Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Chris Deerin: The pain of buying a new car makes me want to stick with my reliable old banger

Does anyone really enjoy visiting car showrooms? (Photo: photocritical/Shutterstock)
Does anyone really enjoy visiting car showrooms? (Photo: photocritical/Shutterstock)

I had a nice car once. It was sleek and fast and feral-looking and driving it made me feel dangerous, like Charles Bronson on a semi-broken Appaloosa.

I picked up my then-girlfriend, now wife, for a date shortly after collecting it from the garage, and she still talks about her thrill at seeing this growling, muscled monster hunched at the kerbside (yes, yes, the car impressed her too).

Chris Deerin

Anyway, it’s all been downhill since, so to speak. A few years later I took delivery of the updated model to find the weirdos at HQ had redesigned it to have the ergonomics and aerodynamics of a Motability scooter. I was now Gabby Hayes on a pit pony.

Along came marriage, mortgages, a kid, a second, a third, and a large and energetic dog. The prospect of a pricey beast in the driveway became both a financial and logistical impracticality. We needed space and lots of it, preferably for as few British pounds as possible: so began the Zafira era. It has been 12 years since I have driven anything other than a cheap, boxy people carrier, and in that time I have become, largely through necessity, vehicularly unembarrassable.

I’m easy meat for slick salesmen

But last week we reached the point at which we could no longer deny the need for change. Our nine-year-old machine has been reliable, is long paid-off, and has served us well. But it is knocking on, and bears its scars much in the way Mars displays its meteor craters – that time I misjudged the wall coming into our driveway; the time I reversed into a neighbour’s trailer; the time, trying to let a lorry past on a narrow country road, I backed into a deep ditch (he had a winch in the back and kindly stopped to pull us out – not just a winch but around 30 dead sheep, further traumatising our then 10-year-old).

Three kids and a big, energetic dog requires a roomy car (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Change meant – shudder – a trip to that creepy liminal zone every town has which is home to nothing but car salesrooms, maybe the odd storage unit and, of course, a Greggs. These are the strangest places on earth: civically unsculpted and sparsely peopled, only ever passed through at speed, their wares extravagantly displayed out front yet invisible for years at a time. And in their hangars sit that curious, unnerving breed and deathless movie trope, the car salesmen.

The truth is I know nothing about cars, have no real interest in them, and view the purchasing experience only as an opportunity to be ripped off five ways to Friday. I am suggestible, which means I am easy meat for the slicker type of hustler, and am unmanned by guys who confidently use phrases such as torque, camshaft and drivetrain. When you get to fluid coupling, rubber-isolated crossmember and monocoque, I’m wondering whether I’ve come to the wrong kind of shop.

Shouldn’t it be a buyer’s market?

I decided to do some advance research, and became mildly optimistic at learning the car industry – like many others, thanks to Covid – is in a bit of a state. In July, new car registrations were down 29.5% compared to the previous year. There is a computer chip shortage, which means manufacturers are unable to build and deliver cars as quickly as usual. There has been a 28.7% drop in fleet registrations, and private registrations are down 10.7%. This, I thought, is a buyer’s market.

The salesman hovered for a while, and then pounced. Actually, he sort of shuffled into our eyeline. He looked sad

What a fool. We had a specific SUV in mind and after various wrong turns eventually found the right showroom. Sitting in the desired model, my wife decided it was too big. Her eyes alighted on a tiny thing in the corner, with the proportions of a roller skate. Meanwhile I had spotted a long, reptilian number with pleasingly satanic lights.

The salesman hovered for a while, and then pounced. Actually, he sort of shuffled into our eyeline. He looked sad, and though he spoke to us of horsepower, faux leather seats and voice-controlled entertainment systems, his heart clearly wasn’t in it. “Do you have this in any other colours?” I asked, pointing to the reptile. “I might have a blue one out the back,” he replied. “I’m not so keen on blue cars,” I said. “Oh,” he responded, looking at his shoes. I pointed to our bashed, aged saloon: “Could we trade that in?” “Probably,” he sighed, and wandered off. I think he might have hid in the toilets.

I started to wonder – is this a clever double bluff? Is he after a sympathy purchase? Has the psychology of car-selling grown so crafty over the past nine years? And: does he know that I know? Does he know that I know that he knows that I know? I began to feel dizzy. We had been beaten. We got into old reliable and drove home.

Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank Reform Scotland

Read more by Chris Deerin:

Already a subscriber? Sign in