Tag Archives: driving

This American Life: 129 Cars

We recently had to buy a new car. I say “had to” because the one we were driving at the time was twelve years old and had 185,000 miles on it. A lot of little things weren’t working. The engine itself—block, pistons, and transmission—was fine, which I’ve had more than one mechanic say if the engine is fine then the car is maintainable; everything else can be replaced or really isn’t necessary to getting from one place to the next, but if the block, pistons, or transmission get damaged, selling it for parts or trading it in for a new one is far easier than replacing the block. Sure, you ostensibly pay more in payments than in repairs, but then at least you know that you have reliable transportation. Since all this was coming from my mechanics over the years, I’ve had a hard time even attempting to refute the logic.

But over the last couple of years a lot of little things were going wrong, and driving our old car was a death by a thousand cuts. The driver-side sunshade decided it wouldn’t stay in the roof any more; the keyless entry stopped working entirely, we had to manually manipulate all the locks; and the A/C stopped working altogether. When we saw the cost to replace the struts and repair the A/C, we decided buying a new car was the cheaper option, at least for the first year, but easier in terms of convenience over the long term. Good enough reason as any since we felt we had successfully continued our long tradition of driving our cars into the ground.

When we were coming to the realization that we were going to have to buy a new car in the next six months, I had already heard about the 129 Cars episode on This American Life, and grabbed it off of iTunes for 99¢. Since then I must have listened to it a hundred times. This quote, and you really have to hear the delivery, cracks me up every time:

A customer says they’re not ready to buy a car. Let’s go over it again. They’re at a car dealership. They got in their car, drove through hell to get here, looked for a parking spot for ten minutes, parked, got out of the car and walked into a car dealer. Not because the coffee’s good, we went over this, because the coffee here’s not good. They came here because we sell cars and they want to buy one.

There was a lot of useful information in there that, while not directly applicable, altered our approach such that we were able to have much more reasonable time purchasing the car. In talking with people each car company and each dealership all have their own ways of doing things. But that quote, I think, comprehensively framed our mindset walking into the dealership. They didn’t need to know that our current car was falling apart, but we didn’t waste their time and ours deluding ourselves or them that we were “just looking.” They know we were in the market for a new car, but they also knew—because we told them—we were weighing our options in what they knew to be a competitive market. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say we were not hostile in any way, and ended up with a great deal without a lot of hassle.

If you are in the market to buy a new car, I highly suggest listening to that episode a few times to catch all the details. I still listen to it from time to time if only to hear that quote. I have found it immensely useful in other areas as well—washers, dryers, refrigerators, furniture, and anything else that requires a salesman to coordinate the purchase. Unless you are in the washer business, you are not “just looking.”


That first cup of coffee brewed from a french press that is fresh out of the dishwasher. Bad coffee is bad coffee, but a completely clean press can turn an okay grind into a surprisingly good one.

That wonderful diminishing effect holiday weeks have on the traffic in which I almost inevitably find myself along my fifty-mile commute. I actually have time to post something this morning.

That mix of both hope and dread at the remaining weeks of a semester when almost of the final assignments have been released, and the true scope work needed to be done in the next (less than) four weeks has been revealed.

That sense of calm that comes from finding out that others are in the exact same situation in their own words.

Dear Massachusetts Drivers…

Dear Massachusetts Drivers,

Please consider some pro-tips about driving from a displaced Californian…

  1. Merging is most efficiently achieved with alternate feeding of cars into the merging lane. Doing so will mean less traffic snarls and frustration. If you are racing ahead of the other drivers getting into bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are just playing with yourself.
  2. When you change lanes behind me, regardless of direction, and decide to make a statement by coming within inches of my rear bumper (whatever statement that may be, I have no idea), please understand that if you hit or clip my car, the fault will lie with you since you rear-ended me and should have been in control of your vehicle at all times particularly in regards to the car immediately in front of you. This is doubly true for drivers of all sports cars, construction, and landscaping trucks.
  3. When you change lanes to get in front of me, going at a speed that is at least matches mine or faster would be best, otherwise get out of my way.

Until such time that you see fit to follow these suggestions, I would hold you dear in my heart as your own class of stupid crazy. Especially those of you on Route 128 north of the Pike.

Happy driving!