Clarkson on consumerism

Posted by Jeremy Clarkson at 04:53 am on Tuesday August 14, 2012

My Range Rover has become a hypochondriac. While driving down the motorway this month, the dash suddenly flashed up a message saying there was a suspension fault and I should slow immediately to 30mph. But because it was not bouncing along like a spacehopper, or slithering along on its stomach, showering following traffic with sparks, I kept going.

This made the car very unhappy. "I am ill," it said. "I must go to a hospital immediately, or I will die." I tried to explain that it was a case of electrical man flu, but it was no good. "Ow," it said. "My legs are hurting. Please slow down."

Normally, I would have continued to ignore its cries for help, but the fact is that my journey would include stops in London, Sussex, the back end of Dorset, Nottingham, Peterborough and Banbury, and, frankly, I didn't fancy being marooned in any of those places if, by some miracle, the car was actually telling the truth. So, as I write, it's in hospital, still pretending to be ill, and I'm facing a dilemma.

That car is only three years old and has done less than 40,000 miles. It's basically new. And yet, despite what we say on TopGear all the time about Alfas and how a breakdown is a sign of ‘character', the single most important thing you need from an everyday car is reliability. And I'm not sure if I'm prepared to spend the next few years driving everywhere with my fingers crossed. Not expecting to arrive, just hoping.

I don't want to sell my Range Rover because I'd have to buy another, and the newer models are so frightfully vulgar with their chintzy grilles and their idiotic Swarovski headlamps. But I probably will, and because there are thousands of other people out there just like me, I shall probably get around £1.48 for it.

This is strange. When I first started to shave, at the age of about three, you were given a razor by your father as a gift, and you treasured it. Now though, you buy a razor and throw it away when the blades become even mildly clogged.

And it isn't just razors, either. You can buy disposable underwater cameras. That's almost inconceivable to someone of my age. A camera that works at the bottom of the sea, which you use once, and then place in a bin. All of that technology. The factory. The complexities and the cost of shipping. And all so you can take a picture of a fish. Once.

James May goes even further. He buys a watch, on average, every three hours and must therefore have a collection which fills his entire house. Whereas I bet his grandad went to his grave still sporting the half-hunter he was given as a 21st birthday present.

But I'm in no position to criticise really because, just yesterday, my son's iPhone jammed - have you ever heard of such a thing - and I said he could use one of my old ones. There are six. Can you believe that? The iPhone has only been on the market five minutes, and already I'm on my seventh.

Sure, some broke, but three were replaced simply because the casing cracked, or I was in a shop and noticed there was a new model. That's madness. Throwing away a camera, a phone, a record player, an internet browser and a device for landing aeroplanes, and spending £400 on a replacement simply because the new version exists.

And this is from a man who always saws the top off a squeezy ketchup bottle to make sure I get the last bit out before throwing it away. I hate myself for such waste, such wanton consumerism. And yet here I am now, thinking of giving my Range Rover away simply because it might - might - have man flu.

What's more, I'm not alone. You can now buy a virtually new Mercedes-Benz SLS for £50,000 under list price, simply because the owner is bored with it. Or what about an Aston Martin DBS for under a hundred grand? That's £60,000 under list. And the damn thing is still in its bloody box.

Because there are now so many people who see the motor car as disposable, it's great news for those of you who still have a bit of common sense. Because it means the market is swamped with cars that are eight or 10 years shy of their final booking in at the recycling centre.

Try this for size: a year 2000 Mercedes CL500 with 160,000 miles on the clock - just £4,750. This, then, is a 21st-century car – a two-door version of the S-Class for heaven's sake - with every conceivable extra including a DVD player and AMG wheels, and it's yours for less than the cost of whatever hateful underpowered and charisma-free piece of nonsense is currently Britain's cheapest new car.

A £4,750 CL - and I'm talking about the version with the pretty rear window - is simply ludicrous. And while 160,000 miles might seem like a lot, the chap who picks me up from parties when I'm drunk has an S-Class which has done 300,000 miles. And it still feels like new.

From the same year, and for the same sort of money, but with far fewer miles under its belt, you could have a BMW M5. And I'm not talking about some relic with a six pot under the bonnet. I'm talking about the full-fat, wide-bore, 5.0-litre V8.

There are countless Audis, Bentleys and Lexuses out there too, all for around the five grand mark, and all with more than enough left in them to get to the moon and back. Sure, they will chew fuel, but when you've only paid five grand for a £120,000 car, who cares?

Of course, you shouldn't buy a classic. It'll be overpriced and, no matter how enticing the idea, you should always avoid cheap exotica because it will be more fragile than a bat's wing. But a Mercedes-Benz or an Audi or a Range Rover? You're not just getting a bargain. You are also raping a plutocrat and, while I've never tried it, I bet it feels good.


TAGS// jeremy clarkson

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