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Vehicle for Change

The other day my tired Camry wagon hemorrhaged multiple quarts of oil along the scenic length of Riverview Road. I knew then it was time to face facts: I need another car.

I knew this day was coming. That was why I started car shopping over a year ago. Be prepared, that’s my motto.

I went to some Web sites. I test-drove a couple of cars. I suffered sticker shock at a couple of dealers.

I ended up buying fake-sheepskin seat covers and a leopard-print trash bag at Pep Boys. Investing in tacky car accoutrements was a lot easier than trying to replace the Camry.

Of course, now I have no choice. My mechanic won’t even let me drive the car to my house. I wonder if he knows what a slow shopper I am. My teenage daughter, Madeleine, keeps reminding me that we need a new car before the start of winter. That could be next week.

So you know how they say you can never step into the same river twice? Car shopping feels like stepping into the same river twice. Déjà vu. All over again.
I don’t understand how some people can actually think shopping for a car is fun.
For starters, if you ask people for advice, you discover that everybody you talk to has a strongly held opinion about which is the best car to buy. The problem is, each person’s favorite car is a different car. And yet, according to the testimony given, each of these different cars, each strenuously preferred by a different person, is a smooth ride, gets good gas mileage, is reliable and cheaply repaired.

If all those statements were true about all those different cars, it wouldn’t matter what I bought.

But if I say to Person A: “Oh, you like the Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon? Person B thinks that Volvos get terrible mileage and are tough to repair. Person B says that Subaru Legacy GTE is a surefire winner.”

“Oh, the Legacy,” Person C will say, “I don’t like Subarus. You want a good car, go with the Saab 9-5 SE wagon. Most reliable car there is.”

“A Saab? You got to be kidding,” says Person D, “Sure, if you want to drive all over hell’s half-acre for repairs. Want my advice? Stick with the Toyota.”

Over the last dozen years I’ve had three red Toyotas. I’ve made a crucial decision. No more red. No more Toyotas.

That leaves a wide-open playing field.

My nephew, Jeffrey, was in town last night, touting his brand new Audi. He knew he had to have one, he told me. He thinks I should have one, too.

“Give it a try,” he said, handing me the key case. I flicked it open like a switchblade. I felt like a Jet. Or maybe a Shark.

Jeff led me out to the driveway, showed me the basics. Talked about all the safety features. He’s a child psychologist and the conscientious father of a little boy. I started thinking that shopping for Audis was an essential part of being a good parent. (And I have to admit that if I were ever to drive another red car, Audi has the best red there is. It’s the color of Charms lollipops. I could go for a Charms lollipop right now.)
But I’m not going to shop for Audis. I’ve telescoped my focus right down to the end of the alphabet. When I visit Web sites all I have to do is scroll to the bottom of the “Make” column and click. Sure, I end up with some Yugos in the mix. But I’m really only interested in cars whose manufacturers’ names begin with V.

I’m leaning toward a Volvo wagon. My daughter Madeleine says that we can’t continue to live in Niskayuna and drive a Volvo. She’s convinced that our family is the economic diversity in Niskayuna. She figures that if we get a Volvo, we compromise our identity and become just like them. Whoever “them” is.

She wants a Volkswagen Passat. A new one. She wants the new model. She wants one with a Monsoon sound system, air conditioning, a moon roof, heated seats, cruise control and keyless entry. In one of those dazzling colors, like Fresco—which really is one of the Volkswagen color names.

Actually, I want one of those, too. I don’t think Madeleine has figured out that a beat-up Volvo wagon wouldn’t shake our standing as Niskayuna’s economic diversity as much as a fully loaded Passat would.

But, so far, all this remains a theoretical pursuit. I’ve got all my ducks in a row: Edmunds.com, Carfax.com, Auto trader.com, Auto.consumerguide.com, Cartalk.com. It’s just a matter of clicking my mouse a few times, right?

In the meantime, I am driving a borrowed Mirage—there seems to be some kind of karmic import in such an idea—that has no dome light, no windshield washers, no air bags. It’s a scrappy little beater, bought at auction in Florida, busted in a smuggling ring, I’m sure. I’m sure that if I look far enough beneath the seat cushions and floor pads, I’ll find something.

Makes me feel a little wild and crazy, driving the Mirage, as though I ought to wear sunglasses all the time and maybe a leather jacket. Learn to pout my lips like Uma Thurman. The Camry was never this much fun. And it sure beats tracing VINs and comparing camshafts.

óJo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.


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