My car history part 19: Decision made!

I was still struggling to choose my next car; one that would suit my particular set of needs, but primarily, one that would have suitable shaped supportive seats for my back problems.

I’d test driven 7 different cars:

  • Peugeot RCZ 1.6T 200
  • Nissan 350Z 3.0
  • Mazda MX-5 Mk3.5 2.0
  • Volvo C30 2.5
  • Mercedes SLK 1.8
  • Toyota GT86
  • Jaguar XF 3.0D

I’d liked the RCZ but was put off by it’s ‘Frenchness’, high price for the model I really wanted, and I wasn’t yet convinced about its seat comfort.

The 350Z had been great fun but my coccyx had screamed blue murder at me.

The MX-5 was almost as fun as my 20 year old model, and although improved on the gearing and road noise, still wasn’t ideal for my daily commute.

The Volvo had surprised me with it’s power and comfort, but had lacked a certain sportiness and hadn’t felt quite ‘me’.

Maybe I needed a set of fangs.

Volvo C30 - for Vampires only?
Volvo C30 – for Vampires only?

The Mercedes SLK had also surprised me with it’s unexpected lack of German character and it’s sheer fun factor; but the model I wanted was out of my budget.

The GT86’s seats had failed dismally without having even got out of the showroom: I just couldn’t get comfortable. Plus it was way over my budget.

The Jaguar XF was an impressive car, but far too big and heavy for my particular likes.

I was down to my final option: the BMW Z4.

Would I like it?

Well… I took one for a spin, explaining both my back problems and the need for something ‘comfortable’ and not too noisy on my commute.

The salesman was one of those types that talks a lot and listens little. He ‘knew’ what I want and dismissed everything I said. I explained again how I needed to get the car up to 60 or 70 (not unreasonable on a test drive) to check the gearing and road noise, and I suggested a short route to get to an appropriate road.

He insisted on doing it his way, and took me to a 40mph road that he suggested we could get up to a decent speed on.

Due to other traffic, I didn’t make it over 35mph.

So I wasn’t really able to see how it compared with the MX-5 in terms of high revving/gear ratio and noise through the softtop at speed.

However, I’d already decided I didn’t like the car – it reminded me too much of the BMW 3 series I’d owned – it lacked ‘soul’.

It just wasn’t fun.

Yes, I imagine a larger engine one could be fun, but then that would take me over budget and leave me with a gas guzzling beast.

So: back to the drawing board.

Realistically, I was left with only the RCZ.

Or was I?

I spent a few more weeks looking at alternatives, but nothing floated my boat.

I looked for cheaper RCZs.

I looked at hiring one for a few days, to get a better test drive and ensure I’d be making the right decision, but couldn’t find any locally.

I looked for cheaper SLKs.

And found them.

I really didn’t want the older model, the facelift was slightly ‘prettier’ and packed a few more horses under the bonnet, the former having 163bhp and the preferred having been tweaked to 184bhp – and that was only just enough really for me.

The problem in searching for them was that the model change had come in mid year, so looking for 2008 cars in my price range tended to return just the older models. But by regularly checking, and scouring every picture to try and work out which one it was, I was finding a few private sales at around the 10K mark.

Their mileage was a little high compared to the RCZ – around 70K+ – but I could live with that. What I was fussy about was that I wanted heated leather seats; cold leather is unpleasant in the UK climate. Heated seats also assisted with my back problems.

Mercedes SLK
Mercedes SLK

A few ideal specimens came up over the course of a few weeks – I wasn’t going to rush this (not this time!!) – and I made enquires. There were the usual problems: that’s one already sold, we have another coming in – costs more, or the wrong colour, or the wrong spec; yes that’s available, but it’s a Cat D/damaged car; ah, we can’t find the service history sir, or, oh yes sir, that is available, but there was an error in the advert and it doesn’t currently have an engine or wheelsok, that last one was an exaggeration, but that’s more or less how it was going.

A lot were simply too far for me to travel. I was looking at locations near to my home or my work (being 50 miles apart anyway), but even if I tried to leave work early to see a car, the garage was often closed. Private sales were better in that sense, but I didn’t seem to be finding any locally.

Weekends were the best time to travel, but I normally had to pick up my six year old daughter by 5pm on the Saturday, so that complicated matters.

However, what appeared to be the perfect car came up in London, mid week, when I was taking my daughter for the whole weekend. I realised that she loves the train; so we could make a day out of it, and break up the drive home with a treat, going for a pub dinner.

I made enquiries about the car.

It sounded ideal: the right spec, with heated leather seats, the right colour, mid mileage. The owner would be around to show me at midday on the Saturday, so we could easily get a train down and make it a fun day trip.

Yet there was a nagging doubt at the back of my head: what’s wrong with it?

We all get that feeling sometimes when we’re about to buy a car, or something else relatively expensive. But the price seemed too low; was something mechanically wrong with it?

It had only recently had an MOT – on which there were no advisories. The owner seemed to have a genuine reason for sale.

Perhaps it was a good one.

Being a private sale though, there were no guarantees. So I decided to look into local or mobile garages that perhaps could give it a quick once over. I checked with the owner, and he was happy for me to do this – there was no hesitation, so I got a slightly better feeling already; perhaps he had nothing to hide.

I contacted a few mobile companies but they didn’t have any free slots that day; the most local garage was only open in the morning. However, it seemed that there was a Halfords Autocentre very close by. I rang them up, and asked if they offered any kind of pre-purchasing car check.

Apparently they offer a free, 12 point, safety check. The very helpful guy on the phone ran through the points checked.

It sounded ideal.

I asked if I could book in a slot for that day and he assured me that it was no problem.

All sorted…

My daughter loved the train journey down; we made the most of the trip and had a picnic on board, and I promised to take her for some pub food on the way home again. She was even keen to see the new car, perhaps my car obsessions over the years having made some impression on her (oh dear).

We met the owner at the large Sainsburys car park, just next to the Halfords.

The car looked a beaut. All the docs checked out. I hopped in the passenger seat and my daughter sat on my lap for the very short drive across to Halfords – where all hell was breaking loose.

Several cars were queued up, and we could see several in the workshop, on ramps, having work done, by several frantic
looking mechanics, running around like headless chickens.

Leaving the owner outside I popped into reception to confirm my appointment. There was no one at the desk. After a few minutes I heard car horns outside – the SLK was blocking the workshop entrance.

We moved it, a car drove out of the workshop, and another drove in. Spotting a mechanic, I started to say I had an appointment, and was quickly told to speak to ‘the gaffer’, who was also running around looking somewhat harangued.

I finally managed to get his attention.

I repeated my comment that I had an appointment for a safety check.

I got a surly response of “yeah you’ll be lucky” or words to that effect.

Recovering myself from this unexpected rudeness, I went on to politely say that I’d rang in and pre-booked a slot. He looked around at the ramps in a pre-occupied manner and finally told me that I’d have to leave the car with him, and he might be able to fit it in, but it wouldn’t be done until the end of the day.

I explained that I was here with the owner of the car and he wouldn’t be happy to wait around, and neither could I. He basically said “well I’ve got no ramps so what can I do“.

I explained again that I’d called in and specifically booked an appointment, and had told them on the phone the situation
and had even checked how long it would take, and I’d been told there would be no problem.

He replied more or less along the lines of “so what, if I don’t have a ramp, I don’t have a ramp“. He then added that bookings weren’t guaranteed.

I was stood there, in the rain, with a rather awkward looking owner and my six year old daughter.

I attempted again, explaining that I had travelled down from Nottingham to Hendon on a train, specifically to see this car, and to get it looked over, and could he possibly help.

He glanced around again at his busy bay and simply replied “it’ll be the end of the day“.

I looked at the car owner whose look told me that wasn’t acceptable, so in desperation I asked if it were possible for someone to have “just a quick check“. He replied in an unnecessarily harsh tone that there was “no such thing as a quick check“.

We were forced to leave.

It was too late on a Saturday afternoon to be able to get anyone else to check the vehicle.

I’d come all that way…

So what did I do?

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