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Steve Hansen: When it comes to cars, the simpler, the better

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Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 12:00 am

“Let’s go look at new cars,” my wife said with some enthusiasm.

Our present vehicle is almost 10 years old, but in excellent shape. Spending big bucks for the latest set of wheels was not really on my agenda. However, I was willing to take a look at one of the new, complicated electronic marvels now dominating showroom floors.

The brand she wanted was not sold in Lodi or Stockton. We had to drive to Sacramento. At the upscale dealership, we spotted a pearl white sedan — complimented with gold lettering and trim. I could see my wife was in love.

A salesman encouraged us to sit inside. The caramel-colored leather was gorgeous. The instrument panel resembled something out of a Boeing 777.

“Where’s the key?” I inquired.

“There’s no key,” the salesman replied. “Everything is electronic. Starting is based on this little rectangular box you carry with you. The door locks work the same way.”

In the center of the dash was a display screen with everything from climate control to satellite radio. It also included a GPS, cellphone and Bluetooth.

“What’s a Bluetooth?” I asked. “Is that a cyanotic tooth caused by gingivitis?”

The salesman looked at me as if I had just emerged from the screen of a 1950s movie. “That’s a system for interconnection of your various electronic devices.”

He quickly changed the subject: “You really need to take ride in this beauty to understand all of its features.”

The next thing I knew, we were heading down the road while the rep pointed out various controls and options.

There were no dials for the radio. You simply spoke your commands and the stereo obeyed. There were also 160 pre-programmed stations for your listening pleasure.

No need to look in the rearview mirror. The backup camera showed everything. Also, no need to check the blind spots. Side mirrors did that electronically.

Drifting into another lane? No problem. Sensors are there to warn of any danger. Ride too stiff? Simply change it with the push of a button.

“Notice how the GPS is controlled with a mouse on the console?” the salesman commented. “It can tell you where you are located now and find the nearest Starbucks or Costco.”

The features pitch went on for several minutes. All were too numerous to mention here.

We returned to the showroom, and the dealer rep presented some “numbers.” He would take two big ones off the sticker price, throw in the $700 gold lettering — along with the $3,000 wheels and tires for “free.” License fees would be $1,400, and good ol’ California sales tax would rack up another $7,600. With no money down, payments for five years would be a mere $1,700 per month.

The salesman pulled out all the stops to keep us from leaving, but we held him at bay and headed for the nearest exit.

We didn’t say much on the way home, but I’m sure my wife and I had the same following thoughts about our present budget: We’ll probably need that $1,700 per month to pay for our medical policies under the Affordable Care Act. After that, there’s really no spare change left for any futuristic fancy “ride.”

But it didn’t matter, because the more I thought about it, the less I wanted that car. Yes, it was beautiful and full of gadgetry. However, I’ve always been a simplistic kind of guy. I just couldn’t imagine driving that thing around Lodi. Presumably, the gold lettering wouldn’t last two minutes in the Downtown parking garage.

As a practical matter, my next car will have to be straightforward from bumper to bumper. It will need spark plugs that can be easily seen. It will have two keys: one for the ignition/doors, and the other for a spacious trunk. It will need a radio with a knob for “on” and “off.” It will have a clutch and a three-speed (not eight-speed) transmission, controlled by a column shifter. The windows will be hand-cranked and the front seat will hold three across in relative comfort.

I also prefer to check the blind spots visually, bring my own coffee and find the nearest Costco by looking through the windshield. When all is said and done, these are the features I really want in my next car.

Now you know why it will be a ’54 Chevy.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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