Shopping for a car isn’t easy.
Not just because I’m, at the present time, not flush with funds, but also because the purchase involves careful weighing of a host of factors that range from calculating the financing options to a fine toothcomb-scrutiny of the four-wheeler itself.
A car, though, literally, is a fast moving consumer good, it doesn’t belong to the category of a Fast Moving Consumer Good—low-cost products that fly off shelves quickly, such as a tube of toothpaste, a bag of chips, or a bar of soap.
It’s a big-ticket purchase. So, seldom is it possible to drive home with a spiffy car on one’s way back from work. Even if it were, it wouldn’t be a sound strategy. Automobiles, no matter how compact, are still way too unwieldy to fit in the trunk.
For another, they come in a mind-boggling array of brands, each of which has scores of models. Each model, in turn, offers a dazzling, but confusing, combination of optional features. This abundance of choices may well be the bright side of a consumerist culture.
But it’s this seeming limitlessness that also makes the task of decision-making arduous. Thrown in with that is the most important criterion yet: the price. For those of us of modest means, who can’t afford to make a one-time payment, and are buying a pre-owned car, there’s a set of additional anxieties.
So, when the car salesman in Aberdeen, South Dakota—where my newspaper job was taking me from New Milford, Connecticut—called me with news of the best deals he had, I was eager to hear the details.
The central question—and one with several spokes—running through my mind was: would I be able to get a decent vehicle, without the mileage of a gypsy caravan that wasn’t a jalopy, and still have a reasonable price tag?
It was a tall order. But he had something: a 2002 Dodge Intrepid that had a mere 34,000 miles on the clock, which wasn’t a whole lot, by the standard of the auto industry in the business of pre-owned vehicles.
And then, he arrived at the more pertinent bit—the money—and told me it could be mine for only $13,000. He may have sensed my voice going quaky, at which point, he assured me that it was no cause for alarm, for my E.M.I. (short for Equated Monthly Installments), would work out to only $225 a month, if all went well with the financing side of affairs.
For someone, who’d up until then, driven a little, tan, retro, coupe—a 1984 model of Mercury Topaz—followed by another two-door—a 1995 Ford Escort—I was looking forward to owning a sedan, and was genuinely eager to sign a contract.
But I was dreaming. In the subsequent days, I declined the job offer that would’ve enabled me to afford that car.