Question Of The Day: Who Gave You The Best Advice… About Cars?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
question of the day who gave you the best advice about cars

The best advice I ever received about cars came from a fellow named Charlie.

He sat me down. Looked right into my 22 year old face and told me,

“You know nothing!”

He was right.

This may shock more than a few of you who have been here since TTAC’s early days.

I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8. Cars? Well, my parents and brothers drove them. As for me, the world as it related to cars only changed once I got my learner’s permit.

Cars equated to freedom, and freedom equated to an escape from my life in New Jersey. Two years later I was free as a bird. Four years after that, I found myself caged in an unpleasant conversation with Charlie.

Charlie’s advice that day had nothing to do with cars… not yet.

At that point it had only to do with selling seafood in New York’s Chinatown. My Dad had high blood pressure, 212/108 at one point, and I had been given the assignment of learning that side of the food business while he recovered.

To sell food you have never eaten, in a culture that you never experienced before, in a language you don’t quite know yet… all of it takes an awful lot of listening skills. My work would be humbling and an amazing turnabout from my prior years in school.

In a collegiate world where student participation could count as much as 50% of my grade, I had to learn to say nothing and listen to the implicit behaviors of his customers. I would walk eight miles a day, twice a week, in New York’s Chinatown along with Flushing and Elmhurst on alternating weeks. Lots of walking. Lots of time to think and examine my surroundings.

First, I would take a look at what products of ours were vacating the shelves. Second… what products of the competitors looked the slightest bit aged or dusty. Always without exception, I would wait for the elder Chinese proprietor to acknowledge my presence. Even if that took twenty to thirty minutes.

They knew English. All of them had kids that graduated from college or well beyond that point. Many even had grandkids that were my age. But my instructions were firm, “Only Cantonese!”. I would let the owner show me what needed to be restocked and whenever he (or she) would ask about my father, I would only reply in Cantonese. Then after we would go through the restocks, I would announce the names of some of the competitor’s products that were not quite selling.

“Tow-goo”, “Gin-cee-bow”, “Sha-din-gyu”. Mushrooms, pacfic clams, sardines. Hundreds of items would be drilled into me as well as a few dozen basic sentences in Cantonese.

I would point or walk to the shelf with the items that were still gathering that thin layer of dust that showed lack of movement. Sometimes I succeeded in getting a new product on the shelves. Other times not so much. But I always got them to smile and enjoy the experience.

Friendly, smart, reserved, respectful. It was a brilliant act of nuance for my father to force me out of my old habits.

Charlie’s advice that day helped me become a better listener. Eventually other mentors would help me in my work as an auctioneer, car dealer, and writer…. because I listened.

I would always start those experiences with a rock solid assumption… three simple words.

“You… know… nothing!”

It made learning that much easier to do.

So who gave you the best advice about cars? Even in a roundabout way?

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2 of 59 comments
  • Carfriend313 Carfriend313 on Jul 26, 2012

    My father: "We don't buy German cars. Ever" Soon after, my mother started buying German cars. She never understands why she continually has warnings flashing on the dash, but never accepts they're simply bad cars. All have been Audi and BMW.

  • Being a service manager, but not ALWAYS having been one, I have heard advice from everybody about probably every car out there. Don't buy Honda's, they break their timing belts. (Not untrue). Don't touch 'dem Chevrolets, they catch fire.(Dateline NBC). Stay away from Vee-Dubs, they will leave you stranded. With as many cars as I have seen over the past 26 years in the repair business, I can tell you what recently produced used cars not to buy just by how many of them I see come in to my shop on a hook. YMMV. PT Cruiser-all of them. I see so many of these bastards come in for broken timing belts it is absolutely insane. NOBODY takes care of theirs it seems. Chevrolet Impala-3.5 V6. Head gaskets all the time. Last one was last Friday, had 76000 miles on it. Any vehicle with the 2.0-2.2L ecoTec engine (Cavalier-Saturn) and good gawd ANY Saturn Ion.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂