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Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2005 / 26 Teves, 5765

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Why does man suffer from the new car bug? | I've been fighting an illness lately: the new car bug.

I don't know why I man suddenly longs for a new car. Perhaps it's the cold weather. Perhaps it's the emptiness men feel after the holidays. This time of year a man questions every decision he's ever made   —   and realizes the only thing he ever had control over is his car.

I soon found myself consorting with men of questionable character in darkened lots, asking about horsepower, sticker price and did that previous owner really only drive the car to his bookie's house on Saturdays?

I own a car and a truck. My car is a 1998 Mazda 626 ES sports sedan. It's fully loaded and in mint condition. The truck is a 1992 Chevy S-10 pickup, also in mint condition. It's parked in my father's garage for all of my family to use.

About a month I began longing for a new truck, a high-riding 4X4 with big knobby tires and giant chrome bumpers. I longed to drive into snowstorms or deep into the wilderness. I had plans to look over a 2000 Ford Ranger 4X4 with only 36,000 miles when fortune struck.

My Uncle Jimmy wrecked into my car. It wasn't his fault, to be sure. EVERYONE drives into my car. It's been in seven incidents since I've owned it. It's been rebuilt and repainted twice.

Suddenly, with my fender crunched up, I decided I no longer was getting along with my car. I realized, in fact, that things hadn't been right for some time   —   that I'd purposely been overlooking numerous imperfections just so we could get along.

I was unaware, of course, that it was the dreaded car bug festering in me. I stopped going to the gym. I avoided friends and family. My entire purpose became the pursuit of a new car, a pursuit that made me feel younger and more vibrant than I had in years.

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I looked at a 2004 Pontiac GTO, fully loaded, with a six-speed manual transmission and 350 screaming horses under the hood. It had 4,000 miles on the odometer   —   by every measure a brand new car. Instead of paying the original $33,000.00 sticker price, I could have snapped up that beauty for $23,000.00.

But then I learned of a 2004 Maxima, also fully loaded. It was jet black with a black leather interior. It was a fine sports sedan with a six-speed manual transmission, 265 horses and only 3,000 miles on the odometer. Its original sticker was $33,000, but I could have bought it for $23,000.00.

In fact, I was driving to the Mazda dealership to do just that when the guilt hit me. I began to realize I'd spent days totally self-absorbed in my car bug world   —   totally neglectful of the people and things that really matter in this life.

I realized I'd been neglecting my car. My car sensed something was wrong. "It's not you, it's me," I said, as I drove to the new car dealership that day. And it was me, a totally self-absorbed me. I felt like a rat.

I don't know why a man suffers from the new car bug. Perhaps it is how we hide from the fear of our own mortality. Perhaps it is our need, as American males, to give voice and expression to the individualism that the automobile symbolizes. Perhaps we are just celebrating the machine that allows us, as Henry Ford said, to freely explore the pleasure of God's great open spaces.

Whatever the cause, I came to my senses that day. Instead of driving to the new car dealership, I turned around and headed directly to the car wash. I gave my car a good cleaning inside and out. Aside from the crumpled front fender, which will be repaired next week, she was good as new.

I just hope I can get through winter before that dreaded bug strikes me again.

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© 2005 Tom Purcell