Buying a car

February 23, 2009

I think I’ve got through seven cars in 35 years, but that includes one which lasted a year, one which lasted nine months, and one which I have just bought. I am a creature of habit as well as the night, so I went back to exactly the same second-hand dealer as last time, even though it was 100 miles away. My argument is that you should stick with what you know, but I know it’s really being terrified witless of what you don’t know which drove me, in any sense, to do this.

A car is a modified tin can. I don’t have any other understanding of it. I don’t know what is going on under the bonnet (assuming, which is not always the case, that I can remember how to look under the bonnet). I don’t get sentimental over cars (or excited by them, as my father was. He was a happy man with an internal combustion engine). Some modifications to the tin can may be more desirable than others, but I tend to think about simplistic things. The one I part-exchanged had a sun-roof and central locking (neither much use to me). This one has a weird thing called a Parrot which amplifies incoming mobile phone calls, while you drive along (which, hands-free though it is, is probably dangerous). It also has a knob for towing a caravan (I don’t think so). But it is also higher up, the seats are comfier, there is no blind spot which prevents me from telling whether the headlights are dipped or not, and it accelerates a bit more swiftly.

Like all cars this side of the millennium, and many before it, it has electric windows. I am very suspicious of electric windows. They seem to have a fatal flaw, which is this: if they go wrong, you can’t wind your window down. Indeed, were I so stupid as to drive off a bridge, into a river, say, I wouldn’t be able to wind the window down. That might mean I would die, and I am sure that might not suit the insurance company (thinking about that, it would probably suit them very well).

The first time I moved out to the country, the car’s insurance company sent me a cheque for eleven quid. Apparently I had moved into an area of such peace and tranquility (“the same as the Isle of Wight,” they said – truly, they did – a claim I am unable to substantiate, since the last time I went there, Jim Hendrix was still (just) alive, and in control of his guitar) that I was due a reward. Those days have gone. When I declared my new car this time, they stung me for £28 for the remaining six months or so. Why? I asked. “It’s a newer car,” they said. Oh.

One weird thing this car has is a cassette player as well as a “six-CD-shuttle”. I thought all my poor cassettes were doomed to a long and pointless shelf life, but, no, those thin ribbons of tape have a new capstan to wrap themselves around. As for this shuttle thing, what’s that about, other than laziness. You apparently load in six CDs, and that’s the journey sorted (if it is seven hours long). I am afraid this won’t suit me. I approach the prospect of a long drive like an experimental disc jockey. But there, I’ve been and bought it, and who am I to complain? The main thing is that it has 55,000 miles fewer on the clock.

Still, it is an emotional business, buying a car. It’s draining. Writing that kind of cheque is about as distressing as it gets.