Sunday, August 8, 2010

My First Car

Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal (Pointe Claire to be exact), one's freedom and ability to connect with one's peers was all about transportation.  And "cool" transportation if you could swing it.  So, within one month of landing my first full-time job, I shed my Honda 175cc motorcycle and bought myself a brand new 1969 Austin America.  I really wanted a Mini Cooper S or an MGB, but the America was less money and I could get in and out of it without a shoe-horn.
The Austin America (Austin's Morris Minor adapted for North America) had a 1275 cc Cooper S engine (so I got part of my wish).  The car had a manual transmission and was great fun to drive (when the weather was around 50 degrees F).  You see, British Leyland had developed an hydraulic suspension system which meant that when temperatures hit 90+ in the summer, the ride was soft and mushy and during a Montreal winter when temperatures hit levels that are about the same whether you use F or C scales, the suspension was rock hard.  During weather that was typical of Britain, it was perfect.

I guess I was influenced by my peers to buy a British Leyland vehicle as my first car.  My friends had MG-B's and Sprites.  One had an Austin Healey 3000.  These were fun cars but not particularly reliable.  To keep them running, you needed peer support.  Many a weekend was spent in each other's driveways tuning the carburetor or similar mechanical problem.  In those days, European cars were the only affordable small cars on the road.  The Japanese were just starting to show up in North America.  I can't say my decision was influenced by trying to strike out on a different path than my parents, however, there was something a bit more exotic about buying a non-American car.

When you buy your first car, there are lots of  new things to consider and topics requiring education.  I still remember visiting the local bank branch manager with my father to get pre-approved for a bank loan.  Now you can do that at the dealership and get a much better rate to boot.  My father also had me apply for a gas station credit card on the theory that you never wanted to be in the position of being out of gas and out of cash at the same time.  I still put all my gas purchases on the gas station card so I can easily keep track of what I am spending to run the car.  Some habits die hard.

I recently sold several cars in a row to first time buyers which prompted me to reflect on my own first car and the differences between then and now.  One thing that is always the same with a first car is the excitement (for both the buyer and the salesperson) of the first purchase.  This is a big event in one's life and should/can be a positive experience.  Now, there is a lot more help available (online particularly) and a lot more legislative protection for the buyer.  There is also a lot more choice and the concern by many young people that I meet that they might make the "wrong" selection.

Let me know about your first car purchase.  Was it a happy experience?  Did you make the "wrong" choice?  How did it colour your subsequent purchase behaviour?