I wish I was better with cars. I wish I could parallel park without going into a cold sweat. I wish I didn’t need Google Maps for almost every journey I go on. I wish I could ask a question about someone else’s car other than, “So…what colour is it?” But, alas, I let down women everywhere by falling right into the gender stereotype – I’m a female who doesn’t get cars, and just after Christmas I had to go buy one.
Buying a car isn’t a pleasant experience even if you do know anything about them, but if you’re a motoring-idiot like me it’s the worst. So, like the brilliant feminist I am, I let my husband do all the research. In fairness, James is into cars, his Dad knows a lot about them and Chris also used to work in a garage so has a lot of good insight into what cars break down less often. So James decided we must get a Honda Civic, even if it meant driving up to Wimbledon to go see a good second-hand one, and I didn’t really think twice about it.
Let me paint you a picture: we get up early and drive for two hours (me asleep in the back while James and his Dad talk about cars the whole way). We arrive at a dealership that looks, shall we say, less than legitimate. We ask to use the loo and are pointed to a dodgy looking caravan, which the owner points out is probably “not suitable for ladies”. We try not to judge, however, and ask to see the Honda.
It stinks of fags. The headrests are missing. Worst of all, it’s too long. I’m only five foot two, and I can’t see a thing past the windscreen. I’d known this might be a problem and had brought a pillow with me to sit on just in case, but I chickened out of using it and left it in the back of Chris’ car. This does not feel right at all, but I say nothing. After all, what do I know about cars?
James test drives it first – around a tricky one-way system including a brief stint on a motorway – and then it’s my turn. I do not want to drive this car, especially on these roads with the Dealership Owner right there in the passenger seat, but he says I can just give it a spin around an empty car park so I reluctantly get behind the wheel. I’m tired, I need a wee, I’ve never driven this car before and I can’t see a thing. Needless to say, I panic.
I stall the car and can’t get it started again. The Owner has to swap seats and get it started for me. Suddenly, the gear stick seems really far away and I feel like a starfish reaching out every time I want to change gears. James and Chris are quietly laughing at how dodgy this car seems, but I think they’re laughing at me and panic even more. I get out of the car and say nothing. I stare at the ground. I blink back tears. We’ve come all this way to see this car – one that James really wants – and I don’t think I ever want to get behind the wheel of any car ever again.
Fortunately, the lack of female facilities gives us the perfect excuse to leave quickly and we head to a nearby McDonalds (and being sad gives me the perfect excuse to have chicken nuggets at 11am – don’t judge me). We talk it over, and I say I can’t figure out if I hate that car, or if the experience was just so awful that it’s colouring my judgement. James gets on his phone, finds two other Honda Civics about an hour away and we decide we might as well go see them while we’re nearby. Still, Chris can see I’m nervous, and says one thing that changes my entire perspective:
“You just have to remember you’re the customer. They need you more than you need them, so you should ask as many questions as you like and do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable.”
He was so right. I was all in my head because, what, I was self-conscious? I didn’t know anything about cars, and didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of some random Car Dealer? How was that my priority in this moment? I was about to go in and potentially spend thousands of pounds on this vehicle, I had to change my mind set. They needed me more than I needed them, which meant I held all the cards.
At the next dealership, I overhauled my attitude. I took my little cushion out of Chris’ car and carried it with me proudly. We even asked for the keys to the same model of the car we already have so I could compare the seat position. Turns out, I couldn’t see anything less out of the new windscreen than I could out of the one I’d been driving for years. And when we decided to buy the car, I happily spoke up when we negotiated the price (OK, I asked one thing for clarification, but Rome wasn’t built in a day).
But the more I think about it, the more I think we need to adapt a “you need me” attitude in other aspects of our lives. The best interviews I’ve been on have always been the ones where I didn’t actually need the job – it was just one option of a few or I knew I was over-qualified for it. When I was unemployed and desperate for work, I’m pretty sure that gave off a worse vibe. Just changing your mind set from, “Here’s a list of my qualifications and experience for you to judge” to “Let me tell you why you need me” makes all the difference. You’re giving the same set of answers, but the “you need me” confidence completely changes the atmosphere in that room.
Obviously, I’m not applying the “you need me, I don’t need you” philosophy to every aspect of my life – that would make my relationships decidedly more toxic than they need to be – but sometimes this attitude is power. Sometimes, you need to stand up and fight for what you want from a position of strength. Sometimes, you need to stop caring about seeming silly or impolite and unashamedly go after what you need with confidence and boldness. That’s how I ended up with a car that I love – and one day, I might even drive it.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti