my exit ramp, visible from my perch here. And there’s nothing anyone else could do about it.” It’s not like the cops could have followed me if they wanted to; a Crown Vic would be swallowed whole in there.
Eventually I made it to work—a mere three hour commute. Because of the location of Gotham’s warehouse, the entire parking lot outside the shop was also flooded with at least a foot of water. My S4 couldn’t even get within a hundred yards of the building, so I parked up the road and waded into the shop. I unpacked and began prepping an F430 and a Gallardo Spyder for the afternoon’s deliveries, optimistic we’d eventually be able to take them outside and into the trailer.
Twenty minutes later, through the red sea and into the shop rolled a Black Hummer H1 Wagon, its diesel engine clattering away. A wholesaler named Steve who we’d worked with in the past hopped out. Steve had bought from and sold to Gotham in the past, and while he dealt in all manner of exotic cars, he specialized in Hummer H1s and 80’s Lambos. He had at least three or four of each at any given time. I don’t even know why he was at the shop that day, and it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I’d spent nearly two hours convincing myself that if I had a Hummer, the traffic I had sat in all morning would no longer apply to me. And yes, as with all my stories, I am well aware of how fucking ridiculous this sounds ten years later.
We chatted about this Hummer, a 2001 model with the GM 6.5L Turbodiesel V8 and a well-kept tan cloth interior. It showed only 40,000 miles and presented as very clean, no doubt aided by the fact that it was soaking wet and looked like it had just stormed Normandy.
I asked Steve to go for a test drive, citing perfect Hummer conditions, and climbed into the beast. I had never driven a Hummer before, and after blasting through eighteen-inch puddles at 40 mph with no loss of momentum whatsoever, I declared the Hummer “not as shitty as I expected it to be, not as uncomfortable as I expected it to be, and the eighteen-speaker Monsoon stereo fucking bumps.” Most importantly, I felt cool driving it, which is something I could not say about my S4, even though in hindsight it's just the opposite.
Without a pre-purchase inspection, without researching anything about the pitfalls of Hummer ownership, without so much as checking the fucking oil, I offered to trade Steve my S4 for his Hummer. On the spot, straight up.
The speed at which Steve agreed to this trade should have been the first indicator of what was about to happen: I was about to get fucked. And it was my own fault. I don’t even think I’d finished my sentence, and because all Steve’s cars were for sale all the time, he of course had the paperwork on him, and within 20 minutes I’d traded the S4 for a five-years-older, three-times-heavier military vehicle with seats that wouldn’t pass muster in the last row of a Southwest commuter flight. I’d impulse-bought a Hummer, because it was raining. Well, that’s not the only reason; I also wanted an interesting, semi-exotic car like all the other guys at work had. Hummers were affordable, and exotic enough to be different from everyone else. I generally did not understand how a Hummer could be that much less practical than something like a Suburban, which everyone in the entire northeast was driving in ’06. And also, I was very stupid.
Reality sunk in the second I got home from work. In Manhattan. Surely there are less-friendly places on the blog than Manhattan to own a car; London comes to mind, with their road tax, and Kabul, with its car bombs. But in the scope of North America, there possibly isn’t a worse place to own a car, any car, than the island of Manhattan.
Now, double the size of that car.
There is only one parking garage on the Lower East Side, and it was a solid half-mile walk from my apartment, which was annoying enough. Now, I was informed, with a truck this size my monthly parking will go from $275 per month to $1,000 per month. One thousand dollars. To park. For three whole weeks, I attempted to park the Hummer on the street in an effort to avoid what I now call the ‘You’re an Asshole Who Bought a Hummer in New York” tax. And for the most part, it actually went well. The H1 is shorter than a Tahoe and has a great turning radius, plus the windows are huge, and at the ends of the car, making it very easy to parallel park—although it stuck out at least a foot wider than all the other cars parked near it. The kind citizens of New York City, in this first month, made it very clear my Hummer was not welcome parked on their block. I found spit, key marks, and in once instance, a nice, soft dog turd on my truck. I bit the bullet and went back to the parking garage.
Despite the obvious issues—the parking, the discomfort, the shame I felt every time I started the diesel engine in cold weather only to blast the parking garage attendants with black diesel smoke—I enjoyed my first month with the Hummer. It was a particularly rough winter, and there is nothing on earth like a Hummer in a snowstorm. One blizzard was bad enough to knock out all the traffic lights on First Avenue, and with New York City a white-on-white ghost town, I hauled ass up 1st Avenue at 70 mph with a rooster tail like a cigarette boat, blowing every light from sixteenth to Harlem.
In a bad rainstorm, I did indeed exit traffic to the grassy shoulder for half a mile until coming to a four-foot-deep puddle with traffic at a standstill. While the cops looked on, my Hummer went for a swim, out the other side, and enjoyed 10 miles of empty freeway while the rest of the world sat in their sedans, an island on the Hutchinson River Parkway.
I found every deep puddle and snowbank I could find and hit them as hard and fast as I could, because fuck it, that’s what you do when you have your own tank. Someone once told me that, in crash testing, the 10,000-pound Hummer broke through the crash barrier. I don’t even know if that’s true, but at the time it sure gave me confidence. I convinced my infuriated parents that buying a Hummer was the smart move by filling it with things when I moved apartments. And even though it drank diesel fuel at an alarming rate from its forty-two gallon dual-tanks, I worked in New Jersey, home of the cheapest diesel fuel in America! Diesel was barely over a dollar per gallon at that point, and I could fill up the Hummer for under fifty bucks on the west side of the Hudson river.
Despite the ugly, 80’s head unit, the Monsoon stereo was indeed the best car stereo I’d ever heard. There were speakers everywhere. It wasn’t until Range Rover and their 29-speaker Meridian stereo, eight years later, that I’d heard something sound better. I could roll up to any club in Manhattan with my boys and be the king of that place. People were impressed and confused, which is exactly how I like them.
After the first month though, reality got real. I’ll never fault someone who wants a Hummer H1 as a fourth car. They truly are great off-road, and are an absolute riot to play around in—for recreation. I’ll never fault Doug Demuro for buying one simply to write stories about; that makes total sense. But I wasn’t an off-roader, and I wasn’t an automotive journalist trying to crank out a column a week about one car. I was just a guy trying to be cool and different.
Commuting to work in what feels like a school bus gets old really fucking fast. The Hummer was so slow, I literally had to calculate longer drive times to get places. The FDR Drive, possibly the tightest, narrowest, shittiest highway on the eastern Seaboard, was an exercise in small inputs.
I left Gotham six weeks after buying the truck, and no longer spent every day in New Jersey, magically turning a weekly fifty-dollar fill-up into a weekly hundred and fifty dollar fill-up. And if I got it into the garage in my new apartment at all, I couldn’t open the doors.
Although it was reliable(ish), I had two issues come up which were specific to Hummers:
One morning, I came outside to find all four tires flat. Because I had parked on the street in Manhattan, I first thought someone had slashed my tires, which would be the logical escalation from leaving dog shit on my hood. As it turned out, one of the lines for the Central Tire Inflation System had sprung a leak. Since the system is, you know, central, one leaky line means four flat tires. Fortunately, the Hummer has an onboard compressor, and in just 40 minutes the Hummer had re-inflated itself and I disconnected the system at the wheel hubs so the tires would stay full.
Then, I experienced a failure of something called a Pump Mounted Driver. This is a shitty circuit board that is mounted directly on the fuel pump, in a location that gets very hot. While the engine is running, coolant circulates through the area, but when you shut it off, the computer would overheat and the truck wouldn’t start again for at least an hour, until the computer cooled off. The fix is to move the computer away from hot components.
Neither of these issues is a big deal, but it did lead to another, much bigger problem:
No one knows how to work on these fucking things. I called all four Hummer dealers within 100 miles of my house, and not a single one of them staffed a tech that could work on the H1. I put an ad out on Craigslist for ex-military mechanics who could work on an H1; crickets. I literally spent three weeks trying to find someone to fix the two dumb little problems on the H1 and got nothing. This period was before H1s became collectors' items, and so there were no specialty shops for them, and yet they were too old and too specific for dealers to want to touch them. It drove me nuts. I had random mechanics basically guessing that theycould work on the H1, but had zero experience with one. No thanks.
I tinted the windows, which seemed like a good idea at the time, until I realized that every window in a Hummer is perfectly vertical. That means that light reflections would bounce around the cabin and cars approaching from behind at night would appear to be approaching from the front, and vice versa. Cars on the left, in my reflective-tint windows, appeared to be on the right. It was absolutely terrifying, and I would only drive the Hummer at night with the windows down; clearly, a perfect solution for a New York winter.
Eight weeks into my Hummer ownership experience, I had had enough of the thing. Not only was it slow, not only was it huge, not only was it thirsty, not only did it not drive very well (aside from the automatic gearbox, which was fantastic), but also I felt like an asshole. All those sneers from people really started to sink in, and I didn’t want to be that guy. I was tired of it. I tried selling it online, with no success. I tried putting a “For Sale” sign on it, with no success. I called up Steve and asked if he still had my S4 and could I trade back? He had sold it less than 24 hours after taking it off my hands. I tried waiting again until it was raining, hoping someone out there would share my stupid logic. Nada.
Eventually, I drove the Hummer to a Mini dealer in Elmsford and offered to trade it, straight up, for the last 2006 John Cooper Works Mini on their lot, for which they wanted $36,000—that's $4,000 less than I paid for the Hummer and $8,000 less than I paid for my S4 barely a year earlier.
Although the salesman would get a lifetime of stories out of the guy who traded in a H1 for a Mini, they only agreed to take the deal if I would bring in a wholesaler who would guarantee purchasing the trade-in, a request that is fundamentally unheard of in the retail car business.
I called Steve again. Would he buy the Hummer back, through the Mini dealer, at wholesale? Of course, he agreed, at a significantly reduced price from what I paid him for the truck a mere 2,000 miles and 10 weeks before.
I wanted out of that truck so badly, I did the deal. In ten weeks I’d gone from a 2005 Audi S4 with only 15,000 miles on it, to a Hummer H1, to a Mini, with a net loss of around $8,000 in the process, not counting the two grand I’d blown at the parking garage. The salesman at Mini, I’m told, still has the photo of us standing between my new car and my trade-in. It's hanging above his desk. And on the way home from the Mini dealer, with less than 50 miles on the JCW’s clock, I got nailed by a New York State Trooper doing 94 mph in a 55 zone—a speed I couldn’t possibly have achieved the day before in my military school bus.
So for those of you who still think that $750 per month is too much money to pay for a Ford Focus RS, just remember that I once spent $1,000 a week to drive a worthless, heavy, slow shitbox of a truck, which I bought because it was raining. So at least we’re going in the right direction.