For a 47-year-old guy, I’ve owned relatively few vehicles in my lifetime. That’s because I drive them until well after they are paid for. In fact, if it weren’t for a kid destroying my car — and almost terminating me — at a red light on Veterans Parkway in 2000, I might still be driving a 1995 Saturn coupe.
The truck I drive today is paid for, and I’ll drive it until it blows up, hits another deer or I win the lottery and pay cash to upgrade myself to some other base model pickup — although perhaps one whose payload capacity allows it not to sink down when hauling life’s necessities like a small cooler or Nerf football.
My wife, on the other hand, had recently grown tired of her nearly-paid-for SUV, which meant that we closed out 2017 by going car shopping.
We both hate going car shopping. We hate the small talk with salesmen about kids and jobs. We hate negotiations. We hate their saying how lucky we are that their manager is giving such a great deal on our trade-in. We hate all of it so much that we go into dealerships in good cop/bad cop mode. The bad cop’s job is to grumble about everything, especially the cost. I try to be fair, though:
“Go ahead and tally up all the fees — the destination fee, the flux capacitor fee, the new car smell fee — and go ahead and talk to your manager, the dealership owner, the president of the United States. Then, come back with your final, complete, total, I’m-done-talking price. I’ll either buy it or I’ll leave. Believe me or not.”
Of course, they don’t believe me, and when I start to walk out, they start grabbing my leg and begging me to consider the amazing cupholders on this model.
Then there’s the test-driving, which was easier when vehicles were simpler. My first car was a simple 1978 Toyota Celica. It came with a manual transmission and an AM radio with only one option — the permanent Marlboro smell from the previous owner.
But today’s vehicles are basically rolling computers. I don’t know whether that’s to make life easier or to scare you into buying extended warranties because so many expensive things can now tear up.
Believe it or not, I’m still driving a truck I can’t talk to. I can’t tell it to change radio stations or call anyone. I have to actually turn little knobs to adjust the heat and air — oh, the horror. And I must turn a key to crank it, the same way Native Americans cranked their pickups hundreds of years ago.
Now, you just push a button to crank the vehicle, sometimes from outside the vehicle. You can lock your car from a thousand miles away with your phone. Most folks talk more to their cars in a day than I speak to other people in a year.
It didn’t bode well when our first test drive of the shopping day last week began with us trapped in a car that wouldn’t let us change gears, move or even roll down the window. Apparently, you not only had to push a button to start it, but you had to push it again to say, “Really, I’d like to go now.”
There’s nothing quite so un-empowering at a car lot as screaming at a 65-year-old salesman to come save you from being kidnapped by a newfangled, high-tech car.
By the end of the day, we regained our confidence, though, and the good cop/bad cop routine paid off yet again. My wife got a great car at a terrific price, and the salesman was unable to pull anything over on me.
In fact, he even through in the flux capacitor for free. Sucker!