So it begins: searching for a new used car

Driving disasters aside, a couple must learn to compromise and see other viewpoints

By George Valadie

WANTED – Retired husband in search of pretty cool used car. Seeking relatively low miles, a radio that can pick up the Braves at night, one of those adaptor things so I can listen to my Christmas playlist, and air conditioning. Leather seats and a V6 engine would be awesome but not a deal-breaker. I’m thinking Jeep or a Volkswagen bug convertible. Price is critical as I’m not really in charge of that part of the negotiation.

WANTED – Wife in search of used car for retired husband. Seeking low miles, good tires, and the man does need some air conditioning. Must not sit too low or too high for passengers to enter/exit; other options are irrelevant. Price is critical as he’s not really in charge of that part of the negotiation.

And so it begins. Yes, the time has come for me to buy a new used car. We bought our last—and final—brand-new car in 2009 when we purchased my Toyota Camry. I loved it, still do. When I drove it off the lot, it came with 12 miles on the odometer and all those wonderful new-car smells.

Almost 15 years later, it still hasn’t given up the ghost, but it smells like our dog and has safely carried us 200,000-plus miles, just like the one we bought before that. I gave that one to my daughter, and she drove it until it finally passed on. I’d happily drive this one forever, too, except it gets hot where we live.

The heater works efficiently—winter and summer. And we’re approaching what will be my third summer driving it without cool air.

Even Nancy concedes it’s time.

Our family has a checkered history with cars. Most of that is the result of having chosen to teach in Catholic schools. It was my call, and I wouldn’t do it any differently even if given the chance.

The job was wonderful, but our cars were crap.

All total, we can recollect 15 different ones we’ve owned. Sometimes, it was my turn to drive the good car, sometimes it was hers.

But just using the phrase “good car” means it was most often paired with one that wasn’t.

I once drove a car that had a faulty electrical system. It ran OK, but certain facets didn’t work in cold weather. Like the lights, heat, and defrost.

Only after the engine had warmed up for quite some time, and I’d hit a big enough bump, would all three finally engage.

To be honest, I preferred sleeping late to warming up the car for that darn long, so on more than a few mornings I’d set off to school with a frosty front window. I’d leave home with my head hanging out the window so I could see something. So I could see anything.

We didn’t live far enough for things to get going good, so on those really cold mornings, I’d arrive at school with my freshly showered hair turned to ice.

Basically, the old girl (car, not wife) just needed to get up and get going.

I appreciate that feeling a lot more than I used to.

In another of our driving disasters, we experienced transmission issues we couldn’t afford to fix. As a result, Nancy’s car would not go in reverse.

I kid you not.

So wherever she went, the mall or her mother’s, she had to strategically park so she was facing outward. No easy task if you ponder your own daily driving habits.

And we had kids. We probably shouldn’t have, but we did.

She drove another bomb of a vehicle with what amounted to mostly aesthetic issues—inside and out. You know the sort of car I’m talking about, oversized by today’s standards with a big old steering wheel approaching the size of its tires.

In the trunk, she kept the stockpile of assorted decorative chrome strips that had fallen off when one or another door was unintentionally slammed.

Additionally, the fabric that’s usually glued to the inside roof slowly but surely came unattached at various points.

On the positive side, our maroon-colored interior with the gray, falling fabric seemed somewhat reminiscent of an Arabian Nights tent that the girls’ friends just loved to ride in. “Wow, how can we get a car like this?”

We could live with the chrome and fabric irritations, but things took a different turn the time she tried to release the emergency brake. She gave the handle a firm tug and it released—handle, cable, and all of it—released right into her hand.

It would have been nothing more than another addition to the trunk except that the brake itself didn’t actually release, and she and the girls found themselves permanently parked at Walmart.

I’m hoping for better with this next one.

“OK, I agree,” she said. “You do need to get something. You can’t keep driving without air conditioning. I knew it was coming, and I’ve been budgeting for this. So, what are you thinking?”

“Well, this probably sounds crazy, but since I was 17 years old, I’ve wanted one of those Volkswagen convertibles.”

“I don’t know. Those seem kinda small and hard to get in and out of.”

“Well, I saw a Jeep the other day that really caught my eye.”

“I think people fall out of those.”

“Well, what do YOU want me to get?”

Which is right about the time things veered down a bad road, ending with “Well, just get whatever you want!” The infamous phrase that says one thing but means nothing like that.

Along this journey, Nanc has suggested that buying a car is not unlike the dating process. “Do you want someone who is reliable and trustworthy and will be there for you every day for the long haul? Or do you want some cool and fun girl who will make you look good but probably break your heart?”

I was blessed to get both in my wife. Don’t they make cars that way, too?

We’re still shopping because I can tell it’s gonna take a while to please everyone who’s involved. All two of us.

But we have finally come face-to-face with a major realization.

Somewhere along the way, she offered, “You know that house with the pool I really wanted to buy that you wouldn’t let us buy? That’s my dream, and the VW is yours. So, I think we’ve officially reached that stage of our marriage where we just kill each other’s dreams.”

She’s nothing if not perceptive. Maybe a little harsh, but perceptive.

Kidding aside, rather than think of our loved ones as “dream killers,” I suppose this would be the appropriate spot to reflect on relationships and love and how their true versions call us to compromise and sacrifice and see life from other viewpoints.

But I’m no expert. And I can’t add a single kernel of wisdom to that conversation.

I just know she agreed not to drive in reverse, and I was up for frozen hair. Other couples do the same and more.

I just know we wouldn’t be a “we” if we hadn’t.

Don’t forget to wave if you see me compromising in my new minivan.

Dear God—There are rights, and there are wrongs. But not always. And not most of the time. May we be open to the idea that someone else just might have the better idea. Amen.


George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

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