When I was 15, my dad taught me the basics of the four-stroke engine, how to clean spark plugs and change an air filter. The next year in high school, while my friends were learning how to cook and sew in Home Economics, I was in Auto Tune-up with a camshaft dangling over my desk. Always motivated to work, I wanted to get a job as soon as I was legally able. I immediately found there were no options for me to get to a job on my own unless I had a way to get there.
I lived in a suburban neighborhood, too far from the mall to walk, and I wasn’t coordinated enough to ride a bike without risking bodily harm to myself or someone else. There was no mass transit. I needed a car. My parents told me that if I saved $500 from babysitting to contribute toward a down payment and committed to paying $45 a month to them from my earnings, they would buy me a car. It was a Mustang! Regrettably, it was not the cool model. Instead of the Cobra that Farrah Fawcett drove on “Charlie’s Angels,” I had the Mustang II that Jaclyn Smith drove. It was a 1978 model, the ugly version, with a bad transmission, and it was pumpkin-colored. But it was my first set of wheels, and it opened up a world of possibilities. I could go wherever I needed, whenever I wanted.
Because the transmission had been rebuilt three times in nine months, the Mustang and I didn’t stay together long. Since then I’ve had the joy of owning some really nice cars, but I probably never loved a car more than my second—a 1979 Toyota Celica silver five-speed with a sunroof. On Christmas Day 1983, my sister and I were out for a drive together. I still remember the song that was playing on the radio by an ‘80s band called Men at Work, and I believe they were at a point singing, “nobody gonna slow me down” when I entered an intersection and was hit by a car that ran a red light. The Toyota was totaled.
Soon after that a neighbor took me to a small car lot where I met the guy who would become my first husband, a car salesman. Armed with a $4,500 insurance check as a down payment, I was a pretty good risk for a loan on an $8,000 car and ended up buying a 1981 Datsun 200SX hatchback, financing it in my own name and establishing credit at 19 years old. I married way too young at 21 and spent the 15 years in that marriage alternately hating the business because it did not allow for a personal life and loving it because I learned how the business worked.
Despite being enamored with cars, I never imagined that I’d be in the car business at this point in my life! I’m a finance nerd. For 25 years my career was in finance and commercial real estate. In 2011 I started Champion Impact Capital to work on creative financial solutions to make my community stronger and life better for the people in it. One of the initiatives that grew out of that was On the Road Lending. I became “The Car Lady” in 2013 when I figured out that cars change everything for people who don’t have them.
Despite my infatuation with cars, I had never considered what life would be like without one! I had never been forced to figure out how to manage daily life if accessibility was diminished because my transportation options were limited to an unreliable mass transit system, a broken down car, or my own two feet. I began to consider the impact that lack of mobility had on families, employers and the community, and On the Road Lending was the solution.
I’m proud that our clients call me “The Car Lady.” I have come to know a lot of people from different paths since 2013—clients who had been in prison, women who had been prostitutes or battered, veterans struggling with PTSD and drug addiction, and single mothers who gave birth as teenagers. All of these individuals—truly all of us in this world—want freedom. They want to control their time. They want to make their own decisions. They want to build a strong future. Having a car puts them on that road—the road to a better life.