Simon Kelner: I know nothing about cars, and I'm not ashamed of it

Kelner's view


"There is a scene in an old episode of The Simpsons when Homer, seeking to buy a car, walks into a showroom. The salesman sees Homer walking towards him, looks skywards and says: "Thank you, God."

I imagine that the various car salesmen I've been meeting over the past few weeks have a very similar reaction when I enter their lives: it's the first time I've bought a car for more than two decades and it has to be said that I must be the motor world's equivalent of a lamb to the slaughter.

My friends haven't been much help. They say: what's so difficult about buying a car? My response is that's like asking someone who can't swim why they can't just do a quick 20 lengths.

Apart from the fact that I'm not very interested in cars (I know that brings my sexuality into question, but live with it), and I admit that I'm not a very good driver (ditto), I just don't understand the language. The talk about cam belts and brake horsepower and Bluemotion technology might as well be a dialect of Serbo-Croat as far as I'm concerned. Does it have a cup holder? That's the level of my technical inquisition.

To me, cars are a utilitarian method of conveyance, and that's all. And don't tell the marketing men, but they don't say anything about you as a person, unless, of course, you drive a big, black 4x4 along urban streets, in which case what it says about you is not for repeating here.

Even I, however, can see the aesthetic value of cars of a certain vintage, like an old Citroen or an E-type Jaguar. But to my unsophisticated eye, modern saloons all look the same. For example, what's really the difference between a BMW, an Audi and a Mercedes? Or between a Honda and a Toyota? You simply want the one with the best advertising.

Nevertheless, next to buying a house, it's almost certainly the biggest single purchase we'll make, so it's well worth taking seriously.

It was in this spirit that I found myself nodding along to a peroration on the particular qualities of manual and automatic transmission. In truth, I found it all rather baffling, and not a little depressing.

The last time I bought a car, you had to worry about whether it would break down. Every Mini I had, for instance, would simply refuse to go in the rain.

But that was a long time ago. These days, it seems, cars go on for ever and ever, and each salesman will tell you a story about how last week someone brought this particular make in for a service, and it had done enough miles to get you to the moon and back.

Faced with all this technology, my decision was easy in the end. I went for the one which has a piece of kit that I regard as truly ground-breaking: a button you press and it automatically reverses the car into a parking space. Really. Now that's what I call progress!

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