Is buying a secondhand car after nine months of contemplation akin to becoming a father or a lover?
Tuesday 7 February 2012
I had to call my wife with the great news. “Congratulations, we are now the proud ‘parents' of a sprightly little Volvo,” I announced as I tickled the latch to the bonnet of the V40 I'd been planning to buy for nearly nine months.
She was pleased of course (mostly for me) but admitted she wished it was a real baby. I laughed nervously, muttering “for guys this is probably as good as it gets”. But the notion of buying cars being akin to second-hand birthing – the trepidation, the anticipation, the happy arrival – started to take form.
The internet has made the whole process so much easier. The ability to filter online searches by price, make, model, colour, engine and a dashboard of other options are like eugenics for prospective car-owners.
I spent hours scouring car photos – close-ups of the mileage, the service books, the tyres, or that little ding the seller wants you to see so you know he's ‘not hiding anything'. I add dozens to my favourites, in case I want to contact them.
It's around this time that the worries, like pending fatherhood, really kick in. I'm afraid to take the plunge.
I tell myself that ‘new' is just ‘old' with more scary parts, but for a digital non-native like myself the internet is like the toss of a coin. It has two sides: the cornucopian side and the dodgy side made up of people looking to con you or use your details to cheat someone else.
I make some enquiries and perhaps an appointment or two. And then I mull things over: why did the seller black out his registration plate and photograph the car in a field?
I arrange to meet in a dodgy suburb and think, do I need to put the cricket bat in the boot? From there, I drift further into the waiting room of doubt. But then I'll need to put in a ball or the police will think the bat is a weapon? Do I have it there as a weapon? And that's not even considering the true state of the car itself, and the money I'm about to part with.
Deeper into the delivery suite of nagging thoughts I shuffle. Should I bring the whole sum asked for or just a deposit? What assurances will I get, what documents should I take with me, do I have to haggle, should I put a few hundred in a different pocket?
Or the Hagelian reversal: will he trust me?
I get to the meeting point (not his house!) early. The seller is on time. Does that mean something? He's wearing a tracksuit. Is it a tracky-with-matching-gold-chain look or keen-jogger-on-Sunday look? He opens the boot and moves a pair of expensive trainers to show me the spare. So he is a jogger, or went to the trouble to seem so …
The car is a little dirtier than the picture. He apologises for this straight off: “I washed it for the photos, but it's been raining … sorry.” I want him to like me, too. I say: “It's not a showroom, I'm not expecting perfection. So long as everything that should work works, I'll be happy.”
We wander around the car. I pretend to know something about engines, taking a torch with me to inspect the fan-belt thing, for effect. I tickle switches and bounce the suspension. “Can I take her for a spin?”
Mental notes while driving: soggy clutch, strange smell (perhaps not), oil temperature is okay (I guess), brakes are good … “What do you do?” I ask in order to be conversational, but perhaps a bit more. “I teach philosophy,” he says. I want to believe him despite the unlikelihood such professions still exist.
Next, he tells me lots of traders have seen it but they keep trying to haggle and pick faults in his little baby. I can see this upsets him and tell him that's not my style. If I take it, it will be as God intended. Truth be known, it's everything I'd hoped for, everything I'd been thinking of.
“Let's do this,” I say. He is palpably relieved.
So now the whole documentation dance starts. What papers go to who for the deposit? When to meet for the final exchange, and so on? But by this time, I'm feeling confident, a sense that I can't possibly lose on this – what psychologists might call ‘rational utility', the urge to justify my decision for consistency sake. Or it's ‘invincible gambler' hour, that time between making a bet and when the horses leave the gate … I can't lose!
The invincibility passes by the time I'm heading home and the doubts return – my money is probably long gone and the whole jogging philosopher persona is an elegant ruse.
Of course, life is never that intriguing, and the seller and his wife deliver the car to my house three days later, as promised, on their way to picking up the Volvo V50 they bought nearby. Nice people.
So the big day finally arrives. All the months spent searching, wondering, hoping and now she's all mine. I hold the keys gently in my hand, sit in the driver seat, then the passenger seat, then the back seat, for good measure. I kick her over a few times, look under the bonnet again, put in my New Order CD, and Love Will Tear Us Apart sounds better than ever.
I put her in a cozy corner of the garage that I cleared. I make excuses to go into the garage and there she is. Peaceful. Waiting to be taken out. All the worries now gone. She's mine now, and I'll accept what ever comes with that.