I am a hypocrite. I have spent the better part of my adult life proselytizing that only suckers buy new cars, to the point where my friends would avoid mentioning a new car purchase. And on Valentine’s Day of this year, I drove away from a Houston-area Honda dealership with a brand new Fit LX.
It was the base package and had steel wheels. The clutch hung onto its revs during shifts like a toddler clenching to a security blanket being torn away by a cruel daycare overseer. But for the first time in the three months I spent researching and viewing vehicles, I felt both relieved and satisfied.
But wait, let’s back up. This is like reading the end of “Flowers for Algernon” before getting to the meat of the story. Starting in September of 2013, I daily-drove a $2600 1994 Mazda Miata for over a year (minus air conditioning for half the time) in the subtropical Houston heat. I loved it, though it was beat to shit and held an electrical grudge from my attempts to use a Yuasa motorcycle battery instead of the proper AGM battery (in my defense, that was during an era of incredible broke-ness).
No power steering and crank windows led me to the realization that I need something different, something practical, something respectable. After two years working at a startup I cofounded out of college, I was left with a negative net worth. My friends were driving new 335i’s. I was driving a 22 year old roadster with a dearth of interior room that occasionally left me in situations like this:
So I decided I’d grow up. My goals: under 10k, stickshift, newer than the year 2000, under 100,000 miles, in the Houston-Dallas-Austin triangle. The choices came down to the NC Miata (equal practicality to the NA, more usability), the first-gen Mazda 3 (dynamically excellent, infinitely more respectable), and incredibly dumb shit like 540i 6MT’s and Z3 coupes and C4 Corvettes (which checked none of the boxes, but how bitchin’ would it be to have a C4?!).
The hunt began. After rooting through the vast majority of Craigslist and Autotrader posts, I quickly realized that I was snipe-hunting a unicorn. The majority of my resistance came from my insistence on a manual transmission. The most common statements paired with a MT-equipped vehicle’s classified ad:
“Car is immaculate. Has salvage title from minor fender bender” Carfax response: “Severe subframe damage.”
“One-owner car.” Carfax response: “Car has had six owners in the past year.”
“Body panels straight, new tires.” Real life: Car smells like a D2 sorority bathroom and every panel looks like it was touched by a Captain Hook/Hellen Keller hybrid.
I spent two months looking for cars. My employer became increasingly dissatisfied by my willingness to take a day off to go up to Dallas or Austin and look at a clapped-out Mazda Protégé. The better parts of several weekends were spent riding Greyhound buses to neighboring municipalities, discovering that the car in question was garbage, getting drunk as hell while browsing Autotrader at the nearest bar to the bus station, and sleeping off the hangover on the Night Dog.
To compound this, the Miata decided it was done living and relinquished its grip of both the clutch and the hydraulics in one fell swoop. My garage situation consists of the warehouse at my workplace and whatever time I can scrounge on my lunch break. Between waiting on parts, realizing more shit was broken and ordering additional parts, and the actual labor, it was down for the better part of a month. On the plus side, I had quit the startup and frighteningly mature things like being gainfully employed and receiving regular paychecks crept into my life. Huzzah!
So I readjusted my aim. The Fit, which was Honda’s last bastion of the once-proud triumvirate of cheap, fun, and practical, would fit (ha) the bill nicely. Excellent dynamics, a manual gearbox, and a spirit-is-willing-but-flesh-is-weak engine would sate my Miata-esque need for a vehicle that would be sporty and fun, while simultaneously not getting me laid. It’s also typically owned by lame-ass people, which I thought I wanted to be.
I inspected a couple local vehicles. One was teetering slightly past the 100k mark. It had been well-kept, but was on the original clutch, struts, brake pads & rotors(?), and the tire situation was dire. That adds up to a good $2000 in parts alone, so I had to pass. The next one was at the dealership at which my mother bought her ‘01 Prelude new. By the smell, this car had apparently been used as a mobile dog-breeding mill, and possessed NVH problems that led me to ask the salesman if it had a broken motor mount (which after a brief trip to the dealership garage, had him explaining that it had a broken motor mount, which mounts the motor, and for which the part was unavailable until mid-next week).
So like a fool, I asked to drive a new one. It was the ugliest car I had ever laid eyes upon. While previous Fits conveyed a visage of a second-trimester pregnant woman in running apparel, the new one looked like a fat alien breedsac attached to the side of a starship. The thin plastic wheelcovers stood as a rolling testament to the thin veneer of dignity that the purchase of a new car belies upon its owner. A lack of forward, aft, and rear visibility reminded me of the Regular Car Reviews guy explaining the reasons behind thick pillars in modern cars.
And I loved it. And I bargained it down to 16k including tax, title, and license. And I bought it.
The wheels were swapped for Rota RB’s, which the internet tells me will explode into torso-seeking shrapnel when faced with a large bump. The dealership sticker was removed, as to not convey to the general public what a sucker I am. And the USB port was plugged with a tiny Sandisk drive with the cruelest, most vulgar rap music I could find. For the last two months, I’ve driven to work with the knowledge that if this car was going to be fucked up, it would be me doing the fucking.
So here I am: a desperate hypocrite. I didn’t just throw in the towel - I gingerly folded it into a cushion, placed it at the feet of the American God of Cheap Credit, and committed myself to a kneeling position for the next 48 months at 1.9% interest. I’ll drive the shit out this car for five years and sell it for $10,000. And while it may not get me laid, getting to be inside a virgin (car) is absolutely worth it.