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Top Gear Philippines

Of cars and romance

Let’s be mushy for a change. We’re allowed to at least once a year--it’s Valentine’s Day, in case you lost your calendar. I've always scoffed at this day, and look where all the scoffing has gotten me. I've viewed this day as nothing more than the shrewd idea of confection makers and greeting-card printers. But really, what’s wrong with chocolates and flowers on February 14? My hardened cynicism and stupid nonchalance, I now suspect, are what has driven partners to walk out on me each and every time. Together, these two have conspired to make me insensitive, unimaginative, irresponsible, uncaring.

More than four decades in this world and I still suck at relationships--the romantic kind in particular. I’ve actually run out of ideas where to get instructions on how to handle romance properly. I’ve listened to thousands of maudlin songs and heard hundreds of mawkish pieces of advice. I’ve read Nick Hornby novels and watched Nicholas Sparks films. Still, I suck. I’d be lying to you now if I said I fully understood this cancer we call love.

But now I suddenly realize just how similar personal relationships are to vehicle ownership. People need to live up to a set of standards, or their relationships will fail in much the same way that a car owner’s affair with his vehicle sours the moment the latter falls short of the virtues trumpeted in its advertisements.

I've thought long and hard about all the little things that make car ownership a lasting and pleasant one, and how eerily congruent they are with the little things that make any human relationship an enduring and loving one.

1. A car should have a good brand. Toyota and Lexus didn’t build their sterling reputation overnight. It took decades of superb products and a dogged determination to uphold high quality. You, my friend, should also mind every single thing you do because it somehow ends up in a big logbook that women pass around for reference. Reputation is a cruel thing, man. Hyundai and Kia still suffer from the stigma of inferiority even if they have long been rolling out Japanese-beating vehicles. You may never get another shot at being good--that’s the sad part.

2. A car should look good. Automakers spend millions of dollars to hire the best car designers who can sketch the next automotive hotcake. Exterior styling will either attract a throng into the showroom or push them away toward the competition. A gorgeous but shallow design that doesn’t stand the test of time will only fascinate for a while: One year into the ownership and you’re already looking for a newer model. Take my advice: Go to the gym or ride that bicycle. Have mercy on your partner; it’s not easy staring at a blob of human fat on a daily basis.

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3. A car should have excellent ride and handling. A great car has point-and-shoot accuracy. It also offers comfort on the road. In other words, its cabin should feel like a sanctuary in which the occupants think they’re the luckiest people in the world. As for us males of the species, we should be easy to live with. We should be predictable. We should be as steady as a Porsche 911. We should make our partners want to ride us--in more ways than one--and then come back for more of the same.

4. A car should have thoughtful features. You see the vanity mirrors in your car? Or the coin holder on the center console? They’re there for a reason. And that’s to make your motoring life as convenient as your TV's remote control. Be sensitive is what I'm saying. That’s the one thing you can learn from whoever thought of putting audio controls on the steering wheel. Every single act of thoughtful kindness goes a long way in the game of love.

5. A car should be safe. Airbags, seatbelts, antilock brakes, traction control...all of them tell a car owner that he’s impervious to fatal injuries no matter what. A car that is safe is really just a car that is responsible. Because it is not just all about acceleration and speed, it’s also about shielding the passengers from potential hurts. Be responsible and don’t let a tear fall from her eyes if you can actually help it.

6. A car should be secure. If a safe car is a responsible car, a secure car is a trustworthy car. Its alarm and immobilizer systems make it virtually impenetrable. Its owner can leave it in a dark parking lot and not worry about a thing. Enough said.

7. A car should have minimum levels of NVH. Ask any car interior designer and he will tell you that noise, vibration and harshness are the enemies. By the same token, every utterance that comes out of your mouth should be pleasant. Sarcasm and hurtful words crush the spirit; gentle words soothe it. No matter how angry you are, don’t dig up the past and never insult your partner just for the heck of it.

8. A car should be reliable and durable. Notice how even a simple, harmless recall tarnishes a vehicle’s reputation? The same is true with human beings. Your commitment to a relationship should be consistent and fresh every morning, and it should have longevity. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been accused of being good (and sweet) only at the beginning of the relationship. An outstanding car should feel almost the same way it did when you first took it out of the showroom three years ago.

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9. A car should have a decent entertainment system. You know why carmakers are scrambling to slap every imaginable gizmo onto our cars? Because they believe motorists are dying of boredom on the road. If a motor company can empathize with passengers who are merely stuck in traffic, we should definitely feel the emotional tempest our partners are going through. Life, after all, is far more boring and much sadder than EDSA’s worst bottlenecks.

10. A car should have a good engine. The fact that engine data are always printed at the top of specification sheets, only means that powerplants are the most important part of vehicles. A person shopping for a new car will peruse one brochure after another, carefully checking if the engine has four, six or eight cylinders, or if its horsepower and torque ratings are higher than those of the other brand. A beautiful car with a poor engine is nearly as bad as a lemon. All I’m saying is that we should all strive to have a good heart. Because if we have that, everything else will fall in its proper place. We will be reputable, good-looking, comforting, sensitive, responsible, trustworthy, prudent, steadfast and funny. Then we will never have to suck at relationships ever again.

Vernon B. Sarne
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