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How to get through the grief and buy the car

Opinion: Columns

August 13th, 2019 3:26 PM

By Alan Brouilette

I like long road trips. I like driving for a long time and seeing a lot of things on the way to somewhere interesting that I've either never been to before or went to, loved, and get to go again. 

I dislike everything else about cars. 

I dislike owning the car. When I am not actively using it for a road trip, it requires a room of its own and costs more in fees and maintenance than a dog. (I love dogs.) The car brings no joy snoozing out in its space in the sun. A dog doesn't need to be expensively insured against other people's carelessness. Every now and again I seem to have to do a bunch of paperwork and send some money somewhere so I can either prove I am taking good care of a car I don't like or put a sticker on the car certifying that I gave the village money for the privilege of parking my car in a space I'm already paying rent to access.

I dislike fixing the car. When the Check Engine light goes on, or the car begins making an unhappy noise, I am basically obliged to pay whatever ransom is demanded to remedy the situation. Plus, all mechanics of my experience insist on explaining it to you: "You see right here?  This is your problem. You need a new reflinter unit. This one is shot – see the scorch marks? You got lucky; usually they only last 55,000 miles. The bad news is the part is expensive and takes seven hours of labor charges to install. Can you drive the car while you try to save $1,400? I wouldn't, but I guess it's your call. Do you keep the number of a tow truck and carry a fire extinguisher in the car? If you don't, you should probably start if you're going to insist on driving away. Also I need you to sign this death and disability waiver saying that you ignored my recommendation." 

The Check Engine light should be called the Extortion light.  

I dislike renting cars. Rental car companies are based on the economic notion that nickels and dimes really add up. While my car was in the shop for two days recently – you may have already guessed this miserable screed was not pulled from thin air – I had to rent a car, and after returning the car, I had to go back to the rental office twice AND spend an hour on the phone with the parent company trying to get a $15 "late return fee" removed, because I was not late. When it turned out I would need the car for three days rather than two, I called and asked the rental office if I needed to do anything to add another day, and they said – this is a quote – "No, just bring it back when you're done." 

Turned out that they had charged me the "late return fee" by accident. They got confused because it was the same as the heretofore undisclosed $15 "re-booking fee" they charge if you keep it an extra day.  No one mentioned that when I called and asked about adding another day. It doesn't seem like much money, I guess, but 1) it surely adds up for the rental people, and 2) sometimes being an adult feels like just getting your paycheck in cash and then walking around with the money pinned to your outerwear so merchants can snatch what they want of it off of you directly and with less effort for them.

The reason I am stuck with this garbage car – I say "garbage car" because it is. It is a Subaru, and every single major problem I have had with it, including a $6,000 new engine, has been described to me as "a known problem with Subarus." The reason I am stuck with this garbage car is that the process of buying a car is the worst of all the options. When you walk into a dealership, you, a normal person, are attempting to go toe-to-toe with an industry that thinks about nothing else besides how to separate the most money from you while incurring the fewest costs for themselves. Imagine if, to buy a basketball and hoop to install in your driveway, you first had to play Steph Curry one-on-one. You're going to get embarrassed and annihilated no matter what you think you know or how clever you think your plan is. (And Steph is reportedly a nice guy. Car dealerships are generally more like homicidal competitor Kobe Bryant, who would relish leaving you sobbing in the driveway.) 

The only way to make the car-buying process even tolerable is to figure out how much money you are willing to pay, and then go and find a car that you like that fits that amount, and then never ever discuss how much you paid for your car or how you chose it with anyone. 

(Except maybe the psychiatrist helping you work through your rage and grief, I mean.)

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