...And Another Thing! Cars...

…And Another Thing! Cars…

By Paula Menso with Illustrations by Sally Greenfield

I’ve just bought a new car which is always an interesting experience for a middle-aged woman. First of all, there’s the dilemma of whether to buy new or second hand. I tend to avoid brand new cars as I can’t bear the mental image of thousands of pounds in value vanishing, the minute you drive it off the forecourt. My friend Suzy always gets new ones as she likes to choose the exact specification, colour, and model, but then she’s never been one to let financial constraints stand in the way of her aspirations.

The next decision, having counted up my pennies, is whether to go for a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric engine. It wasn’t that long ago that we were all being incentivised to buy diesel, but, following in the confirmed tradition of health advice to the nation, what was good for you one minute, is not the next, and vice versa. So, it is only a matter of time before we are all being subsidised to scrap our diesels in favour of something that uses electricity. I suspect the next step will be to discover that a surge in demand for electricity is putting an unacceptable strain on our already overstretched power production facilities, and that if we wish to drive to work the next day, we are going to have to do jigsaws in the evening by candle-light to preserve our resources. It’s enough to make you dust off your bicycle!

Having decided on the type of car, there’s the choosing of the make and model, which, quite frankly, is a bit bewildering. An added difficulty is getting the agreement of your nearest and dearest. Norm chooses his cars on the basis of practicality. After all, you never know when you are going to have to fit a lawn-mower in the boot and it’s best to be prepared. He also drives round smugly in the snow and inclement weather, secure in the knowledge that his SUV was advertised being chased by camels up and down sand dunes, or depicted screeching to an impossibly abrupt halt in time to avoid squishing something cute and fury on an Alpine descent in mid-winter.

Norm would prefer me to drive round in a silver hatchback with a roomy boot and such a frugal engine that cobwebs form over the filler cap in between refuelling and the government actually pays you to drive it. This is all very well until you come to overtake anything faster than a traction engine. I test-drove a 0-60 in half an hour once and, to be frank, when trying to overtake, I could have run past the offending vehicle quicker, although I was aware from the noise, that the little engine
was trying its best.

Having successfully negotiated all the other hurdles, the next choice is where to buy it. Do you go to a dealership and benefit from their specialist knowledge and long warranty but pay a bit more, or a local independent garage that may not be able to explain the intricacies of how to operate the climate control, an important function for a woman of a certain age who has temperature issues of her own, but can offer you a sound car for slightly less money?

And then there’s the test drive. I can’t be alone in being the only person that dreads them. With the car sales person trying not to appear nervous in the front passenger seat, and your dearly beloved, attempting to avoid making any detrimental comments from the back seat that will lead to an unseemly marital exchange, it feels a bit like a driving test. The controls are all unfamiliar so you switch the windscreen wipers on instead of indicating, which gives you a lovely uninterrupted view out of the front but leaves other drivers without a clue where you’re heading. The clutch usually engages at a different point to the car you’re used to driving making stalling a distinct possibility, or even worse, leading to an undignified hopping down the road like Skippy with hiccups. And all the time you’re trying to give intelligent answers to questions on the car’s performance and suitability.

Norm, when offered the chance to drive, always declines with a martyred air and the comment that ‘It’s your car’, which avoids both the embarrassment of the test drive and any culpability if you accidentally purchase a car who, in opposition to me, has a big end that went years ago.

Mind you, at least these days the sales staff talk to you and not just to your husband, which was the way in my youth, and they also seem to have a better understanding of the importance of appearance and interior trim, than they used to. I am interested in the performance of my car on an experiential level, but I have no inclination to appreciate how the engine works, other than that it does, reliably, every time I insert the key, card or press a button.

So, the result of all of this is that I have a shiny, royal blue Paula mobile sitting on my drive with a frankly bewildering range of gizmos and gadgets for me to try and
fathom out. It’ll probably take me about six years to get thoroughly used to this one, by which time we’ll be ready to start the whole process over again!