Peggy and I have owned a total of ten cars (not counting 20-30 that I bought specifically to resell) including two new cars. Our first new car was a '73 Datsun truck (with air, mirrors, AM radio, a rear bumper, taxes, tag, and title, the price was $3,300.75--see photo), and our second a '84 Ford Tempo that turned out to be a piece of crap despite its Consumer Reports recommendation.
Yesterday, at my urging, we went shopping for a new car, partly with the thought of cutting back to just one vehicle. Peggy demurred, saying she loves her '98 Camry, and that our '93 Chevy van (which we use for camping and hauling) is bigger than what she would want if we just had one car. But the issue for me isn't just about how many cars we own; it's about the assumed safety and reliability of a new car. I was thinking about this anyway when Peggy's father said he was so worried about us breaking down that he would contribute money toward a new car. Still, Peggy hesitated, saying that if I simply must have something different, why not settle for a newer used one. "Because I want the safest and most dependable thing I can get, and if your father will help pay for it, the expense won't feel like such a kick in the groin" (we are not the kind of people who can cheerfully spend a lot of money).
All those many years ago, after test driving that Datsun truck, we went across the street to a Dodge dealership where Peggy fell in a love with a Colt station wagon. The salesman couldn't say enough about what a lovely young couple we were, and he even offered to take us to dinner. We were happy; he was happy; and all was sweetness and light except for the fact that I didn't like that Dodge. With Peggy's support, he ever so graciously persisted, putting his hand on my shoulder, and speaking to me like a loving father whose only concern was for my well-being. Then, as if the idea had suddenly popped into his head, he said that he wanted us to meet his partner because he just knew that his partner would like us as much as he did. So, his partner came in, and his partner was not impressed. In fact, his partner was pissed. He said we were acting in bad faith by coming into his dealership, saying what we needed in a car, and then refusing to buy, at the very best price, the very best car for our needs. He practically went into in a rage about how badly we were behaving while his partner stood in the corner looking at the floor and softly clucking in shame and mortification. Finally, the bad guy left, and the good guy worked on us, but then, to our horror, the good guy left, and the bad guy came back. And so it went.
We were stunned, and the more abusive the bad guy got, the quieter Peggy and the "good" guy got, and the more cornered I felt. I didn't know what their routine was called, or even that it was a routine; I just knew that there was no way in hell I was going to knuckle-under and buy a car that I didn't want just to get some asshole off my back. If I had been braver, I would have walked out, but as things stood, all I could do was to keep saying no and offering the best excuses I could until the two of them finally gave up. I felt as if I had survived a beating. I told Peggy that I could have used a little help, and Peggy told me that it had been a case of shit or get off the pot, but that I had done neither. Imagine my delight when that dealership got into all kinds of trouble for abusive sales practices. It wasn't I who ratted them out, though, because I didn't know enough to rat them out. It's sad how ignorant young people can be, but since it was our first car buying experience, we just didn't have a clue. Walking into that dealership felt like entering an alternate universe, and it fully enabled me to understand how cops can pressure a young person into confessing to a crime he didn't commit. After all, I was college educated by then and had only been under pressure for a few hours. What if it had lasted for a few days during which I couldn't even use the bathroom without permission?
A few years later, I bought a used Datsun car at the same dealership from which we had gotten our '73 truck. The sales lady's name was Patty, and she was hot in a sophisticated, older woman sort of way that left me slobbering. I was melted by her smile, and my heart beat faster and faster as she moved in closer and closer, and her baby blues burned further and further into the back of my skull. I haltingly pointed out a few problems with the car, and Patty readily agreed to have them fixed. I said, fine, but just so there would be no misunderstanding, maybe we should put everything in writing (I had read that this was a good idea). Patty looked like I had slapped her. She said that, in a world of jaded and suspicious men, she had felt something special with me, and that it hurt her deeply to think that I was no different from anyone else. "Don't be just another cynic," she begged, and I promised I wouldn't, even though it did feel a little strange to be arguing like lovers with a saleswoman. When I took the car back a few days later to have the work done, I learned that not only had Patty never made the appointment, Patty was gone, as in for good, as in I was her last customer. She hadn't gone far, though, because she soon opened her own dealership, and it's still there.
Most car salesmen are not nearly so entertaining as Patty and the good cop/bad cop Dodge boys. Most car salesmen are content to keep saying things like, "What can we do to put you in this car today?" even when I tell them that nothing is going to put me into a $30,000 car without a lot of thought and study. When I went shopping for our last car, I told one salesman that I wanted something that would fit into the garage, and he assured me that I didn't need to park in the garage! I thought, come on you idiot, do I look like someone you can snow, and then I left. I'm simply not going to stand around arguing with a car salesman because choosing a car is hard enough without the pressure.
Given how little Peggy and I drive and how well we take care of vehicles, this could be our next to last car, or even our last one, which is another reason for buying something new. I just want us to be safe. More importantly, I don't want Peggy to ever find herself sitting alone with her hood up (assuming she could figure out how to raise her hood) on the side of I-5 (Interstate 5 goes from Mexico to Canada, making it the major West Coast highway) because my main purpose in life is to protect Peggy. Another troubling possibility is that we would break down so far into the woods that we would have trouble walking for the half-day it might take us to even see another vehicle. When we go camping in our 23-year-old van, this is a real possibility, not because the van isn't in good shape but because when cars get old, everything that can crack, leak, dry out, and disintegrate tends to crack, leak, dry out, and disintegrate (which is what happens to people too, come to think of it). Peggy says that, since she's in better shape for walking, she could go for help alone, and I think, yeah, right, what could be wrong with that idea! Me sitting in the van and her getting raped, murdered, and hidden in a canyon. The cops would probably pressure me into confessing that I killed her, so that would be the end of both of us and the cats too since they would probably starve to death without someone to give them their three-squares a day plus a midnight snack.