Recently I jumped into the epicenter of American consumerism along with 56 million others when I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I needed to replace my 21-year-old Suburu Legacy wagon. That car has been perfect for me in almost every way. It was 12 years old when I bought it with only 53,000 miles on it, and very clean with no rust. It was red, a color with some attitude, and it was the boxy, small wagon style I’ve always favored with plenty of room for hauling stuff without being a road hog. The salesman said somewhat apologetically, “It has manual transmission and doesn’t have automatic windows or door locks.” Being a terrible negotiator, instead of expressing disappointment, I said, “Oh, I prefer it that way.” After a test drive and arranging for financing, I drove home, happy that finding the car was so easy. It was literally the second car I looked at.
The car served me very well for nine years with some wear and tear but the time had come to let it go when the rear struts needed replacing. I was reluctant, for I felt we could go many more miles together, but I finally listened to advice of those more attuned to engines and auto dynamics than I.
Distrusting the safety of the struts on the highway, I asked my friend Carol if I could borrow her car to search further afield when I couldn’t find anything suitable in town. This is the third time I’ve had to do a car search without a vehicle to use, and believe me, I don’t recommend it when you live at the end of the road without public transportation. However, it did strengthen my resolve to be very clear about my parameters, while throwing an earnest request out to the universe to make it as easy as the last time. Carol offered to be chauffeur and support team, so we headed off for a day of delving into dealerships, my stack of online notes in hand.
At our first stop, the salesperson couldn’t find the car I’d seen online and had nothing in my price range. Was I sure it was at their location? He led us out into the lot, and I realized he was just buying time, hoping I’d fall for some other, more expensive option. Was I sure I wanted to stay under $10,000? “Yes, quite sure, preferably under $8,000.” We proceeded to the next stop across the street; different brand, same ownership. They had only one car in my range, unsuitable for my needs, but as we were walking away, the first guy walked up and said he’d found a car in the car wash he thought I’d like. Was I still wanting to stay under $10,000? I grinned. Yes, crossing the highway had not in any way altered my financial limits. I could see the day was going to offer some comic relief, as long as I chose to see it that way.
I need to digress here to say that I know very little about cars, and I don’t find much about them very interesting unless they’re a cool color. I want a car that’s functional and dependable. I don’t need glitz and gadgets and actually dislike seats that are leather or heated. I do like colors with a bit of sass, and hoped for anything but white or black, but here I was, plopped in a used car market flooded with white, silver/grey, or black vehicles. A bit of research revealed that people really do prefer these colors even when they aren’t limited by a $8,000-$10,000 ceiling and someone else’s original choice of color: 23 percent prefer silver, 15 percent prefer white, and 12 percent prefer black…that’s 50 percent of all the cars on the road. I counted nine dark gray cars in a row this morning. One of them was mine.
What happened to people’s sense of aesthetic adventure? With all the luscious colors in the spectrum, why not go a little wild? A paint expert theorizes that silver and grey reflect our fascination with technology, but I’ll bet it’s just a lot cheaper to have three huge vats of paint than to keep cleaning them out and changing colors and use the money to pay someone to come up with names like oyster, egg shell, igloo white, palm oyster, glacier white, egg white white, polar bear white, bianco eldorado, silver, iridium silver, pearl grey, traffic grey, nimbus grey, pigeon grey, gunmetal grey, truffle mica, and duranodic. Okay, so I made some of those up, but only a few!
I have to give the guy at our next stop credit for persistence. He had 30 years in the business and was determined to sell me a Hyundai Santa Fe in excellent condition with 180,000 miles, arguing that it would have already had all the major maintenance done, although he had no proof of that. He even said we could take it with us to lunch, which we did. I was pretty sure I couldn’t get past the idea of buying a car with more mileage than the one I already owned, but I figured if we took it with us, no one would buy it out from under me in case I changed my mind.
I didn’t, but the lunch break gave me time to find some online listings at the Kia dealership, so we headed there. The first one, a Kia Soul, had a rear gate that wouldn’t open and smelled so bad that we wouldn’t get in it. The second one started lunging when I got it up to 60 mph on the freeway. I slowed down, exited to a city street, and the car died. We waited 20 minutes in 95º heat for someone to come pick us up from the dealership five minutes away. The third car, another Santa Fe, seemed a likely bet until the air conditioning died during the test drive. I commiserated with our salesman who just graduated from high school: “It’s too bad you can’t legally drink, because after this day, you could probably use one.” Carol and I had a delicious meal at the Duluth Grill and headed home.
Discouraged, I laid low for a couple weeks, then ventured online again. I found a Chevy HHR, which I’d never seen or heard of, and did some research. It was less expensive with better mileage than any other SUV I’d seen, had only 76,000 miles, looked boxy and spacious, and I couldn’t find a bad review. So, the next day Carol and I headed to Virginia to check it out. I test drove it and signed on the dotted line. It’s a dark, metallic gray with retro styling like a getaway car from the 1940’s, so I call it the Gangsta’ Car, since the naming people used up all their creativity on paint colors. It has running boards, more electronics than anyone needs, and gets more radio stations than I knew were out there. I really do like those automatic locks and windows, but, best of all, the search is over.