Early in the relationship between mechanic and car owner, the questions a customer will ask are pretty straightforward: “Do you hear that clunk-clunk? What do you think it is?” or “Can we get by without replacing it?” or “What’s it going to cost me?” are among the most common.
But after a while, people start to look for advice that’s a little harder to give. In the old days, the Car Talk guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, used to go so far as to offer marital advice. In fact, back in 2017 NPR celebrated the show’s lasting popularity with a special podcast titled “The Best of Car Talk: 30 Years of Lousy Marital Advice.”
“This week’s theme: Relationships!” says the promo: “Can lonely guy Chris use his car to meet a woman? Did Ellen really wreck her husband’s Explorer by accidentally filling it with diesel? Should Doug buy a manual shift car so his messy wife can’t drive it? Did Kim or her husband make the more foolish car purchase?”
I guess people can tell I’m not going to be able to top Click and Clack. But where people do get personal is this; they want to know what I drive. My answers drive them nuts. That’s because I never have been able to settle on a favorite car, the one I’d recommend. I mean, it all depends on what kind of driving you’re talking about.
I like my 1992 Chevy K-1500 half-ton 4WD. But it’s a summer drive — it’s no good in the snow. I want to like my ’87 GMC, and it’s registered, but I still don’t have it on the road. I’ve told you all about my 1980 Trans Am T-Top. I could tell you about others, including my tow truck.
The question arises whenever a customer is thinking about buying a new car. That phenomenon used to be a September thing, in the same mindset as getting a new pair of shoes for school. But the arrival of new models happens earlier and earlier these days. Most people I know who are considering a new car are itchy about it already. It’s always new car season somewhere.
My two cents is that there is no one best car. It really does depend on how you drive. Also, I’m intrigued by electric cars. But I’m not ready for one yet. First, when I can get out of here, I like to take long drives. I don’t see the infrastructure in place for electric yet.
I will say that they don’t like me that much at the dealership. That’s because I have learned to say “no thanks” to almost everything they have to offer once they take me into that little room.
I think we can all agree that little-room ordeal is the worst part of the new car buying process. You think you’ve just about figured out what you want and then in you go. It is a strange place where the multiple ways of calculating APR can cause your brain to be scrambled.
If you’re really bent on a certain package of amenities, order the car you want and be done with it. Just be prepared to wait six months or longer for it. Maybe this is a place where you do have some wiggle room. Remember all those things you thought were so important? Power locks. Cruise control. Air conditioning. This time around, you’re going to get everything but the cassette deck, no matter how stripped down you go.
Take a deep breath and remember not to buy the paint protection plan when the car is already slathered with a super long-lasting ceramic coating. And remember, there’s no free lunch.
One more thing: the Washington Post reports that the average price of a new car in the U.S. hit $48,008 in March 2023, up 30 percent from March 2020. That might be enough to get you to rethink the whole new car idea entirely.