Thursday, February 25, 2010
Warning: this post contains some of my most disturbing innermost thoughts and secrets. It also contains a horrible revelation of the worst kind. Those of weak constitutions should go look at lolcats or something right now. So I’ve been annoying the crap out of Big A for the last couple weeks. It pretty much started the moment I realized, “Hey, I could buy a new car!” This, for me, is a big deal. I am not what you would call an auto enthusiast. I have no subscriptions to car magazines (or, really, any magazines. Fun fact: I hate magazines). I have no particular urge to keep track of the newest developments in drive trains. I care not for the minutiae of the auto industry. I recently took to watching Top Gear upon realizing I have BBC America, but I mostly do it to watch Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May do utterly ridiculous things to cars. I drive a 2004 Chevy Cavalier base model. My car has crank windows and a remote entry key fob. It also has seats made from a material I affectionately refer to as “burlap.” And the craziest thing about my car is that I like it. In fact, after spending a couple weeks test driving cars that are somewhere between really and significantly better than that Cavalier, on a weird level I like it even more. I have test-driven a Hyundai Genesis Sedan, a Genesis Coupe, a 2010 Sonata Limited, Sonata SE, and a 2011 Sonata SE. I have test-driven two different 2010 Honda Accords. I’ve driven a Subaru Outback and sat in a Legacy, Impreza, and Forester. I’ve driven a Ford Fusion and went so far as to sit in a new Taurus (but you couldn’t pay me enough to actually drive that fucker. Nuh uh). And here’s the crazy thing: I didn’t like a single one of those cars appreciably more than my 2004 Cavalier. I find myself non-plussed with the Genesis Sedan. It honestly wasn’t the revelation I’d hoped it would be. I find the Genesis Coupe too small. The 2010 Sonata is too uncomfortable. The seats aren’t wide enough, the leather in the Limited is too firm so I always feel like I’m sitting too high up in the thing and endlessly fiddled with the seat to try to find an impossible perfect balance. The 2011 Sonata is more comfortable, but it’s still ugly as hell from the front. I actually really liked the Outback/Legacy, but any decent trim level on a Subaru is more expensive than I feel I should pay for a Subaru. Also, the sales guy sucked.* The best balance, to be honest, was the 2010 Accord. I drove two different ones and I really liked them. The weirdest thing, though, in the final analysis, is that the Accord and Outback were the only cars that I considered as comfortable as my 2004 Cavalier. Oh, and the Fusion sucks. I mean, it's a terrible car. Options, upgrades, and extra space are nice. A power sliding moonroof is sweet. But in the final analysis I haven’t gotten in to my 2004 Cavalier at any point in the last week and thought, “Man, I really wish I was driving a 2010 [insert car name here] right now.” I could turn this in a good way and say that it means that I’m content with what I have. There is some of that. But the bigger issue is that I’m disappointed with what I can get. And that’s a huge problem. See, although I’m not so much a car enthusiast, I’ve been around cars for a long time. My first job was in a shop and I’ll proudly tell anyone who’s willing to listen that I drove tow trucks for a bit. There was a time in my life when I figured out when a certain momentous event happened by recalling which car I was driving at the time. Of course my first three cars all lasted just about a year, which helped that immensely. Then came the worst automobile-related decision I’ve ever made. Back in 2001 I purchase a 1996 Chrysler Concorde with 61,661 miles on it. It was a beautiful car. I’d sink in to the leather bucket seats, crank up the Infinity Premium audio system, and wind up the 3.5 liter V6. Y’know, until something went catastrophically wrong. Which happened about every six months. I had that car for three years. In that time the lower crankshaft bearings went out, the engine sucked a rod, something bad happened to the transmission, and the water pump went out, which nearly caused the engine to overheat and explode on the way to work. The strange thing is, I can tell you the exact last time I was completely happy with a car. It was the morning the water pump went out. I was at the corner of Glen Ellyn Road and Army Trail in Glendale Heights. It was raining pretty heavily. I was driving the car I wanted to drive and even though I was on my way to a job I absolutely hated, at least I had a car I loved. Then I noticed there was steam rising off my hood. There was no way it was rain water evaporating, either. From that moment on I watched the heat gauge like a hawk every time I was in my car. The nice thing is that it never overheated again. The bad thing is that all of my subsequent problems involved the engine trying to destroy itself. On two separate occasions I had the pleasure of describing a problem with the words, “It sounded like a machine gun going off under the hood.” I gave up the ghost on the Concorde with a year’s worth of payments to go and the distinct possibility the engine would have to be rebuilt. It was the summer of 2004 and I was set to head off to Western Illinois University in the fall. The Mazda 3 was all the rage in small cars at the time and I totally wanted one. But Chevy offered me 0% financing on the Cavalier, pretended the Concorde was worth something to get me a $1500 cash-back incentive, and generally managed to make things work out as much to my benefit as possible. As it was I’m probably the only person in history who’s ever managed to pay $370/month for five years for the privilege of owning a base model Chevy Cavalier. That Concorde fucked me over but good. I was unhappy at the time I bought the Cavalier that I couldn’t get the 3. I made the mistake of complaining about it to my mother, who replied, “No one ever gets the car they want. You just have to get what you can and hope you can live with it.” Still, to this day I wish I could have gotten a 3. So I now find myself in an odd position. I can afford a new car. I want a new car. But I also want to recapture that moment just before the water pump blew on the Chrysler Concorde. And nothing in my price range actually does that. The Accord’s the best of the bunch, but even with that there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Really? An Accord? Why don’t I just buy a minivan and be done with it?” You know what I would like? A Cadillac CTS-V. That’d be friggin’ sweet. Or, even better, one of these: Yeah. That’s right. That’s a BMW M3. That’s how you announce to the world, “Hello, world, I’m a fucking jackass.” But it’s also a sweet ride. There’s a certain level of existential frustration in all of this. I mean, I wrote an entire post about it, while “cleverly” “disguising” it as a collection of thoughts on cars. The set up for that was simple: the Genesis Sedan represented an unobtainable ideal, the Cavalier the frustrating status quo, the Genesis Coupe the exciting but impractical route, and the Sonata the responsible compromise. When it gets right down to it, though, buying a car is about more than just basic transportation. At least it is for me. I may not be an enthusiast, but I know what I want. And it pisses me off that I can’t seem to get what I want. It does seem to be the story of my life, though. But that’s an existential crisis for another night… -------------------------------------- *Seriously. The dude decided pretty much from the beginning that I was going to buy a car from him that day, which was emphatically not the case. I cannot be pressured in to buying something I don’t want to buy. Hell, I can’t be pressured in to buying something I do want. He had one Outback on the lot which did not meet my desired specifications. For one thing, I want a power moonroof. This is not negotiable. At one point I flat-out said, “I don’t need to buy a car but I want to. Therefore, I am extremely picky.” Anyway, the Outback didn’t meet my specifications. We then spent a few minutes looking at Legacies to see if any of them did. The sales guy finally said, “It sounds like you’re going to have to order one,” and just turned and walked away. He didn’t give me his card, he didn’t offer to help me figure it out. I didn’t even realize that he’d said he was done with me when he turned on his heel and walked off. Now, I understand that it can be frustrating as a sales person to realize you’re not going to sell something and that you could potentially made a sale to someone else in that time. But the thing about car sales is that they often take more than one visit and several hours of negotiation. Even the cheapest car is expensive. That’s just the way they are. So turning on your heel because the person you’re talking to actually has the temerity to want to spend twenty-five or thirty grand on something he actually wants to own? Yeah. Brilliant.