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Who's in the Driver's Seat?

A Husband and Wife on How to Buy a Car with Your Spouse

By Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, real-life couple and co-authors of You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story

She Says: This month, my year car lease ran out, and I needed to begin the process of finding a new vehicle, but here's what percentage of the day I enjoy devoting to thinking about cars: none percent.

OK, I confess that years ago, when I was single, I borrowed a BMW from a friend while my Honda Civic was in the shop. I had been perfectly happy with my little Civic until I drove a high-performance automobile. It was like I had been plucked out of a Greyhound bus seat and dropped into the first class section of Virgin Atlantic. I did feel sexy; it hugged the road and even had great visibility from all angles. I made left turns I didn't need to take just for the fun of it. I drove in the fast lane of the freeway with authority, and I stepped out of that car with confidence like I was wearing a Prada ensemble head to toe.

Alas, my budget and genuine concern for leaving a smaller footprint mean I will have to build my self-esteem from the inside (boring!), do more yoga if I want to feel sexy and drive a hybrid. But in general, my needs in a car are easy; it just needs to have all the things I look for in a purse: It should be roomy enough to fit my stuff, easy to operate and durable enough to last a few years. ...Read More

Of course, this is not how men in general see cars. Here's an example: A few years ago, a friend asked me to help him with his relationship problems. “I'm a good guy, I've got a job, a nice home, I like women, but I'm attracting the wrong kind of relationships. I want to settle down. What am I doing wrong?”

I had one piece of advice for him: Get rid of the car. He was driving a Corvette with the license plate “BONDAGE.” In fact, he is a collector of James Bond movie memorabilia (true story!). He got rid of the car, got a new license plate. I urged him to stay mum on the Bond fascination for the first few months or years of a relationship, and he was married within the year.

So when I asked my husband for advice for getting a new car, I really opened up a can of worms. Here are my tips if you're ever in this situation:

1. Jeff began sending me e-mails and leaving car magazines on my desk. I killed a spider with one of the magazines and hit delete without looking through the e-mails, but he doesn't need to know that I haven't read them. Better to make him feel appreciated that he took the time searching for cars he might like on the Internet rather than searching for cars that I might like on the Internet.

2. If your boyfriend or husband comes homes one day and says he needs to have a yellow Ferrari despite the fact that you have kids and regularly transport items larger than a loaf of bread, you probably have bigger problems than a car. I think it would be wise to agree that the Ferrari is a fine idea and see what happens. Either he's about to split for a girl half his age or will probably figure out for himself that it's ridiculous and better to satisfy his midlife crises with buying five vintage guitars on eBay and starting a rock band with other midlife crisis dads.

3. Here's what I'd like to see in a car: airline tray tables. Sure, it may not be pretty, but for those of us who like to snack in our cars during endless daily traffic jam commutes and kid car pools, why not be able to pull down airline trays and eat? You're stuck, you're starving, and as long as you're there, you might as well have some lunch. And add plastic-lined pouches in the backseat for our kids to stuff garbage in. And, of course, a personal backseat masseur. Is that asking too much?

He Says: I love cars but hate driving. My wife doesn't mind driving but hates cars. When I go looking for a new car to lease or purchase I peruse all the car mags, hit a million and a half websites to read up on and compare/contrast what vehicle will give me the best bang for the buck. As opposed to what my wife does, which is send me an e-mail telling me to “find a car for me.” Regardless, if you're buying a car for yourself or helping purchase one for her, car buying, like everything else marital, can be a tricky proposition. Here are my tips:

1. Never take your wife car hunting with you in order to get her approval of the car you've been drooling over. It's a super-boring “who cares-a-thon” for her, and if she's not impressed by your choice of vehicle, it will give the salesman leverage by using it against your sense of manhood and independence. “It's not my place to say anything here, but do you let your wife decide everything for you? C'mon, who's driving it, her or you?” This can never end well.

2. Never say the words “horsepower,” “turbocharged” or “low-end torque” in bed unless you're referring to your own lovemaking techniques and not the new car you're thinking of buying. On second thought, never say those words in bed at all ever with your wife if you want to do anything more at night than read car magazines.

3. Be careful what car you bring home for the signal it might send your spouse. A white-colored convertible may imply to her that you could be hiding something deep in your closet besides old smelly sneakers. An over-the-top, high-end, ostentatious sports car will not only NOT impress your wife, it'll send her and perhaps even the world a message that you're either having a major middle-aged crisis or have a small penis … or both.

4. Don't advise your wife to buy a car that you think she should have unless you want to drive it. You might think she'll like the a minivan because it's “safe” and “practical” and “seats 15,” but if she doesn't like it, you'll be stuck driving that 15-seat mommy-mobile, much to the mocking delight of your friends commuting in their hip Beamers, Audis and Benzes.

5. Not to get all PC here, but my final tip is that there is a lot of pressure out there for men to go for ridiculously expensive, or inefficient, impractical sports or muscle cars, or gas-guzzling behemoth SUVs and pickup trucks with two sets of gigantic back tires that can tow a Carnival cruise ship and get two and half miles to a gallon. I'm not saying to run out and get a hybrid just to appease your spouse's overly zealous eco strategy to leave a small carbon footprint; just understand that what car you drive does say a lot about who you are, so don't be an ass about it. Maybe a Prius is not right for you, but your spouse does have a point. (This may be the only time she ever actually does, so take heed.) Get a car that will make both you happy and her proud of you.

She Says: P.S.: Jeff found a blue Prius for me in the price range I wanted, and all I had to do was sign the papers. That's a great spouse. Truth be told, I am not crazy about the color: It's way too bright for my taste, however, our 13-year-old kid loves the color, and it makes me happy if he's happy.

  • A big-ticket item like a car often makes for a stressful purchasing process.

Who's in the Driver's Seat?
A Husband and Wife on How to Buy a Car with Your Spouse
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