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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Buying a car uncovers a different breed of hunters



Published: Thu, July 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Important Fact: There are two kinds of car buyers in the world. Those like me, and those who are annoying.

First, studies show thinking of cars as anything but transportation causes second-hand ulcers. I can't name these studies exactly, but I'm sure the words university and clinical are in at least one of their titles.

Case in point. I consider a car a conveyance. Cheap and reliable are the buzz words I would apply to used-car shopping. These are not words I would emblazon on my T-shirt because someone might misunderstand, but they do epitomize my auto mentality.

Criteria: My husband, however, has a list of roughly 42,362 criteria for a car. It includes brakes, cylinders, transmission, air bags, ashtrays, upholstery and 42,356 other things. As with all male egos, the car is an extension of his manhood. This, too, is validated by a very credible study, which I forget the name of also.

Among John's perceived benefits of owning a particular car are increased power, improved status, demonstration of stability, security, independence and masculinity. Whew! He doesn't admit any of these, but I know it just the same. It's dizzying what a hunk of metal, plastic and rubber can bestow.

Anyway, it is John's goal to satisfy at least 42,361 of his criteria, thereby gaining those all- important benefits. This entails another manly task -- surfing the Web every free moment of the day and night searching for cars. Of course, surfing the Web is not necessarily manly, but if you wear a ball cap, periodically burp and click on Suburbans, Land Rovers and Broncos, it qualifies.

Hours pass as John clicks methodically on every make and model of car, cross referencing these to the Kelley Blue Book value, then viewing safety records.

The hunt: He posts little notes to himself and calls sellers whose vehicles hit the watermark. He then jots down their comments. These he stores on disks and files in huge cabinets marked, "Extremely Scientific Hunt for the Ideal Used Car." He purports to be greatly influenced by these findings.

This is all balderdash, of course. At first, it does appear legitimate. He seems to be a logician: cool, collected and absorbed by his task. But then, the computer screen flickers and slowly, seductively, a photo materializes of something sporty, hot or tantalizingly masculine. The truth comes out! He's no thinker. He's no logician! He is man. He is hunter!

HUSBAND: Look, a Humvee! It's a steal. We should get it tonight. It's in Brazil. I've been wanting to take Josh on a trip.

WIFE: He's still in school.

HUSBAND: Be quiet woman; you'll scare it off!

Back to me.

Cool car: I haven't had a "cool" car since I was 18. My parents gave me their '68 Cougar as an Army bon voyage gift. I drove it like a maniac until I had Dukes of Hazard-ed over one too many ramps, and the springs broke into the rusted trunk. I sold it to a friend for $50. A week later, she left it on a swampy Georgia road after it died. I didn't know it would be my last cool car for 20 plus years. I should have babied it more.

Through subsequent purchases -- a lime green Chevette, a wood paneled Pinto station wagon, a Fiat sedan, an Escort station wagon and a Hyundai -- the dream of owning a status symbol has been beaten out of me. Until I can afford it, I don't even want to think about hunting, especially not cougars.

And then ... what's this? An ad in The Vindicator. A car with a moon roof? Spokes? Power everything? Fair price? Agreement between two polar car shoppers? And this, despite a very reliable study by some very impressive people ...

murphy@vindy.com




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