Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 16, 2010

The Car Buying Story

We are all works-in-progress. Our attitudes shift with time.

When I was a boy, my mom (and others) kept telling me that girls were just as good as boys, and that there wasn’t really any difference between them.

“Well, then how do you know who’s a boy and who’s a girl?” I recall asking once. I must have been five or six at the time — I remember the house we were living in when I asked the question, which is how I come to this conclusion. Questions like this got very technical answers. My mom must have said something like, “Well, boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”

“That’s it? That’s all? What else? How else can you tell?”

It all seemed too simple to me. If that was the only difference… but that didn’t make sense. I mean, I was a boy! It was who I was! And she was telling me that all that meant was I could stand while I peed, while my sister had to sit? That was the only difference?

But yes. I grew up being told that girls were just as good as boys, blah, blah, blah.

Then, in high school, I was surrounded by girls who were at least as smart as I, if not more so, and one in particular who challenged me like no other. She was intellectually intimidating; my biggest rival for academic glory at my high school and also my first (alas, unrequited) love. Anything I could do, she could do better.

Then I went to a hoity toity University in the Northeast, where the winters were cold and the women were colder. Smart and capable, to be sure. But they’d stare you down if you dared to hold a door open for them (never mind the fact that, until the girls at University taught me otherwise, I used to hold the door for anybody). I did date a few of these women. In one case, I was simply a horribly inexperienced and inept lover, and she moved on quickly to find someone better. One said sex was silly (which, of course, it is, when you think about it), but she seemed to like it anyway. Another eventually became my wife, although we didn’t start dating until about five years after graduation — and if you read anything else in this blog, you know how well that worked out. [If you haven’t: let’s just say that she has had a fourteen-year headache and we are getting a divorce.]

One and only one of these liberated wimmen seemed to like being a girl. Seemed to appreciate that there are differences, and that they are to be cherished, not denied. In fact, she is the one who taught me the value of the word “cherish.” She made me clothing. No kidding. She liked sex. She liked me. We were doomed. And that’s too bad.

Throughout my life, most of my best friends were women. I was trustworthy and “safe” — ie, I was not the sort to press my proverbial advantage, and I was also ignorant in the ways of recognizing when a woman was interested in me — so, for the most part, they trusted me and didn’t date me.

[Yes, NYSoonerGirl, for the sake of my future happiness, I’m paying attention. I’m learning!]

I tell you all this to set the stage for a big revelation. I got out of University thinking that, for the most part, women were just like men except they were easier on the eyes and probably didn’t like sex as much as men.

So you can imagine my surprise when The Car Shopping incident occurred. I was living in the Boston area. One of my downstairs neighbors was a tough, smart woman who was embarking upon creating a business of her own.

“Itneverrainsinboston,” she said, “would you like to go car shopping with me?”

I had, only the year before, bought my first brand new car (a Saturn SL2), but this wasn’t why she wanted me to come with her.

“I don’t like shopping for cars at all. The sales people treat me like I’m invisible.”

Really? I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone in their right minds disregard someone who wanted to spend thousands of dollars at their dealership?

“It’s because I’m a woman.”

No. Way. I totally didn’t believe this. But, that said, I enjoy negotiating, and thought maybe I could bring something to the table on my friend’s behalf, even though I was convinced she was exaggerating any gender-bias at the car dealerships.

I know, I know. You’re way ahead of me.

At every single dealership we went to — and we went to four or five, if I recall correctly — every single sales person we spoke with came up to me to introduced themselves.

“Hi,” I’d say, “I’m itneverrainsinboston, and this is my friend, rainyfriend. She is buying a car today.” And I’d gesture at my housemate.

I used those words each time. “She is buying a car today.” They’d shake her hand, and then they’d address me. “And what color are you looking for?”

I’d remind them, “Well, she’s buying the car.” And then my friend would tell them what she was looking for.

She had done some research already; she knew the models she wanted to test drive. She new the features she considered must-haves.

The Toyota dealer was the only one who violated the pattern. The guy there held up his hand and said they didn’t have any of that model on the lot, but would be getting more (of next year’s model) within a few weeks. He was a jerk about it; very condescending, but he spoke directly to my friend. We left without pursuing it any further.

At the other dealerships — all of them, including Saturn (which was a new brand at the time, trying to make a name for themselves as a “different kind of car company”), simply ignored my friend completely and spoke to me. No matter how many times I directed their attention to my friend. No matter how often she asked direct questions. The sales people would answer her questions, but they looked at me when they did so.

Really, people? REALLY?

And their questions (the car salespeople) were inane. Typically, the first question (or the second) would be, “What color are you looking for?”

Really? Not, what size vehicle? Not, how many people do you need to seat? Not, what style vehicle? No. Color. Every time.

The only thing worse than the fact that they kept asking about color, was that, well, the looks of the car really were my friend’s primary concern. Not features. Not the power of the engine. Not maintenance and reliability. Not safety. Not total cost of ownership. Looks.

The Saturn (SL1) had all of the features she said she wanted. But it looked like a catfish to her, so no dice.

The Honda (Civic, I think) handled to her liking and had a peppy engine. But it looked kind of dated.

The Toyota we already talked about, and one of the Dodge dealers also caused her to get up mid-discussion when they insisted on talking money before she’d even been allowed to test drive a car.

The second Dodge dealership, though, let her test drive a Neon. The Neon was a new model at the time. It was roomier than the Saturn, but otherwise was a cheap piece of crap. Everything about it screamed “CHEAP!”

But it was cute.

I swear to all that is sacred, my friend simply gushed over how friendly and cute it looked. She could put little magnets to hold up decorative “eyelashes” over the headlights, and la di da di da. It came in a lovely shade of metallic blue, and isn’t it just so friendly looking? [This was the same kind of drivel I heard repeated from many quarters when Volkswagen came out with their re-designed Beetle. Oh… whatever, people.]

“You know, rainyfriend, my Saturn has been very reliable, and the one we looked at has all the features you wanted…”

“No. This is it. This one.”

So she bought the Neon.

It was a piece of crap from Day One. She was always having to take it to the shop. She was always annoyed that it didn’t have this feature or that feature that she had previously said she really wanted. And to top it all off, after we negotiated the deal (and we did a fine job negotiating, if I don’t say so, myself), the sales douche actually had the balls to say that he was losing money on the deal, but it was the end of the month and this way he made his quota and this car could finally find a good home.

Oh, shut the hell up, sales douche. You already sold the car, and you’re not just a liar, you’re an idiot if you think we believe that you’d sell a car at a loss. Come. On.

So, why do I bring all this up?

  • It was my first (and very real) taste of just how differently society treats men and women, and that difference is decidedly unfair and inappropriate…
  • And yet, that difference wasn’t entirely unfounded. Unfair, yes, but not entirely unfounded. My smart, business-savvy friend turned into exactly the kind of bozo they anticipated her to be.
  • There’s a difference between compromise and settling. Compromise is necessary (and not necessarily a bad thing) in all aspects of life. Settling is not. [More on this in a previous and a future post]
  • What we think we want or need and what we actually want or need are not always the same thing.

My friend made two crucial mistakes. The first is that looks completely overrode all other considerations on her “wish list.” When she wrote out what she wanted on paper, she described the Saturn. But when it came time to buy, it was all about how the car looked.

The second mistake was not waiting to check out the new Toyotas… or even going to another dealership that probably had the model she was interested in. Instead of rushing into the first car that looked good, she should have waited. I suspect that the Toyota would have struck the balance she desired between features and looks. It might not have been as cute as the neon, and it might not have had the perfect match to her list of desires like the Saturn had, but it almost certainly would have presented a compromise that she could live with for the long haul.

I’ve been meaning for some time to comment on the differences (and the samenesses) between (among) men and women. This post lays down some of the background for that. But there’s also the issue of compromise versus settling…

…and, if you think all this car buying brou-haha is a metaphor for how we sometimes behave in our romantic lives, you’d be right.



  1. Wow. Made me think of all my current drama. I’d have to say, I liked the full package, but the fit wasn’t right…and the cost was too great. Fantastic metaphor.

    Now I can’t stop thinking, which is precisely what you intended, you crafty blogger!

    Thanks for EVERYTHING.

  2. I have absolutely nothing interesting or salient to add. My only comment is “thank you.” This was a very well-written, interesting piece of social commentary. I enjoyed it greatly. I’ll leave the analysis up to those who are better qualified.

  3. This was told to me by Sandy and Darryl Bem, both of whom are Psychology Professors at Cornell University.

    The Bems, being well-versed in the area of sex roles and psychology, had decided to raise their children androgynously. This included not only the typical male-toy/female-toy aspects, but they were also very careful not to impose any of their own learned sex role socialization upon their children. For example, a frequent phrase was “the only difference between a male and female is that a male has a penis and a female has a vagina.” When the parents were asked whether a person that the child could see was male or female, they would reply (even if the parents could tell which it was), “I don’t know, dear, they have pants on, so we can’t see if they are male or female.”

    One day, their son (then in Kindergarten) decided that he wanted to wear hair barrettes to school. Sandy and Darryl, of course, acquiesced and put barrettes in his hair.

    That night, they got a phone call from his teacher (who knew about the Bems’ rearing plan), who related the following story:

    Upon arriving at school, another boy came up to their son and asked why he was wearing barrettes in his hair. Little Bem replied, “Because I felt like it.” The other boy was visibly upset at this, but walked away.

    A little while later, the boy comes back and says, “Why are you wearing barrettes in your hair? Only girls wear barrettes; you must be a girl.” Bem, true to his upbringing, replies, “I am not a girl; I have a penis and testicles, girls have a vagina.” The boy once again walks away.

    During recess, the boy comes back once again, and insists that Bem is a girl because he is wearing barrettes. Once again, “The only difference between boys and girls is that boys have a penis and testicles and girls have a vagina.”

    The little boy exclaims, “You must be a girl; you’re wearing barrettes.” But Bem replies, “I’m a boy; I have a penis and testicles. Look–I’ll show you!” At this point, Bem pulls down his pants to prove that he has a penis and testicles…

    The boy replies, “Everybody has one of those, but only girls wear barrettes.”

  4. This post is absolutely perfect. PERFECT. You are so right on so many levels. This has also been my experience in both car buying and relationships. I can’t wait to read the next one. Hurry please.

  5. @Taed

    Very cute story! If true, it proves that we need realistic and age-appropriate sex education.


    My son would LOVE to sell you his Saturn and buy a Toyota or a Nissan. He’s had nothing but expensive troubles and shoddy service since he bought it.

    I had an interesting experience when I bought my latest vehicle. My salesperson was a female (which set my wife’s defenses on full alert and shoot to kill) with a relatively low-key delivery, which I liked considerably. I happen to hate car shopping (even though I once made one sales guy’s eyes pop out of his head when I popped out four gold cards for my credit check! Those were the days!) and really wish I could avoid dealing with humans in the process altogether.

    All of that aside, I once had a series of article written by an newspaper reporter from the Bay Area who went undercover as a car salesman to expose the process of car sales from that side of the table. They are hammered with lots of sales psychology intended to wear down resistance and improve the prospects. Demographically, women do really care more about how something looks than its other features just are rainsfriend demonstrated in your experience. This psychology has decades of research data to back up the method taught to sales people, and there really is little variance in how it is applied because people are so easy to manipulate. So until we can change, the system won’t – kind of like relationships based on pre-conceived notions of proper deportment between the genders being created by settling for the best partner believes one can get.

    • This event took place in 1993. My first “new” car was a 1992 Saturn SL2, which was actually one of the best sub-compacts of its day. Saturn at the time was a reputable company; after GM took it into the fold, they gutted it and ceased production of anything even remotely interesting.

      Holy cow. That’s almost twenty years ago. [shudder]

      I don’t expect I’ll ever own a sub-compact again. Those days are long gone.

  6. Dustin is in car sales. As in one of the top in the world for his company. Nuff said. I am not like most women…being from the midwest and being raised to know my tractors and trucks I could have told you the Neon was a huge piece of shit. And mini vans are for dorks:) I had to, I”m sorry:) But they are good for getting some fun done in the back seat:)

    • I’m with you Shannon, but maybe that stems from my dad being in the business for years. Only certain vehicles are considered worthy in our household and a Neon sure as hell wouldn’t cut it!

  7. Okay, I know this post is not really about cars, but I need to share this story:

    In 2003, I was shopping for a new Nissan Maxima. I already owned a 2000 Maxima, but I didn’t love the way it “looked”.
    I am the woman who asks about horsepower and torque, and if the salesman doesn’t know offhand, I move on!

    So….. I’m at the Nissan dealer and I mention that the price seems a little steep. HE SAYS….”If you think so, go across the street to Infiniti and check out the G35. Then you’ll appreciate our pricing.”

    Well…..I did exactly as he said. And, I loved the G35. WAY more than the Maxima. I then went to another dealer and dealt with the Fleet Mananger (people….that’s who you BUY from…) and bought a 2003 Infiniti G35. I now own a 2007 G35….(yep, my second one, I LOVE THEM!)

    I send that Nissan dealer a THANK YOU card every year at Christmas!

    I am in love with my G35. Looks, power, style, etc. It’s my “perfect mate”….. LOL

    • You’re right, Leah, the post isn’t really about cars, although it’s fun to read the tangents (and, as you can see, it’s easy for me to get sucked into those tangents, myself!) Love your story, too.

      More on metaphors later, I reckon.

  8. After some thought, itneverrains, I suspect you are accusing us women of being a little — shallow. We like style but no substance. You worry that no one is going to look under your hood.

    Well, honey, I’ll have you know that one of the great hallmarks of MOST women (save for the LEMON you married) is that we are both easily amused and go for the simple things in life.

    Men fit BOTH bills. Not too much to worry about (most men don’t MAKE drama) and, well, have you seen most men naked? If there is a God, there is humor running a muck with the creation of man. Women like to be amused so seeing you naked fills us with nightly glee.

    I’m pretty sure when the time comes, someone will kick your tires, check under your hood, and take you out for a test drive. Wait! I get it! After all this time of being left in the garage, you’re worried about PERFORMANCE.

    Good thing women don’t worry about the performance of their vehicles. (giggle). I guess you better wash and wax though…

  9. when i bought my car, i wanted The Ex (we were still together then) to go with me. I looked at cars based solely on how they looked–and i had to have a silver car. i wanted leather seats and a sunroof. these were my requirements.
    i was a terrible negotiator and know i got screwed over. i will learn next time to ALWAYS walk away. i even brought my parents with me, but still i got screwed. oh well.

    btw, i know a lot of people don’t like her, but dr. laura is adamant about how guys have feelings too. and the women’s movement has kind of (i think) really put a damper on relationships bc we tend to blame everything on men. i really believe in her mantra though that we need to appreciate men–because yes, they have feelings too. and seriously i want to smack the women who won’t let a guy open the door. this is what’s wrong with teh world today.

  10. LMAO @ Suzanne. That was priceless!!!

    @imerika…. Great point about men having feelings. In my opinion they feel deeper and hurt longer than most women do. Oh, they cover it up better and will die before admitting it to us, but WE women know better.
    Case in point, Penny is not blogging (as far as we know…)
    Instead, her wounded husband is pouring his heart out.

  11. Although I get the analogy, I think this post, in particular, showcases some basic differences between men & women that perhaps those raised with more liberal persuasions weren’t taught. Women are often grounded more on emotions (it’s cute!) while men defer to logic (the other fits all your requirements!).

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