The emancipation of the male car buyer: the evolution of ‘car guy’ to ‘car person’

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Musings on luxury and leisure, post annus horribilis
It seems that with the restrictions in overseas travel and holidays we have had to focus on alternative luxury spend items. Car sales, for example, seem to have filled some of that luxury expenditure space. Which has me thinking, buying a car is not what it once was – luxury seems to have replaced utility as new criteria emerge for our big-ticket car purchases.

The luxury of car buying was a traditionally macho ritual, like a mating dance where ‘he’ showed what ‘he’ was made of and thereby challenged other males in the herd. And it certainly wasn’t easy for all the ‘hims’, because when it came to cars, not all ‘hims’ were created equal.

Me buying a car, circa 1980

First, get some facts and figures: cc’s and mpg – cubic centimetres and miles per gallon (back then it was perfectly legit to mix up the metrics and imperials, though mpg never really mattered that much, not really).

Any oil drips? Is it blowing smoke? How long will I need to run-it-in?

OK. Check the radiator for leaks! Column-change? Electric-windows – nice! How much extra for the automatic I wonder?

Now, let’s open the bonnet and get down to business. Oil looks clean, no gasket leaks that I can see? All good.

Must be pretty modern – there’s no choke. Compression test? – No way, it drives OK (mate!).

Rust – not enough to worry about; My friend owns a garage so the WOF won’t be a problem (and rust is not really a WOF issue anyway).

In my case Dad was a pro and he taught me well; His two best tips: check for carbon (soot) on the back bumper (too much = not good) and, check if the wear on the clutch pedal cover matches the mileage on the odometer – if I have to explain that one, then don’t worry about it.

I’ll take it! Car bought! Manhood acquired/restored – no sweat.

“The luxury of car buying was a traditionally macho ritual, like a mating dance where ‘he’ showed what ‘he’ was made of and thereby challenged other males in the herd.”

Me buying a car, 2021

What have I become? Oh father please forgive me, for I have sinned: The last three cars I bought, I never looked under the bonnet. Not even once. Oil check, NO. Coolant check, NO. Reset the spark plugs (I’m not sure if they even had spark plugs – sure couldn’t see them), NO.

So what ‘do’ I look for when buying a car now?

It’s ‘the vibe’ I think – and yes I can hear dad now reading this and yelling: “tell him he’s dreamin’.” But really, it is ‘the vibe’, right?

GPS. Hybrid. Electric. Keyless entry. Side airbags. Self-parking. Self-everything. Bluetooth-enabled. Autonomous (no way). Tints, rims, detailing, sport or super sport? Auto was extra, now manual costs more – What’s that about?

OK here it comes, the admission: When it comes to car buying, I have become my wife. I look at the size and shape of the key and it excites me.

I look at the texture of the seat upholstery – how will it clean and how will it be in the summer? No longer content with a heater, I now need heated seats.

Are the window tints hip enough? Should I do the badging in matt black or will chrome be ‘in’ again soon?

I know the dope rims are extra but hey, they’re worth every cent. How good is the Bluetooth connectivity? Are there USB ports for the kids in the boot?

I want the flamingo burgundy tropicana sunset colour I’ve seen on the billboard for the Super Sport GT City Motion Eco X, blah, blah, blah! … and, most importantly, what is the cup holder situation: are there four up front? Four in the back? And four in the back back?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pleased I no longer have to park at the top of the hill in case she (yes, guilty, when it wasn’t working it was always “she”) won’t start in the morning and I need a downhill run to jump-start her.

And I’m thankful I no longer have to do an all-points check before a longish journey – battery level, oil level, coolant level, map book. etc …

I revel in not needing to check the oil whenever I gas up. No longer even a slight pang of guilt at my self-indulgent recklessness.

How nice to have the engine start every morning, irrespective of the frost level on the lawn.

I admit it, buying a car now is no longer the ‘manly’ exercise it once was. The M’s and the F’s now have the same criteria in our house, and I’m good with that.

Though, I still have to check the tyre pressures – I guess that’s still part of my masculinity.

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Alan Neben
Alan Neben
Alan Neben is a Mount Maunganui local and experienced New Zealand publisher. His columns provide a light-hearted perspective on social changes effecting New Zealanders

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