Listening to people talk about getting a root canal, one would be forgiven for assuming that it’s a procedure in which the dentist repeatedly stabs you in the face with a golf club until you’ve either died, or the tooth was fixed. In reality, though, it’s not that bad. My dentist, a younger man who doesn’t speak much but knows more about teeth than anyone alive, numbed me up something good and went to work. I didn’t feel a thing and the residual pain was very minimal. The process leading up to the procedure, however, was brutal. The tooth pain was intransigent, ruining many nights of already rubbish sleep. This leads me to think that it’s not the root canal that people most dislike, it’s the lead-up. I like to imagine, then, that this is the same story when people talk about buying a new vehicle.
For many, if not most, the idea of stepping onto a car lot is akin to stepping onto a field of flowing lava. Pushy car salesists aiming to relieve you of every last dime that you have earned, and will earn, forever. Imaginary sales managers that the aforementioned incessantly and desperately seek the approval of. Many very confusing but interesting sounding words and scrambled letters that are supposedly features of some type or another. Sport Tuned, Dynamic OverDrive, ABS, VRS, STI, V-TEC, ECU… the list goes on and on for days. Don’t bother trying to get any clarification from the internet either, auto websites are a vapid assault of photos and buzzwords designed to appeal to everyone’s lifestyle, while simultaneously not appealing to anyone’s. The actual information you’re looking for is fifteen million pages deep, buried in the EULA somewhere.
So, completely under-informed and more confused than ever, you nervously make your way to the lot where there are too many choices, of which, exactly none are the one you are looking for. So you buy a Prius. At least that’s how I rationalize why people buy that wretched excuse for transportation.
I recently spent the day shopping for cars on behalf of the most wonderful person I know, nay, the most wonderful person anyone knows. The checklist was as minimal as can be: new, Bluetooth, manual gearbox, and heated seats would be lovely. Simple. After eight factory dealers and 19 possible cars that would meet both budget and wish list, however, I drove three. Three! A little less that 16% of my target for the day met the search criteria. Two were from the same maker and the other was four grand over budget.
The holdup? A manual gearbox. Still called standard on all the industry websites, a stick shift is the least standard feature on a modern car. The incredulity with which nearly every salesman treated the request was a bit jarring, but not really unsurprising. The man from Toyota all but called me an idiot for asking if they had one in stock. “Why would anyone what a stick?!? It’s stupid, have you ever been in traffic? Your leg is gonna fall off!” He said angrily. The next man called Yohan, was from Hyundai and was very pleasant. You should buy your next automatic car from him. He simply explained that he was sorry but, out of the three hundred million new cars they had on the lot, not one was a manual. Economics was his reasoning for this. Reasonable enough I suppose, most Americans don’t want to have to pay attention to the road while driving, they just want to get good gas mileage and update their Snapchats. They most certainly don’t want to have slower shifts when they are hot lapping the Nurburgring.
Only, what I was looking for costs between $14k and $20k. A car so basic and boring, that I worried I might fall asleep just sitting in it. I wasn’t on the hunt for a V-8 Twin Turbo supercar or an idiotic Hybrid. I was looking for a cheap, base model hatchback or sedan. Every manufacturer makes this very car, or at least they claim to, they just don’t want you to buy one. They don’t want you to be able to purchase a rubbish car for very little money, they want you to believe that you are buying the car of your dreams for a little more money. I hate that. I don’t mind a little salesmanship, but applying raspberry lip gloss to a pig, just makes me want the pig less. Just sell me the pig.
Thirty-three percent of the cars I drove were a great example of this, including the new mid-level Mazda 3 Touring hatchback. It was four thousand dollars above the base model and had rain sensing wipers, which is cool if you’re into that sort of thing. It was very quiet and comfortable and made me wonder what the Toyotaman was on about. The clutch required almost no effort to move. Push an empty shoebox across hardwood floors and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. I could have driven to and from many places, any time of day, in great comfort. My biggest complaint? The brakes were a switch. Push the pedal two inches and nothing happens, one millimeter past that and you rocket through the windshield at tremendous speed.
The other two cars weren’t much different, only they were more reasonably priced because they were base model Kia’s. They both had wheels and seats, the brake pedal stopped the car and the gas pedal made it move. They were comfortable and easy to drive, they had a very no nonsense dash on which all of the buttons were buttons and they each did a thing. The steering wheel and clutch weren’t attached to anything at all, which seems to be just how folks like it. These should be the most reasonable choice then, as they were the only choice. They aren’t. In the Forte sedan, the trunk was just big enough for a king sized candy bar and the road noise was pretty bad. The Soul is, well… a Soul. The other dealers either couldn’t be bothered to ask if I needed assistance or were just repeats of the first two. Subaru gave me a tasty ice cream treat, so they get plus marks for that.
What surprised me the most about my day shopping for a car, is how not miserable it was. The staff that I talked with were friendly (aside from the angry Toyotaman), they were better than useless when it came to knowing things about their product and only one, Toyota, was average pushy. This then, makes me wonder what specifically people hate about car shopping? Judging by what people buy, it’s clear that they aren’t afraid of picking the wrong car, they usually do. It must be actually buying the thing. Going into a closet with a strange person to debate the price you’re to cough up either on the spot or six years from now can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be like that, though: drive the car first, assuming it exists, then go get financing from your bank. Or your grandma. If you know nothing about cars or paying for them, find someone who does, and ask them to go with you on the test drive. It might cost you a cheeseburger (my going rate) but it’ll keep the dealer honest and make the decision much easier. Just whatever you do, don’t buy a Prius.