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Can I give you some car-buying advice? Well, since you asked...

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On: Tue, Sep 16, 2014 at 9:43AM | By: Andrew W Davis

Can I give you some car-buying advice? Well, since you asked...

If there’s one question that an automotive journalist hates more than “You get paid for that?!” it’s “What’s the best car?” And from this side of the fence, I’d rather be the doctor friend that has to look at every awful thing anyone who knows them wants diagnosed gratis than to be the guy that “misdiagnoses” someone into the wrong vehicle.

I mean really. How hard is it to say, “That’s gross. And malignant. And you’ve got to consort with a better grade of partner if you want that to stop happening.”? I mean, it’s not like you gave them the sore, you just told them that how terrible it was and, in all honesty, how much they deserved it.

No, in my case I will forever be viewed as the one who passed on some terrible, life-destroying plague that cannot ever be cured as the terms of the lease are quite strict and resale values aren’t where they were predicted they’d be, etc., if a single feature is found wanting or the slightest thing goes wonky.

If you want an expert opinion, they say, ask an expert. Well, as an expert, I say something different. Even I can see you clearly need ointment or something for that. Oh, right. Expert car stuff. That’ll take a little longer to explain…

My son is ten minutes older than his “middle” sister, and both of them just entered the social crucible of high school. He is as science-oriented as she is social, and—for the moment at least—they are happy with who and where they are.

But I, way before that age, was nuts. I mean insane. About cars. Heck, when my kindergarten teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “automotive journalist.” Hand to God. I had to know everything about anything with at least three wheels, nearly to the exclusion of everything else.

Others may make statements like these, but I have the proof: I have childhood friends who—to this day—remember how I was regularly putting my Big Wheel up on blocks to “adjust its carburetor” by putting rocks in the holes behind the seat (until my rapidly-lengthening legs forced me to cover them with the seatback pegs, but by then I had advanced into a mid-engine/fuel-injection configuration anyway).

No, folks, your kids don’t love cars; they like the idea of them. Sad to say, but even MY kids don’t. The test? If they don’t regularly stand out in the middle of the street (semi-safely) and stop traffic so they can get a better look at the neighborhood’s newest automotive hardware, it’s safe to say it’s—at best—just a passing fancy.

[How else do you explain the best-selling car on Earth being anything like a Camry or Corolla?]

But let’s fast-forward to 1988, my first year in high school. Thanks to a February birthday and advanced-placement I was just about the youngest person there, and it killed me every day that people who weren’t my elders by all that much got to “have cars.” And—worse—drive.

But then I discovered girls.

There are lots of reasons why 9th-grade boys should be interested in 12th-grade girls. Oddly enough, said girls do not reciprocate said interest in said boys very often, especially when they look like Napoleon Dynamite. But I had something all those ladies wanted that no other boy there possessed: the willingness and ability to help the fairer sex solve any car-related problem with zero expectation of being able to work on them next.

They say women are attracted to funny guys. But, apparently—at least with high school girls—smart, funny guys that don’t want to sleep with them are freaking irresistible. WhenVarsity cheerleaders are competing for your nerdy Freshman time, you are seen as some kind of hero among your peers. Me, I didn't notice. I was happy to know them as “the one with the triple-white VW Cabrio” or “the ’62 VW Beetle”.

[I wasn't stupid. I saw their ever-increasing appeal. But when it came to impure thoughts, mine at the time were usually of the “driving without a license” kind.]

Now, imagine being the parents of a kid like me when you're in need of a new automobile. You know you share a house with someone qualified to be a founding member of an automotive MENSA, but you also know that they come so jam-packed with swirling hormones that even dropping the hint that you might be car-shopping around them would be like hooking jumper cables to high-tension lines hoping that only the amount of power you need will come down the wires (you know the dangers involved, but you REALLY need the juice...).

Well, I may have been (mostly) blind to girls, but I was most certainly not to anything car-related, especially in “my” own driveway. My parents should’ve known better. As if I hadn’t always been compiling a collection of ever-refreshed magazine and dealer brochure files for every possible transportation option.


Now I didn’t know what our relationship would turn into in the coming decades, by my parents’ choice of a plain-Jane Volvo wagon—yes, the one you read about in my last article—was an inspired one. I don’t know what my seven-year-old self thought about the whole car-buying thing at the time, but when my dad brought home a Nissan "mini-truck" five years later I knew things had to change (even if they were crazy-popular at the time).

If he had only listened to me beforehand he could've had the completely impractical—but infinitely superior in every teenaged way—Buick GNX in his driveway, and not the truck he needed. Sure, it was four times the price and touchier than an unexploded WWI-era landmine (with none of the mine’s earthmoving usefulness), but I dare any of you—my father included—to tell me you’d rather have that truck over a GNX in your garage right now, “Hardbody” or not.

Luckily, the truck phase passed quickly. By then I was a sophomore in high school, and I had LOADS of hands-on experience (but still only of the automotive kind)—thanks mostly to the aforementioned cheerleaders—to supplement my previously purely paper-based automotive dossiers. It was the start of the 1989 model year and I knew exactly what my dad should buy. No, scratch that; MUST buy.

I had it all figured out. I knew I could defeat any objection and satisfy every request. I was hip to the game. I’d toss a few crazy options at him, knowing he’d refuse. Then I’d show him something sad and small, knowing he’d say that he needed “more” in a car. Then… BOOM goes the dynamite! I hit him with the car I had in mind all along, knowing he couldn’t refuse!

My choice was perfect in every way but one: It was a 1989 Saab 9000. Don’t ask me why, because to this day I have no idea. My father, on the other hand, had an idea: to say no. Which he did. But he was kind enough to tell me what car he really wanted, and let me "help" create exactly the one he wanted.

[It was a special-order ’89 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, silver-over-silver leather, no vinyl on top, every option inside, all cop-car underneath. Bad-ass and bulletproof. It was superior in every way to my misguidedly-advised Saab, and he was happy every day he drove it. So much for my being an infallible "expert". We both miss that car...]

Which brings me to the moral of this story, which I was reminded of a few weeks ago when discussing with my parents their next potential purchase: If someone asks your opinion on what car they should get—whether or not you're an "expert"—just do what I learned to do: have them tell you what they want in a vehicle, then walk them through a few of their best options, and, so long as they're not fixated on buying a known deathtrap or money pit, just smile and say you’re happy with their choice so long as they are.

Even if it ends up being something lame like a new Toyota Highlander.

[I mean, seriously, Dad, have you not seen the new McLarens? Right... practical. Hey, the SRT Charger is a four-door sedan, and that new Hellcat engine would be perfect for commuting and running errands. And it even comes with an automatic! Hang on a sec. I’ve got the brochure around here somewhere…]

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