The Marine View Driver: Of Russians, Mafia, and the 1992 Honda Accord

In which the author learns there is more than one market for popular vehicles.

by Mike Smith

Capture2Have you ever seen those “In loving memory of” stencils that appear in the rear window of a car? I always thought they were kind of weird. Someone dies and you get a car out of the deal.

I’m here to tell you: it can happen.

When our Nova was stolen as we attended my father’s funeral, my brothers gave me my dad’s fairly new Honda Accord. (I didn’t put a stencil in the rear window).

12649415335_050a0e9694_zWhen Dad bought it marveled at the number of lights and buttons on the dash. He enthused that it was like an airplane cockpit.

The year was 1992 and my dad, my oldest brother and I all bought new cars. I purchased a Ford Tempo (you’ll be reading about it soon), my brother bought a Ford Ranger pickup, and my dad bought the Honda Accord.

When we acquired it, it was by far the most modern car we had had in our married life. We loved this car, and I still get a little lump in my throat whenever I see one like it on the road.

The Honda literally had nine lives.  It was stolen and recovered three times. (And remember that we got this car in the first place because the Nova was stolen!)

The first time this car was stolen and recovered it was by the Lynnwood Honda Recovery Team Police. The theft occurred from our driveway. The strange part was that our driveway was lit up by a streetlight as we lived on a corner. I guess the streetlight did double duty the night the Accord was first stolen; not only was it our protector, it was someone else’s work light.

CaptureThe car was stolen on a Saturday night while we had friends over. It was recovered the next day by 7:00 am. We lived in Kent at the time, about 25 miles south of Lynnwood. While we waited for our car in the smelly lobby of the towing company, the proprietors explained what happened. It was “the Russian Mafia.”

A few seconds’ pause indicated that they felt a need to elaborate.

The so-called Mafia stole eighteen Honda Accords that night. Ours was the only one that was not parted out. Too old, I guess. (Sometimes it pays to age a little.)  Apparently the Russians steal the cars. Remove the parts they want or a significant number of valuable components and push the parted-out car into the street somewhere. When it is recovered, they wait for the insurance to total the car. Then they go to the wrecking yard that has possession of it and “buy” it back. After which they put the parts back on and “re-license” the car. Leave it to a bunch of immigrants to dream up a way to defraud the system.

12649486963_c688600489_zI found it odd that their first rendition of the story was the condensed assertion about the Russian Mafia. The cause was self-evident to them, and they seemed suspiciously knowledgeable about the details of the scheme.


But we got our car back so we left it at that. I imagine many a young Russian immigrant has received a fairly new car from this Soviet-style welcome wagon.

What an interesting little bit of Seattle culture! I was shocked and amused at the way these Russian neighbors of ours worked out their own way in the world.

I wonder how often wrecking yards see similar “creativity” in other situations they are asked to stick their tows into.  Somewhere in the world there are some grandkids hearing stories about the soft underbelly of society as seen from the seat of a tow truck.

I remember having just a little bit of admiration for the ingenuity of the Russian comrades who stole our car. I can’t help but admire the cognition that it takes to find a flaw in the system and exploit it.

I recognize, however, that if we hadn’t recovered our car and had had to buy another one, my admiration might have been a tad bit muted. And I suppose there were seventeen other Honda lovers that had other emotive impulses than mine.  But you have to admit, it was a pretty clever scam.

So the Honda was generally unscathed. No scratches on the door… most likely attributable to good lighting. Our insurance company paid for some minor body repairs, and as is the pattern in our automotive saga, they fixed a few things we didn’t expect. Things like dash buttons that were stuck due to some unexpected Coca Cola incident (in which I was not involved) and a few places where paint had been discolored.

I can only say that we were astounded that some of the little irritants about the car had been remedied as a result of the Russian Mafia.

I hope they don’t anticipate a random favor from us in the future.

Just say “Nyet.”


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