A Look At Life: Buying Cars

18th October 2013

Just Call Me Jemima Clarkson

Jo Plumridge

I recently had the misfortune to need to buy a new car, after our old, very cheap second car flunked its MOT on 13 separate points (when we fail in this family, we fail in style). Now, unlike many of my female friends (yes, yes, I know that’s a generalisation), I actually love cars and know a fair bit about them. But oh, how I hate shopping for them…

Once upon a time, I found it amusing dealing with a certain type of Jurassic car salesman. However, as the years pass it becomes increasingly tiresome to be led over to vehicles like the new-style Beetle because it comes with a flower in a vase on the dashboard. For God’s sake, man – I’ve just told you the minimum brake horsepower, engine size and 0-60 speed that I require: it’s unlikely that a girly homage to 60s flower power is going to do anything for my acceleration.

Why, I wonder, is the car industry still such a male dominated arena? I know that I’m not the only female who has an interest in cars and, in fact, there are now more female than male drivers on the road. But the car industry has always worked on the premise that we’re living in a 1950s sitcom, where the little woman stays at home whilst her husband goes out to work in his shining automobile. The biggest concession to the existence of the second sex that most manufacturers have adopted is to allow women to drape themselves over their cars at automobile shows.

My particular weakness is sports cars. In my time I’ve had a selection of – I’d like to say ‘vintage’, but let’s settle for ‘old’ – models with an array of aches and pains. However, when the last heap of rust had finally shirked off its mortal coil via a spectacularly exploding head gasket (this involved a lot of orange water in an engine with no discernable pipe work left) just as I was left a small amount of cash, I took the opportunity to make a shortlist of newer second-hand models and head to the showrooms.

I took a friend – a male friend – not so much for his advice, helpful as it is, but because he’s even more nuts about cars than I am, and it would have seemed rude to deny him the pleasure.

We were only part way through the morning when I began to tire of being referred to as ‘the little lady’. And it was an even shorter period of time before I grew weary of explaining that no, I didn’t want a 7-seater people carrier as I didn’t currently have, or have plans to produce, the Von Trapp family.

In fairness, most salesmen did shut up quite quickly once I’d started my test drive, although whether this was due to running out of sexist comments or being rendered mute in terror at my preferred driving speed isn’t something I stopped to ascertain.

Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared me for Dave. In retrospect, his puffer jacket and casual, ‘Alright, mate’ to my companion while completely ignoring me should have been a warning. We set off in Nissan’s only sports car at the time – the 350z.

It soon became apparent that the 350z was suffering from delusions of American muscle car. It dearly wished that it was starring in a Steve McQueen film whereas, in reality, it was spending its days trundling round a trading estate just outside Slough. I opened it up on an empty dual carriageway on the outskirts of town. “Whatcha reckon?” came the laconic grunt from the passenger seat. As I started to say that I thought it was heavy and unsophisticated, Dave grunted again, with a certain satisfaction. “Yeah, well, it’s a bit too much of a car for a girl to handle, innit?…”

It’s remarkable how easy it is to make a grown man scream. Apparently, all it takes is turning off the traction control and going sideways round a roundabout. I like to think I educated him.

Of course, Dave and his ilk pale into comparison next to your average car mechanic. But tales of “your big end’s gone luv, it’s gonna cost you” are a whole other article.

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