Choosing between reliability and style – a cautionary tale

A very good friend of mine has been up to stay from the West Country this weekend, he knows absolutely nothing about cars, in turn, I know absolutely nothing about Football, and that’s just fine, we have an unwritten rule that neither will impose each other’s passion on the other.
However this weekend he broke this rule. For the past fifteen years or more I have advised, and subsequently purchased on his behalf every car he has owned during that time.
Now because I realise that he knows less than Zero about looking after a vehicle of any kind I always choose carefully and sensibly. Because of his almost total disinterest, he couldn’t give a hoot about things such as colour, option lists, gadgets, BHP, desirability etc etc. The only criterion for him is total reliability (within reason) nothing more.

For that reason and that reason alone, I have always chosen something Japanese. It’s a no brainer, a dead cert, its risk assessment without the risk. The first car I ever procured for him was a 1989 Nissan Micra, swiftly followed by another more up to date version of the same car, a few years later it was a Toyota Carina, instantly forgettable as far as style and presence was concerned, but totally and utterly reliable. At the end of the nineties and as a way of dealing with those “mid life crisis issues” us men all seem to encounter (but strenuously deny!) it was an MR2 T-Top that saw him through those early millennium years, again, never missing a beat. 2005 saw his needs change again and it was back to the sensible option with a Honda Civic 1.4 Hatchback, and that’s where it all went so horribly wrong!

After three years of driving the sensible, frugal, and none too exciting, but never the less “Reliable” Civic, a wonderful thing happened to my friend, (or so he thought) in early 2008 he came into some serious money. Not serious in the “I’m going to buy me an Aston Martin DB9” way, but serious enough that he didn’t need my help anymore, he was free! Free of the constraints of not having to worry about fuel consumption, free of the constraints of insurance costs, or road tax issues, or maintenance bills, or Colour, or me, or it seems………………………… reliability!

Those fifteen or more years that I nurtured him, advised him, guided him, led him even, through the haze and maze of car purchasing, meant nothing! What did he learn? Where did I go wrong?

This weekend he broke the golden rule; he wouldn’t stop talking about his recent car purchase, how the exhaust note sent shivers down his spine every time he pressed the accelerator, how the glossy red paintwork gleamed, even when the sun wasn’t shining, how the smell of the leather intoxicated everyone who entered the cabin, how the body lines just looked right from any angle, how people in the street stopped and admired this piece of automotive art. How much it broke down!

You see I don’t know anything about football, but I do know that David Beckham was pretty good (and probably still is) at taking corners, that Nicolas Anelka was a very expensive choice at £86.5 million, and Portsmouth fans were very happy indeed when, after a 69 year drought, they beat Cardiff City 1.0 in the 2008 FA Cup final. I also know that Italy is known for being pretty good at the game, as well as having some great players with particularly fancy footwork and I am sure AS Roma will continue to be as great and goal-scoringly reliable as it ever has, but that’s about as much as I do know, and that’s not a lot.

I don’t know much about Football, but I do know something about buying a car and it’s this; if you want to get from A to B as quietly and inconspicuously as possible, if you are not worried about style over content and throaty exhaust notes, if you want to keep what little money you have nowadays in your wallet as long as is humanly possible, and if above all else you want total reliability, buy Japanese, it’s that simple, but please, please don’t do what my friend did. Stay away from state of the art showrooms with gleaming Alabastro floor tiles, unbelievably good looking salespeople with skin like sun kissed chestnuts, sharp suits and even sharper looking merchandise, it will seduce you. It will drive all rational thoughts from your brain; it will take over your life (or at least your bank account).

An Alfa Romeo is a beautiful thing, it looks the absolute part, it has style written all over it, it sounds magnificent, it can be great to drive, but as my friend is finding out, he still knows nothing about cars but I now know a little about Football.

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