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The Hawk's Nest

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When it comes to buying a new car, you need to know the important stuff

Forty years ago I bought my first brand new car. In those days, at least in my life, a car was first a statement about me, and only secondly about transportation. The impressing began at the dealership. I stood beside the car,  hands in my pockets, looking—or trying to look—indifferent to the vehicle in front of me. The fact that I desperately wanted it simply could not show. I tried to put on a “Naw, this can’t possibly work for me” look. I thought I’d really impress and maybe scare the salesman a bit. They were all men back then, so I asked about gear ratios, and engine size and turning radius. Most of his answer I didn’t understand or didn’t even care. I just knew I needed to use the phrases. I thought they were esoteric, thinking he would realize I was knowledgeable and couldn’t be taken advantage of. Since I didn’t have a clue of what he was talking about, I took the next approach. I stepped forward and kicked a tire—it hurt my foot. Knowing, by now, that the guy must really be impressed I asked to look at the engine. He opened the hood and I looked in. I looked at it with all the skepticism I could muster. What I was thinking, but not showing of course, was “yep, it’s got one” since that was about all I understood.

I asked about options, which included whitewall tires and an AM radio with two choices: one plain and one with an eight track and a second speaker on the back deck between the seat and window. Of course, that was more important than engine size or gear ratios; an eight track was the coolest thing in auto sound back in 1968 and would definitely make a statement about me. Maybe it still does.

On the test drive I asked about financing. He told me I would need to see my banker “We have an agreement,” he said. “We don’t loan money if they don’t sell cars.” He laughed at his little joke.

Before I left the dealer, I was given all the information the bank would need to make a loan on the car, including how much they were willing to give me on my trade-in. At the bank, a comment was made that I was expecting to get more than the student loans I had acquired and was partially living on. One thing that added to my collateral was growing up in a small town where everyone knew my family and me.  

I wish I could say that to reach this point of the biggest financial commitment of my life I had wandered car lots for months on Sunday, when no staff was at work, or in the evenings for the same reason, gathering information on the car I wanted, and several others for that matter. All the while researching new cars by reading volumes of reviews in different magazines and talking to people who really did have a working knowledge of the different cars, People who actually knew what cubic inches meant and why it was important. However, I can’t say that. It was an impulse purchase based on the eight track.

Most of the experts wouldn’t have known much about the important stuff like auto sound systems anyway, and when questioned would have thought it frivolous and probably dangerous.

Needless to say, my true buying expertise was color, coolness and class; at least, my distorted view of class.    

I did get that car and drove it for several years.

That experience of forty years ago has been on my mind this last week. We finally caved in to the inevitable and did it all over again. It’s not the first time in the last forty years, but we don’t do it very often.

We talked about it for the last year, maybe a year and a half. We first thought we would need to get something in 2008 and started doing Internet research. Then as ‘08 wore on, we thought maybe in ‘09 or ‘10, always trying to put it off as long as possible.

But we have this road to our house. In truth it’s a pretty good road, most of the time; for where it is, however, it is hard on vehicles. So last week was time to put our Internet surfing for auto info to work.

The real decision on model had been made last summer on a camping trip to Canada with another couple in their Honda Element. We had been leaning toward one anyway and that week solidified our plans. Still, we wanted to put it off as long as possible.

Then it occurred to us that there was going to be winter this year and a Christmas trip was planned; we decided to get into our Element.

We wondered if there was a 2008 still around. To our surprise there was one. It was just what we had been thinking about.

As I stood next to it talking to the salesperson that Sunday afternoon, I didn’t even try to impress him. I just said we had been looking at them for several months and were going to buy one from someone. No tire kicking, no cubic inches, or whatever it is now, just what can we do to get what we want. The salesperson asked if we were a member of Costco. He said to check out special pricing online through them.

We talked a while, got a price and headed home. I sent a couple emails to other dealers and discovered it was the only new 2008 in the area, so shopped for financing from home.

Late in the evening of the next day we were back at the dealer with our Costco research, only to find out Honda had the best financing we had seen. Nowadays car dealers do loan money. I wonder if banks sell cars. So, we took care of everything without leaving and brought a new car home.

Looking back, I’m enjoying the comparison to 1968, both my attitude and the way we buy cars now. It’s a lot easier, except for the price; this car cost more then my first house.

I think part of it may be a little maturity on my side, plus we took advantage of Internet shopping from home. That is the new way to shop for cars without sales staff around now.

In the end we couldn’t get one that had an eight track with two speakers though. It has seven speakers with a subwoofer, CD exchanger and a satellite radio... ah, the important stuff.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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