6 Mistakes You Will Make When Buying Your Next Car
In a perfect world, the only "commuting" we'd do would be over Skype, pants would be illegal, and the only time we'd use the phrase "boss" would be when we wanted to say something was awesome but also that we were getting old. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world with jobs and cars. In case you're not on the up-and-up, cars are big metal boxes that cost over a third of all our money and become totally useless if they get bumped ever, which is why we drive them at high speeds down narrow roads within inches of each other and then leave them outside all day with no one even watching them while we're at work.
But you have to buy one or everyone will think you're making some kind of comment about society or whatever, so let's just make this whole thing as easy as possible: Here's how you will fuck everything up.
Test Driving the Car You Can't Afford
Let's be clear about this: You are not a "gearhead." The closest you ever came to working on a car engine was when you broke a PlayStation 2 controller playing Grand Theft Auto 3 and duct taped it back together before the cops could bust you. You're so out of touch with car culture that if someone glued a dream catcher to the front of a Hyundai and told you it was a vintage Mercedes, you'd not only believe them, you'd pretend you already knew that. Everyone already knew that. What kind of idiot wouldn't know that?
But that doesn't matter, because this will happen to you anyway. You will go on Craigslist and see a BMW M5 that costs roughly three times the budget you allotted to yourself, and you will do some research and see that it's hilariously expensive to maintain. But it will speak to something inside you, something that has been asleep for years, something that feels strange and exciting and more than a little confusing, so you'll go test drive it anyway, and it'll go like this:
You climb into that leather seat, trying to hide how self-conscious you feel. You shift into third by accident while you're still in the owner's driveway and then mumble some excuse about how you're just checking to see if the clutch slips. Then you start making faces that you hope look like they're coming from thoughts like "I wonder if the crank is shafting" and "How's the tranny?" Finally, you're on the highway, and you really get that machine moving, and it is the greatest thing you've ever experienced. You burn through the cynicism from this article's intro faster than this 4.9-liter V8 engine burns through expensive synthetic motor oil.
"Hey look, my bank account's empty."
But you can't actually remember if those are words, so instead you say, "It sounds like the suspension is squeaking." Then you glide to a stop at a red light and nod to yourself in satisfaction. "The brakes work," you think smartly.
"You hear squeaking?" the car-owner man asks, confused. "Do you mean the air suspension? That's not ... that's a good thing." He doesn't actually say "you fucking idiot," but the words are crammed into every syllable like empty, rusted Natty Lite cans in the cab of the pick-up truck you bought in high school.
Is he lying to you? You don't know. Hell, you don't even know what to Google in order to figure it out. But whatever he's talking about sounds pretty fucking cool. Air suspension! The Millennium Falcon probably has that.
"I'll go talk to my bank," you say, somehow convinced that you can make this work. But as that beautiful car-demon disappears around the corner, so too does your dream of a rad future with a dope car that sounds like an angry dragon when you start it up. Your strength leaves you, you fall to your knees next to that shitty rental Hyundai, and you cry. You cry like a little wussy baby man.
Going to a Used-Car Dealership
So you go to the used-car dealership. Again, you do some research, and you try to employ the skills you've learned there, but you never stood a chance. It was all over the minute the manager set his eyes on you, grinned a grinny grin, and said, "Let's let the new kid take this one." Remember who you're dealing with here. These are people who play mind-chess against good-natured suckers for a living, and you're someone who apologizes to grocery store cashiers when your diet isn't properly balanced. These are people who can imbue their conversation voice with a high-frequency sequence of clicks that Morse-codes your credit card into signing up for the extended warranty; you're the kind of person who screws up your taxes because you can't remember if you're supposed to count yourself as a dependent. These are people who could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves; you're a man who recognizes that as a reference to Tommy Boy. The game is over before you even realize it's afoot, you fucking half-stack.
"Here, have some coffee," the salesman tells you, and as your hands wrap around the smooth, warm cup, you feel your willpower diminish, your steely resolve melt into warm generosity, because of science that they understand and you don't.
"Why don't you take off those sunglasses and go over this rental agreement?" the salesman asks you. You comply. Your power to resist weakens further. You're falling under his spell, and you know it. You have to escape, but his tricks are multitude, and yours aren't even oneitude. Your eyes dart around the room, searching for an exit. In your panic and distraction, you spill your coffee all over his nice, clean white shirt. But before you can even apologize, he hits you with the atom bomb of used-car negotiation:
"No worries," he says, grinning like a fucking snake, "I forgive you."
It's too much. "I'll suck your cock and buy every car you have," you scream. Everyone stares. Your mind goes blank, instinct takes over, and you wet yourself as your last line of defense and run outside. This is an emotionally exhausting day.
Going to a New-Car Dealership
Ha! Whoa there, Elon Musk. Maybe check your bank account before you wander through those revolving doors.
Yes, your limited funds do devalue you as a person, which leads right to ...
Fantasizing About Every Car You See
If it seems like this task has made you a bit unhinged, then yeah, it totally fucking has. There's a DeLorean that you see every day on your way to work. The raw, volatile glory that comes from seeing Marty McFly's time machine every day, before you've even properly digested your Grape-Nuts, is unmaking your grasp of reality. Eventually you're going to work up the courage to touch it. But this is not that day, dear readers. This is not that day.
Los Angeles, your new home, is the classic-car capital of the world. That may sound like something some random person said on some blog or whatever, and it is, but that doesn't make it less true. Instead of commuting through a pile of Kias, Geos, and Saturns, you're surrounded by genuine works of art: Pontiac Firebirds, BMW 2002s, Triumph Spitfires, Mustangs, and more cars you've heard mentioned in conversations a lot and have now seen with your actual eyes. You never understood why people cared about them until you took that corner a little too fast on your bike and almost gave that Pontiac a Trans Am hood design with your brain matter.
Even that kid knows it would've been the most glorious way to die.
Of course, like any grown-up, you want to make a smart car-buying decision. Honda Civics get good gas mileage, you know, because you read it online. Volvos are really safe or something. Lexuses are the most reliable make of car in the world, which is counterintuitive and kinda delightful. A hybrid seems like a great choice economically, because you're never going to be racing that thing anyway and you can even get them with manual transmission now, so they'll at least be fun to drive.
What's ... what's the smirk on your face? Oh, for Christ's sake, you're still thinking about that M5, aren't you?
Car dealers want you to be in a rush, because people who don't have any time to waste are people who are going to make bad decisions. But no one has ever bought a car without being in a rush.
Thanks partly to the economy and partly to the fact that those gosh darn kids don't appreciate the beauty of a classic American muscle car anymore, people are relying more and more on public transportation. But at the same time, public transportation is being gutted, also because of the economy. When your bus route to work gets cut, you need a car fast -- which means that Big Used Car (a part of the economy I may very well have made up, but if it exists, it creates a great villain for me to use right here) has you right where they want you. Which is on their lot, looking at one of their cars.
Sure, there are strategies. I've heard stories of people using dark magic to call the dealership ahead of time to negotiate, or researching MSRPs, but you know what to do with people who practice dark magic: ask them to sell you drugs, and when their back is turned, douse them in holy water. Ha! Besides, when you've been darting through traffic on your bike dodging one Prius only to almost get hit by yet another Prius, the idea of any extra work getting between you and those sweet ignition keys that will bring that massive (in your imagination) engine roaring to life is like being stuck in a nightmarish second gear you can't shift out of.
If you think I'm being melodramatic, let me ask you this: Have you ever driven an automatic before? Well, there's your problem: Science says driving a car with automatic transmission numbs the human brain's ability to perceive suffering. You're no longer capable of thinking for yourself, and that's a tragedy, but it's not my tragedy, so you can deal with that on your own time. I've got a column to write.
On Second Thought, It's OK to Own a Bike
This is the Tragedy of the Automobile: You don't need to be very smart to fall in love with a badass car, but you do need to know a shitload of things in order to take care of one. And you will never know those things, because you aren't really you, you're me, and we're both idiots. But at least we know that buying a car is like playing World of Warcraft. You start out weak, but the more you "grind demons" (or "shop around"), the more you "up level" until you gain "higher abilities" and oh, God, you're even worse at talking about WoW than cars.
But that's OK. It really is. Because you own a bike. And though it only has two wheels, and though it doesn't purr quite the same as an internal combustion engine, and though the seats aren't made from that same soothing leather, and though there's no clutch to gently send vibrations up your leg and stimulate your prostate, and though you'll never be a proper man, at least ...
... I dunno. Something, probably.
JF Sargent is an editor and columnist at Cracked, and a Prius nicked his elbow on the way to work today. No really, that happened, and he's lucky to be alive. Follow him on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook.