A nervous Porter prepares to take the plunge into the used car market

- @sniffpetro­l

‘Buying a used car, sight unseen, that’s where the stomach butterflie­s live’

THERE ARE MANY TIMES IN LIFE YOU’VE probably been nervous, such as before a school exam or during an attempt to remove a new tax disc from its surround without tearing it. Fortunatel­y, tax discs have been abolished and exams are one of those things I assume I’ll never experience in adult life, like being asked for ID in a pub or falling off a BMX. But I’ve just discovered a new avenue of nervousnes­s to summon up that fluttering feeling of helium in your lungs and a knot in your gut: agreeing to buy a car without seeing it. And I know, because I’ve just done it.

Technicall­y I’ve done this before, but that was with new cars, fresh from the factory. You assume a brand new car will arrive in perfect nick. After all, even Trabant had a quality control department, though it was pretty much just a couple of perma-smoking blokes with mullets whose job it was to whack iffy door fits into line with a mallet and then check the wheels were mostly attached. Worst case scenario, a new car has a warranty and if you discover an imperfecti­on you can kick up a stink until it’s fixed. Unless it’s a Trabant. Their warranty desk phone seems to have been disconnect­ed.

Buying a used car, sight unseen, that’s where the stomach butterflie­s live. And this is especially true if it’s a car that is, shall we say, past its prime. Because cars, like people, develop multiple faults and issues as they age. There are the ‘they all do that sir’ sort of ailments like knackered wheel bearings or a sudden need for reading glasses, but there’s also the random stuff like inexplicab­le failure of the speedo, or gout.

You can try to get ahead of these things by reading a buyers’ guide, which will warn you of the common faults specific to a given car, but I’ve got mixed feelings about such guides, the same way I’m dubious about articles that start ‘here’s a common condition most people in their 40s don’t know about’. You read one of those articles, it tells you that statistica­lly speaking you’re at high risk of one of your ears falling off and then – guess what? – one of your ears falls off. Or you’re so distracted by worrying about one of your ears falling off that you accidental­ly walk out in front of a bin lorry. Cars, I know, cannot be psychosoma­tic but... well, it’s as if sometimes they are. You learn, out of the blue, that your car is prone to suspension failure and two days later you’re sitting by the A34 in what appears to be a low rider. But only at the front. So, by way of foolish and illogical superstiti­on, I try not to obsess over the buyers’ guides for cars I’ve already decided that I want. It’d be like falling in love with someone and then having their sister provide you with a detailed list of all their annoying habits. No need to spoil the moment, just hope that none of the issues is too severe.

I’m applying the same logic to this car I’ve just agreed to buy but which I haven’t seen in person. Of course, I’ve looked at pictures but, as a car trader of my acquaintan­ce is fond of saying in such circumstan­ces, all pictures are lies. Heaven knows what this car will be like when I go to pick it up next week. It sounds great, of course it does. Or rather, it sounds great for the money. Which isn’t much, either in general terms or for this specific model.

From chatting to the current owner, I do at least know what’s been done to it recently. And that’s fine. But it’s what hasn’t been done that’s the concern. And what was or wasn’t done by the owner before that who, the seller has been honest enough to admit, appeared to be clueless. This is fuelling a small part of my nervousnes­s. This thing’s lived a whole life I know nothing about.

Most of my nervousnes­s, however, comes from a simpler, short-term concern, which is that I’ll make a special effort to travel halfway across the country only to discover that this car, this car that I really want and that I really want to be good, is, in fact, a horrible basket of cack. At which point the sensible me, the me that’s supposed to know about cars and have the pragmatism that knowledge brings, should walk away. Even though I’m there. And even though I’ve no return train ticket. And even though many of the things are probably fixable. But if it’s really bad, no money has changed hands. No harm, no foul, I’m heading back to the station. Probably.

In the next evo I’ll tell you how it went. Unless it went badly, in which case let’s never speak of this again. In the meantime I’ll just sit here feeling like next week I’ve got a practical exam at school and the subject is tearing out new tax discs.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom