I laughed and cheered while reading the very entertaining Ben Stein : How Not To Ruin Your Life installment about trying to purchase a Cadillac (very worth reading if you haven’t checked it out yet). I teased people I knew who were buying cars about how much fun they were going to have. Like the grasshopper to their abused but diligent ant (both Ben Stein and my sister successfully purchased vehicles), I played and was lazy all day – Not noticing as the days got shorter and greyer. Never paying attention to the fact that I would soon have to buy a car myself.
Then it happened: I realized I needed a car. So I started reading reviews and road tests and previews and checking insurance numbers and fiddling and farting and doing all those greatly annoying things you have to do in preparation for car shopping. And then on to the main event: Fucking Car Shopping.
My criteria for a car are simple: It must get decent gas mileage (average over or around 25mpg in mixed driving), it must have a manual transmission (anemic engines need a little bit more fine control over the power band to be anywhere near fun), and it must not offend me absolutely. Everything else I’m negotiable on. So I meandered and I checked, and I looked. And I started thinking that maybe a used car would hit the spot. Something in the 2-5 year old area, under a hundred thousand miles (preferrably something under seventy five thousand), and in the eight to eleven thousand dollar range. Moderately sporty would be nice, but the mileage trumps this, and my tastes tend to lean to the coupe and hatch range instead of the sedan and wagon end of things. I have been a Honda driver pretty religiously through my driving career, but their current lineup of cars is either way too expensive for what it is (Accord) or has been recently redesigned from interestingly sporty to Mercury Grand Marquis clone (Civic). So the old standby being out the window, I accepted that I would probably be buying a marque that I wasn’t familiar with.
After some fits and starts, I began to realize that most dealerships keep their used car inventory fairly up to date on their respective websites, and that made searching very easy, no need to drive around to a dozen places when I can pick the four cars I’m interested in and go take a look at them, right? So I go look at a Mitsubishi Lancer ES (Pretty sure it was an 05). Short Answer: Anemic, noisy on the road. But what really took the cake was the salesman. He was probably a little younger than me, say 25, obviously uncomfortable with people. Came over and asked me what I was looking for, and when I mentioned the Lancer, we walked over and he tried to open it up, but it was locked. He ran off to get the keys, and had almost nothing to say about the car. I told him I was really looking for a manual, and he almost ran off again, but I stopped him, and instead suggested we take the Lancer out. After trying to get in, he stops me, tells me that he’s going to back it out and to go stand off to the side. He backs out of a spot, and drives about 30 yards away and then waits there for us. Shaking my head, I wander over to where he’s waiting. He stutters something, I’m not even sure what it was, and I just assume it was “take the keys”. I hop in the front, my mom (who has been nice enough to join me on this hell-cruise), hops in the back, salesman hits the passenger side. We pull out into fairly unpleasant traffic, and he asks me if I live around here or know the area, and I say that I do, and he doesn’t seem to know how to respond to that. I wonder, quietly, if he would have had any way to follow that up if I said I wasn’t from the area. I aim to take the car up the road and down a residential area I know about so I can see if the suspension is OK (lots of speed humps and a fairly bad paving job), when he blurts out “TURN HERE”. Stunned, I did it, because I was convinced there was some kind of emergency vehicle following us or something. Looking back, I realize there is nothing wrong, and as I try to pass a truck on a very gentle hill (and the car decides it can only possibly do this in first gear at 6200 rpm), the salesman begins randomly poking at buttons, showcasing such features as the sunroof and the emergency blinkers. The very next street he is gesturing for me to turn and when it looks like I might not comply, he again yelps “TURN RIGHT HERE”. We get up to 40, at which point the din in the cab from the tires would impinge even the most raucous conversation. He begins to look distressed again, and begins turning on the stereo, which he turns up and begins asking me what station I want to listen to. I reached over to turn off the radio and it caused him such distress that he almost missed a “TURN HERE” which took us onto the next major street, at which point I had completely disengaged from the vehicle. “TURN HERE” and we were back at the dealership. He instructs me to park it just inside the lot and that he’ll take it back to it’s spot. He asks me how I liked the car, and I reply quite honestly that it was anemic, and that I didn’t like it. So I ask him to identify the cars on the lot that were manual transmission. He says he’ll be right back with the information, so he heads off and I begin to idly fondle some early 90s BMW in the lot. The salesman returns with, who I can only assume is “the closer”.
The Closer is covered in pancake makeup to “hide” a particularly bad skin condition around her lips and cheeks. She comes out, introduces herself, and asks what I’m looking for. I tell her I want a manual, and she begins walking around and looking into windows (very efficient). She then indicates two Kia sedans as manual transmission (both automatics), and mentions that almost nobody is making manual transmission cars anymore. She then points over at a late 90’s Camry or Maxima, and mentions that it’s a more powerful car than the Lancer I drove. I ask her if it’s a six cylinder, and she says she’ll go get the keys (I assume to pop the hood and count spark plug wires). After she leaves I notice the signs of a long dragging collision on the side and that’s enough, this car shopping experience is _done_.
I had test driven one car before this, a Scion xB at a Toyota dealership (Short answer: fun, kind of feminine), and I’m not sure if I just drove so erratically that the “TURN HERE” never started up, or that this Honda dealership was an abberation. I also thought that the level of service was pretty low, all of the salesfolks seemed a little miffed that I was there, making them walk out around the lot. I thought that the quality of service could only go up. Little did I know.