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THOSE NEW CAR SHOPPING BLUES

by Rose Madeline Mula

Remember that old country-western song that warned mothers, “Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys”? Well, better cowboys than car salesmen, I say. Actually, better cow rustlers than car salesmen.

But that may be unfair. After all, how can I compare? I’ve never met a cattle rustler, nor have I ever had a cow rustled. In fact, I’ve never owned a cow. I have, however, owned several cars — some of which were overpriced, underperforming, clunkers foisted on me by slick, high-pressure, promise-em-everything desperados of the dealerships. Okay, to be fair, I admit I have known some very ethical car salesmen, but they’re no fun to write about. So back to the scoundrels …

When I bought my last car, I knew exactly what I wanted — an economical, fuel-efficient, four-cylinder with air conditioning. And, oh yes, it definitely had to be black. Instead, the salesman somehow talked me into an expensive, gas-guzzling, six-cylinder. It was brown. It did not have air conditioning. But that was no problem, the salesman assured me. It’s a fallacy, said he, that only factory-installed AC is satisfactory. They’d put in a system every bit as good. Better, even. And with the same warranty. He promised I’d love the car. He promised to drive me to work or lend me a car at no charge whenever mine needed servicing. He promised me twenty-eight miles to the gallon in the city, despite the six cylinders. That did it. I signed on the dotted line. When I picked up my new car the following week, I tried to love it. I really did.

But three days later, the air conditioner (which sounded like it should have been able to cool the Grand Canyon) gave up the fight. It emitted one last, terrible groan, threw up its fluid all over the floor, and died. I drove straight to the dealer. They were not happy to see me. Gone were the cheery smiles and firm handclasps of my previous visits. There was a definite chill in the air. Actually, it was a rather pleasant contrast to my automobile’s steamy interior. And though they did not give me a warm reception, they did grudgingly agree to let me leave the car to be checked over. As for the ride to work or the loaner, however, what ride? What loaner? How could I possibly expect them to provide transportation for all their customers? Obviously, I had misunderstood. That was the high point. From there, it was all downhill. And even downhill, I got only thirteen miles to the gallon.

Never again would I be so gullible when buying a new car, I swore. But, then, I had made that same vow several times before and still managed to buy an array of motorized problems, instead of dependable transportation.

First, there was my new ’76 Troubadour* that refused to start whenever the temperature soared above 55 degrees or plummeted below 48 degrees…my ’82 Gyro* whose windshield leaked in the rain…my ’89 Cruisemobile* whose interior fogged up like a sauna as soon as I turned the ignition key…my ’98 Tumbleweed* whose brakes didn’t…

But what about warranties? Don’t they mean anything? Of course they do. They guarantee you the right to park your new car, free of charge, in the dealer’s garage whenever you have a problem. If they don’t fix it, not to worry — just bring it in again…and again…and again. They’ll take care of it this time for sure. That’s a promise! Meanwhile, there you are trying to get home or to work. Have you ever tried driving a promise down the turnpike?

I recently decided to trade in my latest mistake. Its life-long habit of lulling me into a false sense of security by performing beautifully for about five miles and then suddenly stalling when I slowed down in heavy traffic, with an eighteen-wheeler on my tail, had become too unnerving. I guess that proves I’m old. I’ve lost my sense of adventure.

Unfortunately, in order to have a new car, one must buy a new car; and in order to buy a new car, one must talk to new car salesmen. There’s the rub.

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent (i.e., the author) from lawsuits.

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Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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