Suzy and I are looking for a car. It makes me sick. There’s no worse investment, and few industries more driven (excuse the pun) by vanity over function. And the worst thing is, I would LOVE to have an SUV, for the power and comfort and the tent-trailer tow potential, even though SUV drivers are killing the planet (like guns, it’s not the object that does the damage, but the user). My neighbour Barb drives a minivan but covets a Hummer, mostly so she can have Bite Me written on the back. We really like Barb.
So, being compelled to shop for a car under these circumstances, with this kind of angst, makes me grouchy and aggressive behind the wheel of my crumbling ’92 powder-blue Corolla. Watch out! I’m beginning to regret selling my last car, a 1979 Volvo, to my friend Juergen for $1000 ten years ago. He’s still driving it.
Last night I stopped by the used car lot of the local Toyota dealer. Within seconds a salesman joined me. Saif handed me his card and joked that his Lebanese name was perfect for a car salesman. “I sell good, ‘safe’ cars.”
We looked at the Echo — great on gas but small and boxy. “No way, man. You don’t go from a Corolla to an Echo. You always upgrade!” Then the line of sleek 2005 Corollas caught my eye. I must admit to loving these. For me, cars are transportation, and I like to buy a car and forget about it for a decade. But at $16,000 for the base model, peace of mind is now pricey. Add air conditioning and the “power windows and doors package” and the sticker price jumps by $3000. Ouch.
I’ll never forget when, in 1980, my newly divorced mom drove up our red dirt drive in Winsloe, PEI in a new two-door Tercel. The little beige 5-speed with AM radio and vinyl seats set her back $6000. I remember thinking at the time with great sadness that I would never, ever, be able to afford a car.
Saif took my name and said he would call me if a 2003 Corolla was traded in, something he said was “unlikely anytime soon.” He walked me to my 12-year-old car and shook my hand. I turned around and was startled by a sleek silver car that rolled in beside me. It was totally silent. It was a Toyota Prius, among the first models of a new generation of hybrid electric/gas vehicles.
The dealer hopped out, looked at my car and the kid seats inside and went for the jugular.
“You don’t put kids in that, do you? Those holes in the doors will let in exhaust and suffocate your kids.”
Then he turned and walked away.
Saif just looked at me. Some sales pitch!
I hopped into the $30,000 Prius. It was still running, but the only way to tell was a message on a small computer screen on the dashboard: “Engine engaged.” I looked at Saif and he nodded. Then with a flick of a small knob next to the steering wheel, I took the future for a spin. It was like floating. No engine noise, but standard and familiar handling. I fell in love.
I parked and got out of the car, a big smile on my face, suddenly much more content with car shopping, and feeling better about the future. If only I’d remembered to bring my chequebook …
Saif scrunched up his face. “No man, you don’t want That! You need a car that makes Noise!”
The future? Toyota’s Prius.