The Perfect Car (or My One Night Stand with a Toyota RAV4)

Long time readers may remember the demise of my beloved, aging, Suzuki XL7, back in the fall of 2014. (Read about her here.) She had nearly 200K miles on her, and she was dying. The timing belt was shot, and all the seals had begun to leak. Saving her would require more money than she was worth. Even our trusted mechanic, who would have made a pretty penny repairing her, said it would be a bad investment.

I mourned her for weeks. And then I shook it off, told myself to quit whining about first-world car problems, and embraced our 1997 Toyota Camry as my new temporary ride. It was Mark’s car, but he turned it over willingly, and commandeered his parents’ old minivan, which was sitting idle, for himself.

About a month ago, I got the itch for a new car and decided to start looking in earnest. It was time. The Camry is still running admirably, but she’s gotten a little squishy and soft, as we all seem to do with age.

She’s low to the ground, which means I can’t navigate a rough road without clunking her undercarriage against pavement. Plus, I spend a lot of time stuck in traffic, and I hate not being able to see what’s happening up ahead of me. It frustrates me and stresses me out.

Maybe it’s because I’m only 5’2”, and I’m frequently at a sight disadvantage in crowds. Mark calls this my ‘Little Person Syndrome’. He’s 6’3”, hasn’t been short since he was in elementary school, and should really shut up about it.

Anyway, I’m just more comfortable driving a taller vehicle. Knowing this made it easy for me to narrow down my new car search. I wanted another SUV.

I’m not a car snob, so I was happy to look at pre-owned vehicles. My attitude toward used cars is much like my feeling about shelter pets. Why buy a fancy pedigreed dog when you can find a perfectly wonderful companion at your local shelter? Likewise, why buy a vehicle that’s going to depreciate the minute you take ownership, when there are so many fine older cars that are still road-worthy?

The last time I bought a car was in 2001. Everything has changed. Cars have changed, features have changed, even the buying process has changed. If you’re not a masochist, and you’re game for a pre-owned car, you don’t have to run from dealership to dealership, haggling over prices and waiting for the salesman to go talk to his manager. There’s a civilized way to do it now.

It’s called Carmax!

You can go to the Carmax website and look at thousands of vehicles. You can search for specific features, colors, and year models. You can see history and maintenance records on every car. You can look at cars in your local area, or anywhere else in the country. If you find the perfect car in Nashville, and you’re in Dallas, Carmax will transport your perfect gem to the location nearest you (yes, there’s a fee, but you can roll it into your purchase price.) Local transfers are free of charge.

Best of all, you can do it from the comfort of your own couch! And I did. For several weeks.

Finally, I was ready to visit my local Carmax – conveniently just 10 minutes from my house – and test drive the cars I thought would best suit me. I had narrowed my list to four: a Honda CRV, a Nissan Murano, a Toyota RAV4, and a Kia Sorento. Mark and I spent a few hours test driving them on a recent Saturday.

Test driving helped me determined that I would not be happy in anything that didn’t have a 6-cylinder engine. Our sales consultant encouraged me to go on line again and narrow my search for SUVs with that feature, and any others that were critical for me.

Forget the power sunroof. I wanted a sound system. Big engine, big sound!

The next day, I found it. The perfect car.

It was a luscious blue Toyota RAV4, and it was at the Carmax in Irving, about 40 miles east of the Fort. I called and asked that it be transferred over. The process took a few days, and while I was waiting, I popped back onto the website to see what else was new. There was a lovely white Nissan Murano with a V6 and a Bose sound system, also nearby, but I was pretty set on the RAV4.

When we went to test-drive her, I fell in love at first sight.

Low mileage, one owner, premium sound system and lots of bells and whistles. She was gorgeous. She reminded me of my Suzuki. She was perfect. She was the one.

“The thing is,” I told the sales consultant, “there’s this Murano over in Garland. I feel like this Toyota is it, but if I don’t at least drive that Murano, I’m always going to wonder about it.”

And here is where Carmax goes above and beyond, in my opinion. If you buy a car there, you have a five-day grace period to return it, no hassles, if it turns out not to be a good fit. No worries over possible buyer’s remorse.

Our consultant said “Buy the RAV4. Try it out for a day or two. I’ll call the Garland store and have them hold the Murano for you, and you can go test drive it. If you like, you can return the RAV4 and get the Murano, but if you’re happy with this one, it’s already yours.”

And, after a fairly painless purchase process, it WAS mine.


The next day we drove to Garland, just east of Dallas. All the way there I told myself we were wasting a trip. I loved the RAV4. But I didn’t want any lingering questions. Buying a car is a big decision. And if I was only going to do it every 10-15 years, I wanted the perfect car.

I was certain that no car could be possibly be more perfect than the perfect blue RAV4.

Except the perfect pearl white Murano.

She glistened brilliantly in the afternoon sun. I was completely seduced by her beauty. And the test drive did nothing to dissuade me. She felt more comfortable and spacious inside, and the ride was smoother and quieter. For a smaller SUV, she drove and handled like a luxury car.
I felt like I was cheating on the RAV4. But I knew the Murano had won.

True to their word, the folks at Carmax took the RAV4 back and, after a bit of paper shuffling, sold me the Murano hassle-free. I can’t say enough good things about Carmax. They are all about customer satisfaction. And it was the most satisfying car-buying experience I’ve ever had.

She’s been mine for a week now. Every time I drive her, I feel like I stole some fancy girl’s ride. But that feeling will pass as we become better acquainted. Right now, I’m busy discovering her myriad features. New Foo window decals are ordered and en route.

She has a name too. My friend Rachael, who has a knack for naming things, helped me come up with the perfect moniker. Something classy and elegant, but with a rock and roll soul.

I call her Aurora Tempest Moon. Aurora to her friends.



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