‘I’m sorry, constable, it’s a rental. I’m not au fait with how it works’ is never a great opening line when you’ve been pulled over by the police. In fact ‘I’m not au fait with …’ is probably a phrase best avoided when speaking to the police, period. The poor Hastings cop, starting off his Friday night shift, had happened upon another example of my driving prowess. 5 minutes earlier, I’d been merrily driving along and pulled over to allow a police car to pass, as it was clearly in a hurry to catch a criminal. It pulled up behind me.
‘Ma’am, do you realise you were driving without your lights?
Another near miss in a motor vehicle. Despite being raised in a NZ small town, where car ownership is a teenage rite of passage, I made it to my mid 20s without owning a car. But now I’ve finally decided it’s time I get my own wheels. There are only so many years you can lug groceries home on foot, or be rained on waiting for a bus, before you think the millions in their warm cars might be on to something. With a new job in Auckland, the timing seemed right.
I took a luke warm interest in driving as a teenager. I got my leaners licence fine, but things took a turn when I went to sit my restricted licence and opened with ‘Hi.. I’m a nervous driver.’ No doubt the assessor was thrilled, and not in the least bit surprised when I promptly flooded the automatic engine. When I got my full licence, I was so freaked out at the idea of having passengers that I enforced ‘silent time’ when driving my younger sisters around. Their silence was probably part compliance with me, but probably more just plain fear. Miraculously, I’ve only ever hit one thing, a letter box. Letterbox you say, could be worse. Yes, but unfortunately the letter box owner was my friend’s rather scary ex South African policeman of a father. I drove away at speed that night, or as speedily as my granddad’s 1990 Mitsubishi could go.
So now, my teenager nerves behind me and the years in between spent on trains and buses, this winter I went on the hunt for a little car for Freya, and I took along Dad for the ride. We began the search at the local second hand dealers. Perhaps our strategy was off. I obviously know nothing about cars, and made this abundantly clear by turning out at real bloke locations like ‘Mutzy’s 2nd Hand’ wearing a pink skirt and silly boots. Dad, who could have at least pretended, decided that his strategy to get me a good deal would be a two pronged attack- open with ‘I know nothing about cars’ and then subtly insult me in front of the dealer. ‘My daughter’s a ginge you know…it’s tough.’
And so we test drove, and test drove. There were the Suzuki Swifts, one and two, which were ok but a bit tin can like. There was ‘Fay’, the lilac Mazda Demio, which screamed ‘I’m a 73 year old going to bowls’ like no car ever before. The Toyota Vitz with a dodgy ownership record, which was so small I had to assume the recovery position to fit in the back seat, and the Honda Accord, all leather trim and seat warmers- beautiful, but not the small car I wanted for Auckland. I learned a little about cars in the process, like that engine size matters. I took a friend for a test drive in a Daihatsu with a motor barely bigger than a vacuum cleaner. It was a wild ride for the sheer fear that the car would fail, or we’d never make it up this ‘hill’ (read: unnoticeable incline to the other cars). I was surprised how hard it was to find something I wanted, because (perhaps naively) I thought my requirements list was quite short: safe, small (ish), not old but not new new, and within a reasonable ‘first car but not bomb’ budget.
Other than of course TradeMe and the yards, we went along to a couple of Turner’s Car Auctions. If you’ve never been, I’d recommend it. It’s fascinating (and possibly depressing) to see just how cheaply the 5 – 10 year old luxury or big name cars go for. At the Tauranga auction I attended, not only could you have snapped yourself up an ex- police car or two (stickers still on), but also an Audi All Road, only a few years old, for $8,000. Apparently, this car would have cost $100,000+ or more when new. My advice- your car probably isn’t worth nearly as much as your insurance policy says!
In the end, I was over it. I was sick of reading the DogandLemon reviews (where every review seem to be a ‘buy at your own risk’ warning) and tired of slick second hand car dealers. So I did what everyone should do when making a big purchase, I said ‘Bugger it, let’s just do it’ and gave my money to someone else to do the buying. So Dad went to the pet store (sorry, car auction) and got me ‘Ellie’, a white Ford Focus. She goes well, she has pep, and you don’t look at her and automatically assume the driver has a blue rinse and is going down to the local retirement village. God knows what she thinks of her new owner, but she’s awfully glad when we make it back safely after another incident free trip, and I’m awfully glad of her airbags!