I recently spent two months trading cars. I was in no hurry, because my old car was still in good shape. Now the ordeal is over, and I have learned a lesson: there’s too much information out there.
Remember the old days of horse trading? A prospective trader would look for any sign of injury, examine the horse’s teeth, and the deal was done. It took about five minutes.
Now you go online and learn a car’s history, compare the price with similar cars, and read hundreds of reviews. I would take notes, take a test drive, and make more notes. Soon my pockets were filled with scribbled factoids like, “good price but needs tires,” or “so-so car but great salesman,” or “best car for the money, but hate the color.” About the time I’d make up my mind, I’d go back online and see yet another car I liked, starting all over again.
It made me think of my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, and the deals they have to make. When general manager Alex Anthopoulous was hired, he inherited a mess. In an effort to obtain good young players for the future, he traded away some of the older players. The hope, of course, was that in a couple of years, those young players would excel at the major league level.
So when trading cars, I would put my “Braves GM” hat on, and pretend I was making a big trade for the future. Just like Alex, I had many choices in the automotive “free agent” market.
Would I go for a flashy, expensive import like Marcell Ozuna? The Dominican outfielder appears to be well-built on the outside, but a prospective buyer has to look closely under the hood. Many ballplayers look rock-solid, but when you put them on the field, their flaws are exposed.
The Braves have made that mistake before. That’s like spending a fortune on a new ride, and then seeing a huge puddle of oil on the floor of the garage.
So I considered a less showy car, one that’s a little older, but with a good track record. A car that’s been tested, and has endured some wear and tear. It won’t win any races, but it will get me to work every day, and save me some money. Perhaps it’s a car I’m familiar with, similar to ones I’ve driven before.
In terms a Braves fans would understand, something like a Charlie Morton, a Tyler Flowers, or a Pablo Sandoval. On second thought, maybe Pablo isn’t the best example. No doubt, that car would be a high performer, but probably a gas guzzler.
Or I could take a chance on a newer, unproven model. A salesman may try to talk me into a “rookie” car, right off the assembly line. “Oh this one has barely been driven, but it has great potential. I’m hearing a lot of buzz about it. Buy it, and you’ll have no worries for 15-20 years!” It’s like the 2021 Cristian Pache, or a brand new, untested William Contreras.
Sometimes that gamble pays off. In years past, the Braves plugged Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, and Chipper Jones into their lineup and never looked back. They got a lot of miles out of those guys, with very low maintenance. They won a lot of races too. It’s nice when that happens, but far more often you end up with a lemon.
Of course, the worst that could happen is buying one with too many miles on it. Sure, it’s been a solid performer for many years, and you’ve been green with envy seeing it in the neighbors’ driveway. Boy, that Cole Hamels looks like a winner, I wish I had one of those. I’ll fork over some serious cash for that one. Wait, what? What do you mean it won’t even start?
Ultimately the deadline arrives and you have to make a decision. If you don’t get it, someone else will. You go with your gut feeling. You hope and pray that the car salesman (or in baseball terms, the opposing general manager) is being honest with you about your new vehicle’s past, and its potential. If all goes well, you don’t overpay, and your new purchase will drive like a dream for years to come.
Of course, I could stick to my older, still reliable vehicle. Much like Freddie Freeman, it’s a proven road warrior. Sure, it seems a little sluggish now and then, but if I put a little more money into it, that should perk it up.
There is always risk. If you agree to a long-term deal, and the transmission fails, the belts break, or the fluids leak, you’ll be out doing test drives again soon. Here’s hoping that won’t happen to me…or the Braves!
David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host.