Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Letters to Doug, a weekly Jalopnik column where Doug sifts through dozens of spam e-mails in order to find a good letter about cars.
If you’d like to participate in Letters to Doug, you can! Just send an e-mail to me at Letters2Doug@gmail.com with your question. And don’t worry! I’ll change the name of the letter writer, just in case you have a stupid question like “What’s the best way to extinguish a Volkswagen Touareg that is currently on fire?”
Today’s letter comes to us from a Canadian reader I’ve named Ichabod. Ichabod writes:
Today, I bring you a question that goes against the very core of Jalop ideology. My girlfriend is looking to replace her car that got wrote off, and try as I might, I can’t get her interested in modern cars past the point of seeing them as appliances to get you from point A to B (although I have her able to distinguish Subaru’s from other cars, so I guess that’s a start…). So, my question for you is; What is the best 5-10 year old used car for someone who is not even remotely interested in used cars?
For those of you who don’t want to read Ichabod’s full letter, allow me to sum it up in roughly the same amount of words: his girlfriend just wants a simple, basic, appliance-like car to get from Point A to Point B. So what the hell do you do as a car enthusiast when someone wants car advice but has no interest in a fun car?
Well, Ichabod, I’m glad you’ve asked this question because I’ve been faced with this problem on many, many occasions, and I’m going to explain exactly how I’ve handled it.
Early on in my career as a human, I would get this question and I would tell people to get something fun, even if they weren’t interested in something fun. So what would happen is, they would come to me and say something like “I really want a Solara!” and I would say “No way! Get a Mustang!” And they would listen to me, and they’d get a Mustang, and for a while they’d be really happy.
And then, inevitably, something in the Mustang would break.
This would, of course, always be a minor issue; something I could have never predicted; something that takes very little effort to fix, but something that still requires an annoying trip to the dealer, and time off work to pick up the car, and a Ford Fiesta service loaner, and a few bucks out of their wallet.
What would happen next was always the same: the person would call me up, let me know what happened, and say: If only I had bought that Solara, like I wanted…
Then it was my fault. I recommended the weird car, the fun car, the oddball. If they had gone for the normal car, the one they wanted, the one Consumer Reports recommended after using it extensively for grocery shopping at Whole Foods in New London, Connecticut (Motto: Our parking spots are specially designed for E-Class Wagons and Land Cruisers!), they wouldn’t be having this problem. From then on, any issue, any problem, any fault was blamed exclusively on me.
So after a few of those, Ichabod, I learned something: STOP RECOMMENDING UNUSUAL CARS TO NON-ENTHUSIASTS.
These days, when non-enthusiasts contact me with car questions, I always take the following strategy: I ask them what they want to buy. They give me their budget, and their parameters, and their wants, and their needs, and I say: “Oh, what were you thinking?” And they inevitably say something like “Honda Civic,” because every person they’ve ever known has owned a Honda Civic, and so I say: “Great! You should get that!”
Now, on the inside, I’m screaming that they should actually get a Mazda3, or maybe a Focus, or even a used Lexus IS, or a used Sonata, or a Hummer H1, or something with some sort of character. But here’s the situation: if I even breathe the words “you should get” and the car has any sort of flaw or problem, I will be blamed for this flaw or problem. I recommended the bizarre vehicle. It is my fault that it is broken. If they had only gone with that Civic they wanted, they wouldn’t have any issues, and they would have perfect fuel economy, and an excellent ride, and it would also tuck them in at night before bed.
And so, Ichabod, this is my strategy: recommend something boring. Recommend something dull. Recommend something mainstream. Unless you want to get that dreaded call one afternoon six months from now: “Hey, Ichabod, it’s me. My tire went flat. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten the Mazda3. The Civic never has flat tires. Also, it rescues endangered animals.”
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.