I’ve been out of the car-buying loop long enough for Goggle maps to replace a glove box full of folded maps, and for ignition keys to become a thing of the past. When I bought my last car, PDAs and mobile phones had not yet merged technologies to create smartphones, and I’m pretty sure Bluetooth was just static in some computer engineer’s brain. Connecting all this stuff to one’s car was still Star-Trekian technology. The newest thing out was cruise control—a very big deal.
Buying a car used to involve strategic planning. The first rule of the sport was to keep your cards close to your chest. Having the upper hand was essential to avoid driving off the lot with a “deal” that left you bankrupt, or worse, with a lemon and no warranty. Once a gleaming prospect was winnowed out of the pack, the hood was lifted. I limited my comments to the engine’s cleanliness. Tires were kicked--never sure why--and gas mileage and RPMs were discussed. The driver’s seat was adjusted, mirrors checked for visibility, and the key turned in the ignition to listen to the engine. The radio was checked for reception and static. Was the antennae retractable? A major bonus. Sensing a serious interest, the salesman waxed eloquent about reliability, air bags, improved construction, and windshield wiper speed. It was show time. Calculator in hand, negotiations could take the better part of a day.
Man, have things changed. No one lifts the hood anymore unless they have a degree in aerospace or computer engineering. The cabins of the latest models resemble fighter jet cockpits. My first question--where’s the ignition switch--was met with stunned silence. Once the young (and to his credit, very polite) salesman realized he was dealing with a neophyte, he gently explained about FOBS and push-starts. Oh, okay. That lesson learned, I asked about the CD player. Blank stare.
I tried again. I described what I wanted in a car: lots of cargo space, a tight turning radius, good visibility, and a backup camera because I have neck issues. I explained that I need lumbar support and easy positioning of the seats. The nice young salesman nodded, and went into a spiel about Apple Play, IPods, USB ports, touchscreens, and voice navigation. This time the blank stare was mine. We had a definite generation gap in communication.
I learned that all the familiar dashboard knobs have been replaced by touchscreens and little paddle things you push on the steering wheel. I was educated about lane warnings and brake-assist driving. Made me wonder if cars are getting smarter or people are getting stupider. By then I was too intimidated to pull the shiny new vehicle out of its parking space, let alone try a test drive.
Many months and dealer’s lots later, the different makes and models blurred together. The choice almost came down to closing my eyes and pointing to a spot on my car-comparison chart, but I did finally make a choice. Right or wrong, a shiny burgundy, compact SUV should be mine in January. I’m hoping to greet the learning curve with as much excitement as trepidation.
And, by the by, if anyone in the Tucson area happens to be looking for a well-cared for, around-town car, I know where you can pick up a 2004 Toyota Camry at a good price. I’ll bet the owner will even let you kick the tires.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's