Two years ago, when I was living in Antigua where I grew up, my mom needed to buy a new car. She had been driving a 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara. It was a beige SUV with chrome accents and a complementary beige interior. For about nine years, it had been a decent car that got us from point A to B.
But when I was in 8th grade, the car became high maintenance. The power steering fluid constantly needed to be refilled, the radiator kept overheating, and the left headlight developed a short. (It turned on and off constantly, which made visibility at night potentially hazardous.) My mom decided it was finally time to get another car.
She began searching websites like beforward.com and sbtjapan.com for Japanese used cars. She fell in love with a third-generation Toyota Rav4. The SUV had push button start, keyless entry, power folding mirrors, a sleek design, and a black interior with a touchscreen infotainment deck. She placed her order for the car and two months later it arrived on our island.
I had been visiting my aunt and grandparents for summer vacation in New York, so I wasn’t aware that we were getting a new car until she picked me up at the airport when I returned to Antigua. My eyes searched over the glistening silver paint, shiny chrome wheels, and streakless windows. The car looked as if it was brand new. You would never know that it was already 13 years old and had almost 50,000 miles on it.
I don’t know why this car interested me so much. Maybe it was because my mom hadn’t bought a new car since I was 4. Growing up I had toy cars, remote control cars, and other vehicle-related toys and playsets. But this was the first time I was fascinated by a real one.
From the moment I stepped into the car, my curious 14-year-old mind began to race as I tried to figure out all the new features. For the first few days, I’d sit in the car exploring the interior cabin. I took to YouTube to figure out some of the features like cruise control, automatic headlights, the infotainment system, and even Easter eggs. (An Easter egg, in automotive terms, is a hidden bonus that automakers add to a car, like a special logo or unusual headlights.)
What’s an Automotive Journalist?
This is when I first discovered automotive journalists. They test out cars, SUVs, trucks, and other vehicles, and then write reviews or produce videos about their reliability, features, value, and style. I began to read and watch reviews on all types of cars. Even expensive ones like Lamborghinis and Bentleys that were so far out of my family’s income bracket they were like stars in the night sky.
Shortly after, I began pretending to be an automotive journalist anytime I got into someone else’s car. I scanned the interior for features and Easter eggs I saw online, and then I would point out things they were previously unaware of.
Once, I was in my godmother’s Toyota Prado, offered in the North American market as the Lexus GX. It is an SUV with a khaki brown exterior with chrome accents. The interior has plush, luxurious materials, and always has a new car smell. The materials and surfaces inside are a combination of soft-touch leatherette and injection-molded plastic, as well as a few hard-touch plastic surfaces where the automaker cut costs.
“Have you ever used Hill Descent Control in your car?” I asked her while we drove down one of the many hills leading to her home.
“I have never heard of that,” she said, “What is it?”
“Hill Descent Control is a driver-assistance feature that holds the vehicle at a specific speed while you traverse descents on rough ground. The simplest way to think about it is super-slow off-road cruise control.” She looked over at me in amazement.
Moments later, as we were about to descend the second hill, she engaged the system following my careful instruction and we tested it out for the first time. At the beginning, it appeared the car wasn’t going to slow down, but a second later the car began to crawl down the hill and we made it safely to the bottom.
“Wow. I never would have known about this,” she said as we turned onto her street. After that I showed her a few other hidden features within her infotainment screen and told her about drive modes the vehicle had. It made me happy to be able to help my godmother. It also made me realize that my fascination and obsession with cars could be useful to others.
Over the next few years, I learned more about different vehicles at different price points and spilled random facts about cars to anyone who would lend a listening ear.
My Aunt Needs a New Car
Last summer, I made the big move from Antigua to New York to live with my aunt. Luckily for me, she was ready to purchase her first car. She had done some light research but found the information overwhelming. I took it upon myself to help her find the perfect automobile to accommodate our family’s lifestyle.
We had a family of four, which sometimes became five when my great grandmother came to visit. We also went to BJ’s every few weeks and bought a lot of things in bulk, so we needed a car for that. Road trips were an activity we’d always talked about but could never do because we didn’t have the right car, so we needed one that would be comfortable enough for longer rides.
I looked around on various dealership websites and seriously researched vehicle reliability because we were looking in the used market. I made our first appointment with a Toyota dealership in the city to look at RAV4s. This decision was slightly biased because my mother had a RAV4, but I also knew that Toyotas were reliable and could last until the end of the world.
Unfortunately, during our test drive we weren’t pleased with the car and felt it lacked key features (heated seats, a sunroof, a dark exterior and interior, power liftgate, and low mileage), which we deemed essential in whatever vehicle we would end up taking home. The car was also considerably above MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). This is the price that the car companies suggest dealerships sell it for. It does not include the taxes and fees for processing and registering the vehicle. The cost of the fully loaded model was $32,000, which could’ve easily put us in a brand new vehicle. The used RAV4 we were shown seemed like it wasn’t worth the money.
Chocolate Brown Leather and a White Diamond Pearl Exterior
I also made an appointment at a Hyundai dealership. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a sales rep and sat down to go over the cars we were interested in test driving. He walked us out to the Acura MDX. The pictures on the website of the SUV did it no justice.
The exterior was painted in a beautiful white diamond pearl, which glistened in the sun. The 20-inch wheels were a simple, yet elegant metallic silver design, which complemented the chrome accents on the vehicle magnificently. On the inside there was chocolate brown leather and a full suite of luxurious features such as a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled seats, a sunroof, premium audio, and power folding side mirrors.
“It’s beautiful. I’m in love,” I said as the salesman unlocked the car. “I’m sold. I don’t need to sit in it or look at anything else.” My aunt and the salesman laughed as we all piled in for a test drive.
But as soon as we hit the road I changed my mind. I could tell my aunt was too timid to push the vehicle and make use of all its horsepower. It was also too big, making parking in the city an even bigger nightmare than it already is. Plus, it would be expensive to fuel up.
We parked the car on the dealership lot and moved on to a Hyundai Tucson. It was charcoal grey like my aunt wanted, had black rims which I wanted, and contained many of the features I decided were an absolute necessity (and a few extra I hadn’t thought of). This car also had low mileage and was in impeccable shape.
My aunt was overthinking and it took some convincing from both the salesman and me that this was the one. Now, five months later, she is still as happy about the decision as when she first bought it.
Helping Everyday Consumers Buy the Car They Love
I was in charge of teaching my aunt and my grandparents how to operate different features in the vehicle. This made me feel like one of those journalists whose video and print reviews I often watched and read. I realized I was doing the same thing, but in person, and I decided this was what I wanted as my career.
Cars are one of the biggest purchases a person makes in their life and, in many cases, the car a person ends up with is the car they keep for years, sometimes even over a decade. If a person doesn’t like the car they buy, they might dread having to drive it, which should never be the case. I believe people should know what features and overall packages are offered in a car, as well as the car’s reputation for safety and reliability. That is why I have made the decision to become an automotive journalist. It will allow me to educate everyday consumers, to help them get a vehicle they will love and know how to operate all the features within it.
I’m a senior now, and I have decided to go to college and earn a degree in Communications and Media. When I graduate, I hope to find a job at a company that reviews cars, such as Kelly Blue Book or Redline Reviews.
1. What new interests were developed after Jaden first saw his mom’s new car? What did Jaden do to support his new interests?
2.How did Jaden use his interest with cars to support his family members?
3. After realizing that his interest in cars can support a larger community, Jaden decides to be an automotive journalist. What are some of your interests, and how can they support a larger community?