1990s >> 1998 >> no-1123-march-1998

The Car

A year ago we sold our car. Nothing unusual in that of course, happens all the time. The buying and selling of second-hand cars is a common enough activity for those of us who cannot afford new cars. No, it was the way it happened and I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since.

Our car was one of those Volkswagen Golfs, about 8 years old and pretty well dead on its feet. It was on its third engine and even that had a tendency to stall every twenty minutes or so—something about the mixture of the petrol in the engine. The only solution was to leave it for a quarter of an hour till it cleared itself. On top of that the electrics were dodgy and I had managed to burn the clutch a couple of times. In truth we were desperate to get rid of the vehicle. It had given us no end of trouble and we’d already spent too much money in cheating garages to keep it running. If the opportunity came to cut our losses and sell the car we would be only too glad.

Moreover, my partner and I had worked hard that year and we were keen to get away from our draughty flat for a holiday. We decided to do away with a car completely and rely on so-called public transport. We had a number of people interested in our advert and one by one they test drove our car. Funny how when you’re young and idealistic you can condemn others so easily for how they live and what they do. Then as you learn to survive on your own you begin to make compromises with how you live your life, often without realising it. I’m not even sure now how it happened. It just sort of seemed to follow from the position that we were in. I mean we didn’t tell any outright lies, just economical with the truth as civil servants say. I remember us being in the back seat as the two men who eventually bought the car took the car around the neighbourhood. I just wanted them to finish before the engine did.

When we came to the part where we haggled over the money we were nervous and unsure of ourselves, no Arthur Daley’s us. We managed to get a price of £1,300 and we quickly received the cash, anxious to finish the whole thing. Only later in the safety of our home did we discover that we had only been paid £1,200. Looking back I realised that the buyers had been aware of the shortfall and may even had planned it. I was initially relieved, as if the lack of honesty on their side somehow reduced the guilt on ours. Later I was depressed and since then, every time I’ve thought about the incident, I’ve been depressed again.

The motor trade is one of the best examples of how the buying and selling system reduces people into being less than they really are, or at least less than they could be. How often have we all been manipulated to manipulate others for some pathetic economic gain? Through a half-worthless car I had lost some of my own worth. Sometimes it seems that the material value that we accumulate is mirrored by a reduction in our own value as humans.

As I write this article my mind drifts forward to tomorrow when I shall go to the office, forced to work alongside a semi-racist colleague, and where we will all pretend to like an egotistical boss none of us respect. How did this all come about? How long can we tolerate an economic system that thrives on human dishonesty? And how long can we put up with the damage that this system does to us as people? Some people say that we live in something called society. Sorry, but I can’t, at least not a human one.

G.T.


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