'I don’t get cars. Why do some people become so excited about engine size?'

Sean Moncrieff: Midddle-aged men are supposed to be petrolheads, right?

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

There’s been something like a death in the family. Well, not yet. We’re preparing for it. The signs have been there for quite some time, even to those of us with no specialised knowledge of such matters. Warning lights have flashed on and off. There was a funny noise in the back that I chose to ignore. But denial can’t hold back the inevitability of time and rust. I have to finally accept that the car is completely banjaxed.

NCT testing centres are bleak outposts at the best of times, but even more so when you know the news is going to be of the worst sort. The examiner was gentle though. He almost whispered as he described the long list of fails. He told me I could pay to have it all fixed, but on such an old car . . . I tried to accept the news in a manly way and thanked him for his kindness. If the Irish weren’t so emotionally constipated, we would have hugged.

Now it’s just the drip-drip of time. The final drop being when the NCT certification runs out and the banger is sent to live on a farm with similarly-aged vehicles. (Or so I’ve been told.) Between now and then, I have to get a new car.

I don’t do it with any joy. Not because I was particularly fond of the old one, but because I don’t get cars. I don’t get why some people become so excited about mileage, engine size and brake horsepower, whatever that is. Anyone I’ve told about my bereavement has brightened up and asked: so what are you going to get?

I don’t know. A car.

Dark secrets of car sales

It feels like I’m a traitor to my gender and age group. At my stage in life I should be one of those men hanging around car dealerships, exuding a jaundiced wisdom about the dark secrets of car sales, with one glance able to X-ray any internal combustion engine, tell you how many owners it has had, crashes, blown gaskets. But I have singularly failed to develop these middle-aged male capabilities. The showroom will see me coming. The other customers will nudge each other, giddy with pity and derision. I’ll probably buy something with three wheels and an attachment for a donkey.

Perhaps this lack in me is connected to the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy driving. I even resent it a little. In a car, there’s nothing to do but drive. That and witness the fiesta of judgement which seems to take place on the road. The nicest of people can become screaming harridans behind the wheel, shrieking their disapproval of every other driver. Pointing, mouthing obscenities, head shaking, firing off disapproving glares. I’ve been in cars with people who gave a running commentary on their journey, who named the other drivers based on their perceived lack of competency. Now Nuala, get a move on. Josie, are you saving that indicator for a special occasion?

Thankfully, I don’t have to drive to work, but there’s a constant rally of trips to schools, crèche, friends’ houses and venues. Modern life locks me into my steel box for at least an hour or so every day. I have to get one.

So what kind of car do I want? One that doesn’t break down every fortnight. One that doesn’t nag you about seat belts or gear changes. A car that self-cleans would be nice. Or a car you can send down to the shops by itself when you’ve run out of milk. Oh God. I don’t want a new car. I want a chauffeur.  

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