Abandon All Hope

C Douglas Weir
by C Douglas Weir
abandon all hope

I've been formally instructed never to put numbers into a lead paragraph. So let's just say I've been lucky enough to own roughly as many cars as there are basic cable channels. While I've enjoyed every single one of my motors for at least a month, I can state without a moment's hesitation that I didn't enjoy buying any of them. I find the car buying process only slightly more enjoyable than colonoscopy, yet remarkably similar. (No anesthetic, though.) In fact, I'm hoping this car reviewing thing will wean me off my ownership addiction. 'Cause if you haven't figured it out by now, let me tell it to you straight: buying cars is a beeyatch. And I swear it's getting worse.

For starters, there's been a wholesale change in the decision timeline. What once was a late summer/early fall dramatic new-model reveal has become one dazzling, continuous roll-out of new steel. Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Frankfurt, Geneva, New York, Tokyo… it's one damn car show after another, all instantly available on-line. Once upon a time, Harley Earl fans had nearly a year to settle in with their purchase decision. Nowadays enthusiasts experience buyer's remorse before they buy. You just know that whatever you settle on today will be superseded by something better within days. And if you actually buy a car it's gonna be… If only I'd waited just a little longer… I wonder what it would cost to trade…

Remember when "Sneak Previews" were held a month or two before new models came out? Now we're treated to manufacturers' photos of highly desirable new product two or more YEARS from production. The PR pimps describe these dramatic new cars as "in near production-ready form"; dangling scorching hot metal in front of us like a cocaine dealer at a supermodel retreat. Of course, the car mags and websites are all too happy to collude in this eternal foreplay, splashing spy shots and photo-shopped images on their pages without the slightest concern for their readers' mental or financial health.

And when we turn to these selfsame media teases to help us decide which beckoning siren of desire deserves our patronage, the mainstream auto press' loyalties force them to hide their criticisms between the lines. Magazines like Car and Driver and Road and Track used to tell it like it is. Now, teasing out the "real" value of a Cadillac STS-V or an Audi S8 from a buff book car review makes phrenology seem like a scientific pursuit. And then they go and change their minds. The same whip that got great reviews, the machine hailed as "The Best Car of Its Type Ever Made by Hand of Man", gets smoked six month's later in a shootout by some supposed also-ran. Paranoia creeps into the madness.

While all of this [mis]information clamors for proper processing, the car ads add to the emotional turmoil. These days, it's the art of the deal that sells the wheels. Wow! Look at that leasing rate! Hey Honey, we spend more on Chardonnay. We can swing this. Let's go have a look. Hang on, what's that asterisk? There's *rate available only for select customers, **not vehicle shown, which includes extra cost items and ***capitalization cost reduction contribution required (i.e. several grand down stroke). I always get a bit annoyed when the advertised lease payment inflates by double digit percentages at transaction time (in the same sense that Geronimo was irritated by the US Army). Needless to say, the best brands are the worst offenders, attempting to make their product seem more affordable than a mass-market beater.

And then there's political correctness. Years ago, you bought the best car you could afford and waited to see if your neighbor turned green. Now the bastard IS green, and eyes your eight mpg Ford GT or gas-sucking SUV like it's got baby's blood dripping from the front grill. Add safety concerns, insurance costs, resale value, reliability and dealer satisfaction, and your brain feels like it's doing major laps on the torture circuit of a desert proving grounds. But being enthusiasts, we can't just idle. It'a time for a new ride.

To cope with the stress, I've developed a new way to shop for a car. Set a price limit and find photographs of all the cars you like in that range. Cut and paste them on a Styrofoam board. Step off twenty paces, turn, close your eyes and let fly with three darts. Collect the photos pierced by each dart, shuffle them behind your back and visit each dealership in order. (Medicate as needed.) If the first dealer tries anything unseemly, bolt. On to dealer number two. Then three. The cleanest, game-free deal wins. Until next time…

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