My husband and I have just successfully completed the onerous process that is purchasing a vehicle, a feat that could be the subject of a new reality show akin to “The Amazing Race,” or better yet, “Survivor.”
Generally regarded as the second largest purchase by a household — after a home — buying a car is all the more a monumental experience here in the Motor City. Everywhere else, it seems, a car is a hunk of steel designed to get you from point A to B. Here, cars are considered an extension of the self, an alter ego. In L.A., you are what you eat (or what you don’t eat, for that matter). In Detroit, you are what you drive.
The car is for me, as in My Car, which bears repeating, given my husband’s ever-maddening veto power vested in him by virtue of the fact that he knows engines and I don’t. Still.
It would replace a Ford Fusion whose lease had come due. The Ford Fusion was a fine car — it just did not suit me. Or I should say, it did not suit Gordie, our almost 1-year-old lab. I take Gordie to the dog park most every weekday — for both our sustenance, frankly — and I wanted a car I didn’t have to worry about trashing the back seat, not to mention the copious amount of dog drool on the back windows.
Leasing again was not an option. With one kid some 650 miles away in Vermont and another kid 250 miles away in Cincinnati, I put way too way many miles on a car for a lease to make sense. A new car would set us back too much, so we set our sights on a used car that would have a long life expectancy: a station wagon, a crossover or a relatively small SUV.
Living a scant few miles away from Troy Motor Mall, a milelong emporium of almost a dozen dealers, we did an after-dinner drive-through in my husband’s pickup with Gordie in back. Perusing the high-end lots where the Jags and Infinities glisten — mouths agape at the obscene prices — we must have looked like Jed and Elly May Clampett.
Sometimes our youngest daughter came along, acting as both referee (“Calm down, you guys. This is going to require compromise.”) and image consultant (“Nah, that’s a ‘mom’ car. You don’t want that.” Or: “Man, that Wrangler is so dope.”).
At our respective offices, we’d scroll cars.com screens until our eyes blurred or a boss approached, whichever came first. The too-good-to-be-true deals were just that: lures designed to entrap you in the snares of unscrupulous used car dealers. I’d no sooner get my hopes up on a car only to have Chris read to me aloud bad reviews about timing chains and water pumps needing to be replaced right around the 90,000 mark.
We’d compare notes via email or text. Chris was all about cost and function. I was all about aesthetics. He would text: “How much?” I would text: “What color is it?” One afternoon, his text read: “Buying a used car is such a freaking crap shoot!” only he didn’t say freaking.
A co-worker who met me at the printer as I was retrieving 6,000 pages of car fax reports looked at me sympathetically. “Still at it, huh?” he said. He, too, had just replaced a vehicle, but he took path of least commitment: He leased. I looked at him, second-guessed our decision to buy and plodded on.
Frustration gave way to contempt. I was sure my husband was plotting against me. Feeling very Edith Bunker-ish, I’d say to him: “I don’t remember being consulted when you went and purchased your oh-so-manly pickup truck!” When our oldest texted: “How’s the car search?” I shot back: ”Excruciating. I’m determined to find something I love while your father keeps low-balling me. I refuse to cave. I’m standing my ground.”
She answered back: “Take it easy, Mom. It’s a car.”
The night before we were scheduled to turn the Fusion in to the dealer, we headed up once again to Troy Motor Mall: tired, cranky and feeling very territorial. Chris was saying: “Why are we here? Haven’t we checked all of these cars out three times over?”
Ellie cut him off in mid-sentence. “Stop,” she said. “Look.”
There it was. A 2014 Jeep Patriot with only 8,000 miles and priced well within our range because it’s a base model: no electric locks or windows.
Chris kicked the tires and gave a thumbs up. I professed my deep affection for roll-up windows. I also love the color, which is slate.
The next day, when I went to the dog park, my friends said, “So you got new wheels! Is that a Jeep?”
Just then, Gordie lept out. “You got a dog’s car!” someone said. “Congratulations!” Come to think of it, I’ll take a wet dog smell over a new car smell any day.