Paula and I are going to have to buy a new car next year. My VW bus and her Toyota Corolla are nearing the ends of their lives. I don't drive a lot—less than 1500 miles a year; she, in turn, commutes 300 miles a week. We really need about 1.1 cars instead of two cars, but we do need that extra 0.1. And one of them needs to be really trustworthy. So one of the current cars needs to get replaced.
We went to the big West Coast auto show. I realized two things about myself. The first is that I truly couldn't care less about cars; they don't do anything for me. No aesthetic/emotional/visceral reaction whatsoever. I hadn't actually realize that before, but having all this supposedly delectable fruit dangled in front of me and not reacting to it made it pretty obvious. With very rare exceptions, it doesn't matter if it's standard or tricked out, sport or a sedan, $15,000 or $100,000. I truly don't care! It's like buying a nice hammer, to me. Does it work the way I want? That's it!
The second thing is that I hate shopping! Okay, that's not correct. I love getting cool stuff. What I hate is comparison shopping. Poring over specifications and alternatives and deciding just what the best thing to buy is. I know some people get off on that; me, I really don't like it. Gives me a headache. I just want to hand over the money for a toy and be done with it.
I probably should have known this pattern about myself years ago, but I'd not observed it cleanly. This is the first time I've gone looking for a new (or semi-new) car. Different enough in the specifics for me to see that pattern was the same, that being what this column's about. (It's not actually about cars. Oh, you figured that out, didn't you?)
Paula and I have several sanity-preserving strategies. We figure out exactly what we need (not what we want, what we need), and we make sure that list is a short one. Primarily it's good mileage, the gooder the better. Minimum capacity: Two adults with a full complement of luggage (what the Toyota was good for). We also have a secondary need to be able to carry large stuff, although that's not invoked frequently (what the VW bus was good for). We set firm price limits. If we can do much better than that, that's great! But we don't go higher than the limit without a very good reason (it's firm, not totally unyielding).
With that information in hand, we could go shopping. We did the car show in less than three hours and came out with a list of seven or eight candidates that filled various combinations of the aforementioned needs. As soon as we reached the point that we felt like we were nitpicking or going in circles, we left. It's way too easy to overthink this stuff.
The last sanity-preserving strategy is to realize there is no perfect toy. As I said, we can't quite make do with one car, (although it's close), so eventually we will be buying a secondary vehicle. Just not for a couple of more years. Be that as it may, all the vehicles we looked at were deficient in some way or another. So long as they didn't completely fail our "need" list, they didn't get rejected. Later we'll do test drives and probably winnow it down to two or three choices. Then we'll just make a decision. No buyer's remorse, no waffling, because we know we've already thought it through carefully. Trying to split hairs just causes ulcers and aggravation.
I still hate shopping. At least I know how to keep it from making me totally crazy or fall into purchase-dither deadlock.
That's it for this time.
If there's anyone who still don't see how this is on-topic, just pull out the word "car" and replace it with "camera" and substitute camera-specific features for car-specific ones. Works just as well. In fact, this is how I successfully shop for cameras.
Featured Comment by Photogorilla: "I was just at the dealership yesterday. Thanks for helping me keep perspective!"
Featured Comment by Paul: "Luckily the car that fulfills the needs of most of us just came out. You can watch a little demonstration here."
Mike adds: Funny. Excruciating, but funny.