Over the years, the cars I have shared with finance companies who let me think I was the owner have been a combination of nightmares and smiles as I tried to pay for them before they died on a highway.

The nightmares were longer and the smiles fewer as cars became more sophisticated and acquired more parts to break down.

A beat-up Chevy with a canvas top that was knocked off by the Honolulu bus company one day served a couple of sailors and myself well for a few months in Hawaii.

Quick sailing orders forced us to abandon the car on a Pearl Harbor pier one morning and we sailed with wet eyes.

Years of city living when a car wasn't necessary were happy times, until a summer in the country forced me to borrow a tiny Crosley for transportation.

There was a steep hill to the approach to our house and the Crosley climbed at about 10 miles an hour.

It was always late at night when a giant mastiff from a nearby farm would appear for a joy alongside his mechanical toy.

Hearing me chugging up the hill he would bound out and attack the car, leaping along with his bared teeth only inches from my face as I sat behind a closed window, shivering in cold terror.

The first car I bought was a used car, and the salesman actually said it had been owned by a quiet old lady.

It drove well, but after a few days I hit a bump, and a lot of swizzle sticks, the kind that come in cocktails, bounced off the shelf next to the back window. I could only think she was quiet because she tippled a lot, and after a few months the front end developed a shimmy and a lot of things began to rattle around, showing that the "quiet old lady" maybe hit a few objects while she was out gathering swizzle sticks.

The next car was a slightly used, gray Chevy the salesman called a "cream puff," and hated to let go of.

After a few months a young daughter found an open can of yellow paint and decided the front of the car would look better yellow.

It was downhill from there, and one cold night the "cream puff" went sour on the highway. The tow cost $25 so I made a deal with the driver and we went home in a cab.

A magazine story told about a young woman touring the Sahara in a Peugeot without any mishaps, so I figured I should be able to get arround Manhattan in one.

It was my first real new car, but by the time I was ready for the 1,000-mile check the dealership had closed down.

There was a repair shop in Long island City, where out of some defense mechanism the mechanics spoke only French and every spare park seemed to be back in France.

A warning in a consumer's guide said the clutch might be the first part to break down. I was.

American mechanics refused to work on it, implying that I was un-American because of my purchase. One day I drove it to a used car lot and swapped it for a big roomy Ford, one that American mechanics liked to tinker with.

It served us well for many years until we took the one last trip we wanted out of it, then everything that could happen to a car happened.

Before the trip a mechanic kept it for several days and handed me a whopping bill.

It was a warm, sunny morning and with spirits high we left Washington for a trip to Boston. At first when I heard the terrible noise on the Beltway I hoped it was someone else's car. It wasn't. Stopping on the shoulder and peering under the car, I saw the drive shaft lying in the roadbed.

The two back to the gargae cost $25 and the boss told his mechanic to put the car on the lift and this time to put the bolts in. Three hours later on the New Jersey Turnpike, a tire blew.

When the car was on the jack and ready for the switch to the sparen a trailer truck whipping along caused a downdraft that knocked the car off the jack and the rim snuggled firmly into the soft dirt.

A motorist stopped to help and two of us got it back up with his jack, slipped on the spare and lowered the jack. The spare was flat.

It was a fli-flopping drive to the next exit to find a garage to buy two new tires, and the rest of the trip went fine.

On the trip back there was a rotting hose leading to the radiator, missed by the D.C. garageman, that caused us to be towed over the Thames River bridge in New London.

Repaired, we headed toward New York and about 15 miles up the road we had another failure and another tow.

The next day, after a long careful drive, it was good to be back home again. I found a car dealer not far from work and on a bus line, and about six months later he moved out to Virginia.

After seven years and a lot of costly repairs to keep it running, the Ford paused at an intersection one Saturday morning and I didn't have the heart to push it anymore.

The office was empty when I sat at my desk wondering what to do.

The Yellow Pages were at my elbow so I grapped them and turned to the car dealers section.

The first page I turned advertised a Datsun in Arlington.

Dialing the number, I reached a salesman and asked, "What is the cheapest car you have?" He named a model and a price and went off to see if he had one left.

Upon his return, he said it was a brown automatic. I told him to get it ready and I would be over to get it. Color made no difference.

My Ford barely made it to the lot. The papers were filled out while they cleaned and had my new car inspected.

I drove home and the neighbors were delighted that the blue blight I had parked alongside the house for the past few years, possibly bringing down the property values, had been replaced.

There are no planned long trips on highways racing alongside giant trailer trucks. The seven miles to and from work are tough enough to handle five days a week. Maybe a side trip down a country road within sight of service stations is okay once in a while, but for the long distance it will be forever rains, buses of planes.