Clarkson on: persuasion
Right; think back now to the most embarrassing thing you've ever done in your whole life. Maybe it was the porn mag you shoplifted when you were 11, or maybe it was the one-night stand you had last month... with your bank manager.
Come on. Feel the guilt. Squirm. And now, imagine what it would be like to suffer from that feeling every single morning.
Here's the problem. I get a car to test, for a week usually, and in that time I'm able to work out almost nothing. Oh sure, I can tell you how fast it goes and what it looks like. I'm even able to determine if it's noisy.
But in actual fact, none of this stuff really matters. Take the Ford Puma for instance. Having been bowled over by the styling, the performance and the promise of low, low Ford- style running costs, we made it the Top Gear Car of the Year.
And, impressed by our report on the programme, a friend of mine bought one. And over dinner last week, he shoved his finger up my nose and explained that if you lift the tailgate up when it's raining, several gallons of water pour into the boot.
I never spotted this because when I tested the car, it was dry. But in the big scheme of things, it's not the end of the world. What concerns me far more is that I can't report on the one area that really matters - reliability.
In the last series I decided that the new Alfa Romeo GTV was the best coupe you could buy. It was pretty much the fastest and, though looks are subjective, I'll come round to your house with a broken bottle if you disagree that this mini Ferrari is a supermodel in a sea of excrement.
Now I knew it would not be reliable. I knew that after six months, if I'd pressed the window switch, the boot would have opened, and that if I'd mashed the throttle into the carpet, the bonnet would have flown away. I knew all of this. But I had no proof. So I couldn't say it.
"What concerns me is that I can’t report on the one area that really matters – reliability"
And as a result Dr Lynch of Belfast bought one. And now he's written to say that it's the most unreliable piece of donkey-do ever to grace the Emerald Isle. In nine months, the car has been off the road for eight weeks. And I told him to buy one. Oh my God. The guilt. The angst.
And what's this? The next morning I got a letter from Simon Saunders who, following my report, has a Land Rover Freelander. It arrived with the speedo calibrated in kilometres. And over the summer, the speaker fell out of the door, the transmission began to rattle, it ate oil like a school boiler and the air conditioning began to think it was a shower, hosing water into the cabin.
Sadly, it hasn't actually broken down so, technically speaking, under the terms of my agreement with the MD of Rover, Dr Hasselkus, Simon is not allowed to burn anyone's house down. But he is cheesed off.
And so is Andy Jones. Because he bought a Volvo T5R which received the Clarkson small-boy-in-toy-shop treatment on TV. I loved it. I raved about it. Andy bought one and to list all the faults, he used up all the paper in my fax machine. My hair stood on end as I digested the litany of problems. Oh God, the CD stopped working; pass the razor. Oh no, it judders; where are the Disprin?
And then, this morning I really did reach for the carving knife. A driving instructor wrote to say that in the last four years he has covered 130,000 miles in his Nissan Micra. It has been subjected to the worst kind of brutality from Maureen and her ilk and, apart from regular servicing, it has only needed two new brake pads.
A Nissan bloody Micra, for heaven's sake. I hate the Nissan Micra. I have joked about this lump of Japanese junk for years. It is as sensible as a sandal, with as much flair as Johnny Rotten's trousers. Yet it works, every single day, without fail.
There is only one solution. Treat what I say about cars as entertainment - but under no circumstances actually go and buy anything I like.
Seriously, the guilt is killing me. Every morning, Postman Pat delivers another tale of woe from some poor sod who wanted that 150mph top speed. He wanted to generate two ‘g' on every roundabout. And now the car is sitting in a workshop with oil spewing out of its heater vents. Please don't write to me any more. Please. Write to Quentin. It's all his fault.