So... You Wanna Buy A Car (Self Counsel $9.95)

"During a widespread shortage of replacement windshield wipers in Russia, it was not unusual to see people dining with a pair of wipers removed from their car set alongside their cutlery," says Tony Whitney, host of the TV car show Inside Track and author of So... You Wanna Buy A Car (Self Counsel $9.95) written with Bruce Fuller.

Apparently many Russian motorists found it easier to steal essential items rather than wait months for spares to arrive. Parts and cars are far more readily available in North America than in the former Soviet bloc countries which Whitney travelled extensively.

Whitney was renting a car in Prague several years ago when he noticed several parts were missing. The dealer nonchalantly walked over to another car of the same make and model -- which was missing just as many parts, albeit different ones -- and, "fortunately, between the two cars he was able to build one car with almost all the parts," recalls Whitney, laughing.

Whitney's So...You Wanna Buy A Car is a practical guide, peppered with advice and anecdotes drawn from his experience as a professional automotive journalist for the Vancouver Sun and other publications. According to Whitney, who has test driven hundreds of vehicles ranging "from Kenworth 18 wheelers to forklifts," the following five steps are recommended for car shopping.

1. Take the longest test drive that you possibly can. The more expensive the car, the longer you should spend test driving it.

2. Take note of anything that is mildly irritating it will be very irritating in the long run.

3. Ensure that getting in and out of the car is easy. Check to see whether you can reach all of the knobs on the dash. On a long car trip there is nothing more annoying than constantly having to search for the stereo controls or the air conditioning dial.

4. Put the front seat into the position it would be in if you were sitting in it. Sit in the back seat. Is it comfortable?

5. Open the trunk. Do you have to bend over so as not to hit your head or back?

"Don't buy more car than you need," advises Whitney. An all terrain vehicle is a hassle if you never drive on back roads and frequently need to manoeuvre into city parking stalls.

"Standard over automatic saves a lot on gas and is more responsive," says Whitney, who recommends checking into hidden prices as well, such as how much replacement parts cost. A dealer or salesperson won't point out that a particular part is very expensive or difficult to replace.

While he usually has four cars in his driveway waiting to be test-driven, Whitney, who hails from England, has one favorite set of wheels -- a red Alfa Romeo GTV6, in mint condition, made in 1986, the last year that model was built.

[BCBW 1997]