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Adventures in Car Buying with The Brunette Lucy

"Man, it’s like Kit from 'Knight Rider' with a Neanderthal at the wheel."

My husband Matt and I have been married 23 years now, and I can safely say that he's the most frugal (read: cheap) man on the planet.

He's learned how to fix plumbing and electrical problems just to avoid having to pay someone else to do it. For someone with absolutely no formal training in these trades, he does a good job for the most part.

Although... there was that one time when he hooked up the ice maker, which flooded the kitchen overnight. Waterfalls made their way downstairs into the office, taking out a fairly new computer, fax machine and printer -- eventually turning the office into a wading pool. But that was only once.

Thank God we have a licensed electrician in the family in the form of Uncle Dave, and Michele's (my best friend, and the Ethel to my Lucy) husband is a plumber.

Even though they're family and friends, we insist on paying them; ergo the do-it-yourself attitude my husband has adopted. Still, I always breathed easier knowing they were both a phone call and 10 miles away.

Another thing that Matt has honed to perfection is the art of bartering. He has a buddy for just about every job we've ever needed to get done. One of his good friends, Mark, has kept us in automobiles for as long as we've been married.

Mark goes to auto auctions, buys one or two, fixes them up and then sells them. To Matt, he'd sell them dirt cheap. As such, I never drove a car that was less than eight years old for the first 20 years of our married life. Matt could never see the value of a new car, and buying one goes against all that he holds holy in the frugal (cheap) area.

But when things started falling off my 20-year-old Chrysler, which Matt referred to as the “Cadillac of Used Cars” -- I referred to it as the old jalopy -- he reluctantly agreed to look at cars on an actual lot.

I think it was because something major fell off. I'd driven over a pot hole, and the car and I made it through. The bumper, however, did not; it was laying in the middle of the road.

In the interests of public safety, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you this. Retrieving a bumper from the middle of the highway during rush hour is not an activity I'd recommend you try. It's a real life “Frogger” game, only with the very real possibility of death. And lots of being shouted at, honked at and, for some reason, middle finger waving.

But finally, I was off to a new car lot to replace the Cadillac/Jalopy. The fact that I whined like a toddler being weaned from a pacifier might have swayed Matt's surrender. We went out looking for cars with his stern warning in mind -- this is just an exercise so that he can prove to me how stupidly expensive new cars are.

We spent the better part of the day looking at several new car outlets. I, of course, was perusing the brand spankin' new ones and Matt was over at the used car section.

Finally, we went to a Pontiac dealership where the loan rate was a whopping zero percent. We both picked out cars that we liked; mine new and his used. When they ran the numbers, the new one would cost pretty close to the used one. He reneged and I got myself an awesome sporty new car. With gadgets. Lots and lots and lots of gadgets and buttons; even some type of computer.

Oh, boy, I really should have thought that through. This car was so advanced, there was no way I'd be able to figure out what all those things did.

The first thing I found out was that the windshield wipers work -- really, really well. How did I find that out, you ask? Well, we were bringing it home from the dealership on a beautiful, sunny day. The kids were in the car with me and Matt followed in his van. We were SOOO ready to look all cool in my sporty new car.

And that’s when it happened.

I accidentally hit the windshield wipers, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to turn them off. All 20 miles to my house they were going at seemingly warp speed. The kids gradually slid down in their seats so as not to be seen with the crazy lady with the wipers on. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Matt laughing so hard I thought he was going to get in an accident.

That should have been my first clue that this was going to be way tougher than I thought.

My car came with OnStar, which I heard of, but I had no clue what it was or what it did. With that feature, my car has its own phone and number – ITS OWN PHONE NUMBER!! Man, it’s like Kit from "Knight Rider" with a Neanderthal at the wheel.

The buttons for this curious new piece of technology are located discreetly in the rear view mirror (that, I know how to work -- the mirror, I mean). There’s the phone button, the OnStar button and the emergency button. Thankfully, the emergency button is spaced farther over and has red markings, for reasons you'll understand soon.

I love the phone feature, because I don’t have to find my cell phone, which is always at the bottom of my purse. So I use this feature -- a lot. However, I seem to always push OnStar instead of the phone button. The operator would come on and say, “Hello, Mrs. Kells, what can I do for you today?” They were so sweet. But after getting it wrong for the hundredth time, this is what I get now: “Mrs. Kells (heavy sigh), did you push the wrong button again??”

I was very proud, though, when one day I pushed the OnStar button by mistake. I searched my brain frantically for a reason other than the obvious -- I’m an idiot. Ah-hah! I came up with, “Bubba! Did you hit that button? Bad dog! Sorry about that!” Happy with my quick thinking, I hung up -- and hit the phone button on accident.

The car has an on board computer that can tell me how many miles I can drive on the current tank of gas, the weather, if the tire pressure is low, and so on. It actually sends a monthly e-mail to my husband after giving itself a check up.

This feature makes me laugh really hard. If I can't operate two simple buttons on a mirror, what in the world would I do with an entire computer? Besides, if I even tried to touch it, it would probably tell Matt on me.

Another cool little feature is that I can remote start my car from up to 500 feet away with my key chain. Honestly, at first, I was afraid to use it. I figured that as soon as a car this advanced had the opportunity to get away from me, I’d be staring at the tail lights.

To this day, as I approach, I swear I see the headlights narrow like a child glaring at a spoonful of cough syrup. All the little computers are trying to decide if escape is possible. I wonder if it knows that even if it does manage to flee, Onstar will find it.

Take THAT -- stupid car!

Stay tuned for Part Two...

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