If you’re looking for car buying tips, you could do worse than watch some TV first.
So we know the drill by now. Our TV is pretty much a how-to manual for getting through life -- or at least that's the premise of this blog -- and TV can definitely help all of us when it comes to making a car purchase.
Seriously, over the decades, a lot of TV characters have bought cars, and there’s some pretty good advice in between the gags and among the laugh tracks.
So if you're looking for car buying tips, keep the following in mind.
Be wary of car salespeople.
No wonder online car shopping sites have taken off. I’ve worked with a number of terrific car salespeople over the years, and one of my favorite uncles is a retired car salesman and is as honest as the day is long. So I know that there are good, ethical car salespeople out there.
But on TV, watch out.
You really aren’t safe from anybody. Barney Fife is tricked into buying a broken down, probably stolen, car by an elderly lady in “Barney’s First Car,” which first ran on April 1, 1963.
In Here’s Lucy, when Lucy Carmichael’s kids, Kim and Craig buy a car, they go to a local car salesman, Cheerful Charlie, and quickly get taken, purchasing what turns out to be a broken-down car.
Now, the audience can see a mile away what the non-worldly Kim and Craig can’t, but on The Brady Bunch, in 1971 episode, “The Wheeler-Dealer,” Greg buys a lemon from a friend, or at least a so-called friend. So you really do end up feeling a little sorry for Greg, even though, yes, the TV viewer can tell he is being played. Still, really, on TV, you can’t trust anybody who sells you a car.
But in real life, you need to be on guard, too.
Steer clear of a pitch that sounds too good to be true
For instance, Greg’s friend Eddie says: “She’s a beauty, ain’t she, Greg? I’m only selling her because I need a fast hundred bucks. You know, I’ve got five or six guys just waiting to buy this baby, but it’s such a good deal, I wanted a friend to have it first.”
In Barney’s case, he gets taken by dear sweet Mrs. Lesh, a sweet elderly lady played to perfection by Ellen Corby, who would go on and play the grandmother in The Waltons.
Mrs. Lesh says that she has only driven her car to church on Sundays, and so it's barely been driven. To top it off, her late husband’s name was Bernard, which is Barney’s actual first name. Barney meeting Mrs. Lesh is clearly fate.
When Herman Munster tries to buy a car for his niece, Marilyn, he is really taken. First, when he mentions that he is buying the car for his niece, Marilyn, the salesperson says, “What a coincidence. This car belonged to a young niece of an old lady in Pasadena. That's right. She only drove it to Four-H club meetings once every month.”
Herman buys that story. Herman is also told that the salesman has promised the car that Herman wants to actor Cary Grant. Herman believes that, too.
Be cagey about how much money you have to spend.
Car salespeople always ask what you can spend on a car, naturally. They don’t want to try and get you to buy a Ferrari when you can only afford a Ford.
You probably should give the salesperson a price range of what you think you can afford, but car experts insist that you don’t offer up a maximum car payment that you can make.
If you say, for instance, that you can spend $300 a month on a car, the salesperson or finance manager is going to ensure you find a car where you’re paying $300 a month – even if that means getting yourself roped into an ill-advised 96-month lease.
When Herman asks about the price of the car he wants, he’s told that it’s $900. He has $375. And what do you know? The salesman agrees to sell the car for $375. Remember, if it's too good to be true...
Get the car checked out by a mechanic beforehand.
It isn’t always practical, but at least do a test drive. Barney ignores that advice and buys Mrs. Lesh’s car without even taking it for a spin around the block.
After Barney takes his friends for a drive, the car naturally conks out. Unbeknownst to Barney, sawdust had been put in the differential and transmission, which apparently makes the car appear to run smoothly. (I’m not a car guy but will assume The Andy Griffith Show knew what it was talking about. In a similar situation and if talking to Mrs. Lesh, I probably would have been taken, just like Barney.)
Barney later learns from Gomer Pyle that his car will need just a few items before it can run properly again: plugs, points, bearings, valves, rings, a starter switch, ignition wires, a water pump, a fuel pump, an oil pump, a clutch, clutch bearings, a clutch plate, brake linings, brake shoes, brake drums, a radiator hose, and a radiator hose coupling.
Gomer suggests that the car good use a good wash, too.
Don’t let yourself get pressured into buying a car.
My guess is that’s how most of us fall into the trap of buying a car that we shouldn’t buy or can’t afford.
I’ve mentioned in this blog, in the Seinfeld post, how in my early 20s, I bought a car that I really had no business buying. Well, I made things worse by having a neighbor drop me off at a car dealership. I figured by not having transportation back to my apartment, I’d be more likely to buy a car. I’m sure I thought I was being smart, but now, looking back, all I can do is think about my twenty-something self and shake my head.
Anyway, Greg Brady was clearly pressured into buying his car from Eddie.
Eddie: Greg, Greg, for a hundred bucks and a little bit of work, you got yourself a car that’s worth maybe $500.
Greg: Think all it will take is a little work?
Eddie: Positive. Tell you what I’m gonna do. (He takes a book out of the car) I’m gonna throw in this repair manual, absolutely free. With this, a 10-year-old could fix her up.
Greg: I told my Dad I’d let him look at anything I bought first.
Eddie: What time is it, Greg?
Greg (looking at his watch): It’s 3:20. Why?
Eddie: Car’s gonna be gone by the time you get your dad here. I got a guy coming in 10 minutes, and with him, it’s a sure sale.
Greg: Eddie, I don’t know.
Eddie: Greg, it’s a great deal. Or would you rather wait five or six years for a set of wheels?
Of course, poor Greg buys the car -- and fully regrets it.
TV's Car Buying Tips' Main Rule – Be Careful
In the rare cases where somebody on TV buys a car, and all goes well, it does seem to help if they have a plan – or are at least familiar with the car.
For starters, when Dave Crabtree buys a cheap fixer upper vehicle, it works out fine. But then, I'm referring to the old 1960s sitcom, My Mother, the Car, in which his mother is reincarnated into a car... but it's true this is maybe not a useful example that's going to apply to anybody in real life.
And there's a My Three Sons episode where Robbie wants his own car – and not a hand-me-down vehicle that his brother is willing to give him.
Frankly, I think Robbie was nuts for not accepting the car graciously, but unlike me, Robbie knows a lot about engines, and so he ends up borrowing $50 from his older brother, Mike, to buy a ridiculously cheap car that doesn’t even run. Robbie fixes it up, borrows money from his dad for spare parts, and then he ends up getting the car to run. He then sells it for $300 and buys... well, he buys a pretty lousy car.
But at least it’s his own car and not a hand-me down. The logic is kind of silly and sort of rooted into the stereotype of a young man and his car, but Robbie worked hard to get wheels of his own, and he clearly had a plan, so, well, fine.
Still, the point is clear if you want to buy a car successfully and not have buyer's remorse – study TV's car buying tips and do plenty of research on the car you want to buy before making a decision. And don't let yourself be talked into making any expensive purchase. Only your car tires should feel pressure.
Where you can watch these shows (at the time of this writing) for car buying tips and more: The Brady Bunch can be found on the cable channel, MeTV, as well as on Hulu.com. Here’s Lucy (all five seasons) is on Tubi TV. My Three Sons can be found on MeTV, which is where you can find The Andy Griffith Show (as well as Tubi TV). The Munsters can be found on PeacockTV.com.