I’m in the process, the grubby, thoroughly dissatisfying process of buying a car at the moment. I was not born to cope with the negotiations and labyrinthine unwritten rules of buying a car and nor was I born to be the sort to win against a salesman. Such is my utter lack of stomach for diving into the world of car buying that I have made it a theme to do it as infrequently as possible, so as to remove as much of the inherent hassle it might bring to my life. The bottom line is that I am not confident with cars and I don’t like doing deals, unless they are very clearly and totally in my favour. I might look at a car and understand it can go faster than another but the world of the automobile is almost as alien to me as the world of aliens and so I know that I have simply been avoiding this moment for quite some time. It is at least some relief that my instincts and trepidation have been proved right: buying a car is shit.
My first car was a zippy (for then) red Vauxhall Astra which was bought off my sister when I was coming to the end of my last year as a student. It had, as they say, some poke, that Astra and served me well for several months until, one bright, early summer morning, an overambitious teenager on a bike decided to throw himself across the bonnet and in an effort not to kill the silly sod I decided the best thing to do was to swerve at speed into the wheel arch of a nearby stationary coach. The coach got off lightly, the teenager (to whom I couldn’t bear apologise because it was entirely his fault) had ripped trousers and a few scratches, I had a headache and a day off and that Astra ended up about a third shorter in length and bound for a scrap yard somewhere in Leicestershire. Later that day I cried a bit, but I was told it was just shock and I conceded it was better to cry and not to have a dead person on your conscience than the other way round, thus handily eliminating any shame.
The broader problem was that I was about to start work and I didn’t have a car anymore and so my parents offered to loan me the money to get one. Alas, this meant they had quite some sway over exactly what I could buy and so with understandable disappointment I ended up with a shiny red Nissan Micra (the first model, you don’t see them around much any more, thankfully), though I did at least manage to grab one with a fifth gear, which proved to be a small but useful victory. Despite everyone assuming a pensioner in a frock was going to get out every time I parked up that Micra served me remarkably well. It was reliable and pretty much immune to theft (although in my naivety I still clipped one of those daft locks round the steering wheel, for years, just in case) and being solid of Japanese construction I spent more than a few years thrashing about in it to see what it could take, and it turns out the answer was quite a lot more than you’d think. That Micra did me proud until one day it suddenly lost it’s mojo and a few weeks later the bonnet started to smoke as (I had to be informed, because I know NOTHING about how cars work, or don’t) the radiator had filled up with oil and the whole thing was buggered and, well, that was it.
My third and current car is a VW diesel Polo, and if the Micra did me proud then this Polo has been my rock. It is not a sexy car by any means but when you’ve spent so long in a red Nissan Micra you could drive a rusty bath on wheels and still be batting away more of the ladies on a regular basis (this is a theoretical statement as I have never once found myself having to bat away a lady on account of my car, or for any other reason come to think of it). I’ve had this car since May 2007, which is a long time. The rear windscreen wiper died very soon after I bought it and the air con switched to con air soon after that and so it is a greenhouse in the summer and a freezer in the winter (if driving robustly enough the air on a winter’s morning does warm up eventually but by then I usually have fingertips like Captain Scott). The CD player seized up and never unseized itself and at present you are lucky if you can pick up more than three radio stations in any one region, at least two of which will be crap. And yet it runs. The engine starts in all weather and despite a few mishaps and setbacks it has never once broken down on me. It can do 100 mph without getting flustered (so I’m told; I’m also told the Micra would shake so much over 80mph that you would swear you were driving an uncontrollable vibrator), has clocked up 130,000 miles and I shall miss it very much; but I am in no doubt that the time has come to make a change – I think I have earned a new car.
Sadly, earns got nothing to do with it. I may have endured some pretty low level cars but I’ll still have to pay for a new one regardless, and that has meant engaging with assorted sales people. People go into sales for one reason only – money. I once worked for a fortnight trying to sell double glazing over the phone and it was possibly the most soul destroying, empty and sticky sleazy two weeks of my life. In those two weeks I raked up a staggering zero sales and zero leads (though in retrospect it was very gratifying to deprive the slick lead salesman, who swept into work in a flash Jag and was constantly bellowing for ‘fucking leads’, some ill gotten commission, albeit temporarily) and I can safely say I will die happy just knowing that I never made my money by simply taking it away from others. The fact is that we don’t really need people to sell us stuff; we just need them to guide us and inform us and make our choice the best choice given our circumstances. Everything else, every word and add-on and special product is just sales pitch, bullshit and greed, and it would be much nicer at least if anyone doing this for a living starts the conversation by declaring themselves a shifty, shameless cunt so at least we know where we stand. There is something very naturally unsettling about anyone who pretends to be on your side just as they pull the wallet from your back pocket (or, if you prefer, rummage around in your handbag for five minutes looking for a purse even you often struggle to find).
In the end I’ll probably play safe and get another VW. I forgave the Germans for various things it wasn’t my place to forgive years ago and when it comes to reliability and build quality they have a good reputation which has been well fought for. The car, when it eventually comes, will be nice and new and so full of technology I doubt I’ll know what to do with it; except drive it of course: you do realise that’s what cars are mainly for? During my amateurish negotiations with my allotted 14 year old salesboy (as a result of which I am likely to be named schmuck of the month, perhaps even the quarter, at the next sales meeting) I think I may have lost out on automatically folding wing mirrors (you have to have a dream to make a dream not come true etc) and a few other things which in reality are pretty trivial and cosmetic, and I have also lost sleep wondering how I could have done things better and if I have been shafted then by just how much, but when I weigh things up I think it will all be ok: no one has died, I will not be as out of pocket as much as I thought and I will have a car that smells new because it is new, for a bit. True, the experience will be stained with the residue of the relentless sales push and targets but no matter how bad I feel I won’t need to wake up any time soon and remember that’s how I make a living. It must be up there on the high list of stressful experiences – the death of a relative, paralysis, divorce, buying a house, sex with Michael Gove, dealing with a sales person. Surely there must be an easier way of buying a nice new car than to have someone sell it to you?
G B Hewitt. 04.08.2021
Obviously I should have written this once my new car has arrived and was safely in my possession, but it’s too late for that. There is always a chance it will never turn up due to some supply issue; for which I will be offered some furry dice as compensation, for a car I don’t have. Buying a car is shit, as sure as my word is my bond.