Whenever I meet someone for the first time, the first question they usually ask after they find out what it is I do for a quid is, “So, what kind of car should I buy? As flattering as it may be, and as much as I appreciate the weight they seem to place on my opinion, it is sort of like asking someone who you should marry. And even though I know that in most cases they have already made up their minds and are only shopping around for an endorsement, I actually do believe that cars can – and should be – purchased in much the same way as you would select a lifetime partner – and in some cases, the reverse can be applied. Bear with me, I have a point here somewhere.
Buying a car can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences there is on these twisty cambered roads of life. But it can also end up like a nightmare on Elm Street, too. It is the second biggest investment most people will ever make in their lifetime and getting stuck with a lemon can be as disturbing as that scene in the movie, the Crying game. You know the one.
But there are some ways to avoid the grief.
BMW put it well when they said, “Sometimes brand is more important than new” Insert ad here. While technology transfer and part sharing has reduced the quality gap between most different brands, and cars have become a lot more reliable, the same can't be said about the corporate culture of some of those that peddle them. It is one thing to have the latest and greatest model around, at an absolute steal of a price, but without the proper backing and infrastructure behind you, what good is it? It would be sort of like being the only guy in the world with a fax machine. Whoopie doo! Go fax yourself.
I’ve often said, “When you marry the girl you marry the family, the same should be applied to manufacturers.” Well... I’ve said it again. Go for a brand that you know will be here tomorrow. If you can’t pronounce they’re name, buy from someone else. Why invest in someone that doesn't invest in themselves. Once that new car smell subsides, the bitterness of those monthly payments linger on like a festering wound that just wont heal. And you'll want to be reassured that you have someone responsible backing your purchase and protecting that investment for you.
Let me give you another example. When I was house hunting a couple of years ago, I spent 40 days and 40 nights trying to carve out the best deal I could. Even though I would only be renting, I knew had to live with this place for the next few years at least. I was terribly thorough and pedantic about certain things and was extremely patient. I eventually found a house I loved, in a quiet street, close enough to my work, but far enough away for some peace and quiet, at a price I could realistically afford. It was perfect. Problem was, as I only found out later of course, was that I had the landlord from hell; honestly, I think even Lucifer himself may actually be one of her tenants.
It all started out ok, as these things always do, but once the first sign of problems kicked in, everything changed. After she got her post-dated checks, cashed in her six months in advance and her whopping deposit, she disappeared faster than Osama. She refused to fix anything, including faulty wiring, leaky pipes inside the walls and structural defects that caused major leaks in the roof. Needless to say, these things only showed up after we signed a long term lease. You could take all of her sincerity, place it in the navel of a mosquito, and still have enough room for a couple of poppy seeds and her stone cold heart. Think of her as a bad manufacturer. Or car dealer.
Now, buying a new car can be somewhat similar, and even the best of cars can have problems. No reasonable person will judge a manufacturer on what happened to their car, but more so on what happened about it. When shopping around, try and think five years down the track. Everything will always be rosy at the showroom level. Obviously. It is only once things go wrong that you can divide the manufacturers up into three categories – the good, the bad and the cowardly. When it comes time to get their help, some will make good, some will make trouble while some will just make excuses. Which one does yours belong to?
Which brings me to a more serious point. While there are still some local manufacturers that have yet to pull up their socks and match the standards of, say, Toyota or Honda, I'd like to segue to a far more pressing issue. The local automotive industry is still being choked by used imports that seem to just sail freely through our porous borders like Cebu and Subic. Last week, during a trip down south, I was appalled to see the amount of surplus, unwanted Japanese imports that were still floating around. This practice is incredibly short sighted and damaging and will eventually kill off an entire industry if it remains un addressed. We've tried lobbying the government, which ended up as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle, so now we appeal to you. Again.
As the auto industry creeps up to that magical and psychological '100,000 legitimate new car sold' barrier, they need your support now more than ever. Because you have more choices now than ever before, it also means you have more power. There's nothing stopping us from becoming what Thailand has become. In fact, with our literacy and command of the English language, we should surpass them. If you want the kind of choices and benefits that they get, all you have to do is do your bit. Reward your patronage only to those that have invested in the industry and those that have lifted the bar for you by offering you extended consumer protection and rock solid warranties.
Currently, because of the tempting price tags, the import channel is outselling the legitimate circles. Makes you wonder how long it will be before the big players like Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi etc throw the towel in? And, if the unthinkable happens, then what? You think the prices will remain the same? Forget it. It becomes a cartel, and you will be at the mercy of supply and demand – all of which will be controlled by a handful of very fat businessmen and a gaggle of corrupt government officials. You’ll look back on the good ‘ol days of gleaming showrooms, honored warranties and consumer protection and wince at the thought of how we let it get this bad and ended up shooting ourselves in the foot.
So, what car should you get? That's up to you still. But I can tell which ones you shouldn't. The buck stops here with you. Yes, you. You have the power to stop this from growing into an epidemic. Just remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. There's a long and exciting road ahead, but remember, its a two way street. So when choosing a vehicle, think about what message you want to drive home, too.