My friend Jack recently went hunting for his first car. Jack is not mechanically minded. He is a very fashionable chap who likes the nicer things in life. He is not a man who will enjoy getting his hands dirty. For him a car is very much about getting from A to B while looking his best. As Jack is a wise man he asked me for my advice as he hunted through the bowels of Facebook marketplace.
He was lured by the sun roofs and heated seats on offer in late model European cars which seemed obscenely affordable. A 2000 edition Saab, a 2004 Peugeot, a 2001 Citroen all with 200,000kms plus on the clock and a nightmare of dodgy brother repair jobs hiding imminent disaster. My advice to Jack was to avoid the charms of the fancy luxury cars even though they seemed very cheap. Find a vehicle with the basics - air conditioning, power steering, and an adequate number of cup holders. Aim for less than 100,000kms on the odometer. Don’t worry about it being shiny with lots of gadgets. Focus on it being functional and sound. Have a local mechanic inspect it for any issues that might cost money soon. At the core of my advice is what I call the Cafe Test.
While it might seem cool to have a one of a kind fancy car that no one else has, that kind of car is the domain of a seasoned professional collector. The owners of cool stand out cars have cut their automotive teeth on a long line of boring AU Falcons and Mitsubishi Lancers. They know how to service their own car, check the tyre pressure and oil levels and to listen for the slightest sign that the vehicle is not happy. They have a personal little black book of where to find the rarest of odd parts and people who specialise in fixing them. They can just look at a car and using their well developed 6th sense know that something is amiss with it. As a rule the passionate enthusiasts of that rare car are specialists in just one or maybe two rare marques. The guy that has 6 Chrysler Centuras and loves them dearly is not likely to also be an expert in Nissans or Kias.
If you don’t know cars and your budget is tight you want to be as much one of the crowd as possible. You don’t want the Chanel of cars, you want the Kmart of cars. Now each locality will have a different flavour of Kmart. The Kmart in some suburbs will stock a lot of fleecy winter wear while other Kmarts in the tropics will focus on bikinis. Some suburbs will have streets filled with Audis while others are filled with Astras. By buying a car just like everyone else where you live, you will be able to easily find people who can fix it and the parts required. The cafe test is designed to discover what brand of car is most popular in your suburb.
So here it is... Go to your local cafe with a pen and paper and order a coffee to drink outside on the footpath where you can observe the local traffic. It is important that you do this at an average time of day. Not during a community street parade featuring rare cars that collectors only bring out for special occasions and not during a car club Cars and Coffee event where special cars are given a chance to stretch their legs. During school pick up time on a week day is best. Write down what you see. Which ever car you spot the most of is the make and model you should aim to buy.
I have lived out west in tiny towns where the Main Street is populated day and night by Landcruiser utes. My current home favours the Camry. I have worked in remote Aboriginal communities where the most popular make and model was a battered Falcon sedan. I have stopped for coffees in swanky city suburbs and been amazed by the number of Mercedes that parked nearby.
Now had my friend Jack taken the Cafe Test he might have bought a Magna or a Pulsar but instead he is the proud owner of 2002 BMW 318. The BMW has overheated and there is neither the mechanic nor the parts within 100kms to fix it. I feel sorry for Jack but at least he is waiting to be rescued on beautiful leather seats with woodgrain trim as he watches the car park around him flow with far less fashionable but far more functional Commodores.
If you would like advice when purchasing a car please contact me via DM or via email at email@example.com