As a kid, I spent hours of my life looking at cars with my Dad. 

Days, probably weeks of my childhood wandering around car showrooms viewing new and old alike, listening to him asking the seller all the right questions, kicking a few tyres.

When I think back, it’s probably one of my fondest childhood memories, especially when it was just the two of us together. I was his tomboy sidekick in a house full of females - both human and animal - so occasionally, we would leave the womenfolk to tend to the beasts and head off to look at something he had spotted in the Thames Valley Auto Trader (printed, of course).

I don’t ever remember being bored by any of these visits - especially to the local Mitsubishi dealer, where we were always welcomed like old friends and I was fed biscuits and glasses of orange squash by the doting receptionist.

Hailing from an era when children actually interacted with other adults and - shock horror! - they were expected to behave in public without having a pair of headphones surgically attached throughout the whole ordeal, I was always allowed to roam the showrooms whilst my Dad attempted to screw some unsuspecting Honest John out of that month’s bonus.

When I was about 5 years-old, I distinctly remember attempting to jump my bike off a small hill outside the local Nissan dealer, which ended in the most spectacularly obvious way. It’s no coincidence that my sister was there at the time - this, just one of many challenges that she set me which I duly accepted - to my own detriment - well into my teenage years.

At some point during these visits, if the car in question was deemed a ‘definite possible’ by my Dad, he would ask to see a copy of the HPI report and a few cups of coffee later, a fax machine would whirr into life and produce a flimsy, smudgy print out for him.

Now, I pretty much loathe most forms of modern technology unless they are suitably useful or time-saving. For me, it’s Moleskine diaries, not iPhone calendars; real Post-It notes, not virtual ones. 

So surely having the old-fashioned ‘car-fax’ system replaced by similar online and SMS services is a good thing, right? 

Instant access to information is one of the most genius developments of late, I agree. Especially when you can cheat at the pub quiz with the click of a button and spend the winnings on more gin, whilst your fellow drinkers wonder how someone so drunk can be so goddamn clever. Ahem.

But what if - over twenty years ago - my Dad could have found out whether that white-over-silver SWB Shogun with chrome bull-bars was a ringer before he left the house? Would he have still spent his Sunday afternoons trawling the local dealerships with his mini Evel Knievel in tow?

Some of the people that he dealt with back then became trusted partners - some even friends - in the quest to secure his next purchase. He got to know the good ones, the bad ones, to find out who was worth spending his money with and who was trying to rip him off. 

All of this counted towards very few poor choices in his car buying history (Citroen AX GT as my sister’s learner car: really?) because he committed time and energy into finding out exactly what was being offered to him by communicating with other human beings about it.

Imagine that - not having access to a million reviews, blogs, forums and posts about what faults to look for in a particular model, which dealers to trust, what the real-world mpg figures are versus the ones printed in the brochures that inevitably end up as temporary child-friendly distractions in the back of the car on the way home.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that my Dad doesn’t make use of this wealth of information when considering a purchase nowadays because that would be foolhardy, but still to this day he has a strong contact list of (mostly) small dealers who know his name when he walks through the door and who won’t try to rip him off.

It just makes good sense - getting to know someone who has a vested interest in selling you something that you need equals mutual benefits for all concerned. Hell, you might even make a new friend without having to suffer the embarrassment of wondering if they will click ‘Accept’.

This all gave me a good head-start in knowing how to strike a deal on a car, too - which is something I will always be grateful of - especially as I’m pretty sure most car dealers can’t think of anything worse than having a good deal screwed out of them, particularly by a woman. Figuratively speaking, of course. 

So, as my chavvy white Fiesta Zetec S is shortly coming to the end of its lease, I’m on the hunt for something new (old). It’s been a while since I convinced the nice chap at my local Ford dealer to give me a hefty discount which - coupled with his own calculation cock-up of the figures - has served me well these past two years.

I just have to remember: no wheelies outside the showroom this time. It’s a bit harder to get away with when you’re 28 years-old and your sister is nowhere near to take the blame when you split your head open. 


Papa Orridge