Going Topless: One Woman’s Revealing Look at Car Shopping


I’ve been the gal who has always driven the practical car. But with no kids, a small dog that rides shotgun and my current car on its last legs, there’s never been a better time to get the car of my dreams – a convertible.

I have never bought a car on my own before. The last time I bought a car was 12 years ago, when I drove away with a 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier, which was picked out by my dad (a GM retiree and the company’s #1 fan). At 300,000+ kms, one missing hubcap, two huge dents on either side of the car (it gives the car balance) and a hell of a lotta rust, it’s time to put the old girl out to pasture. Sure, it still runs (say what you will about American-made cars, this one gave me little hassle in all the years I drove it), but I’ve been a little embarrassed to have people see me driving it.

Even before I set foot in a dealership, I am finding it to be a pretty scary experience. Would I ask stupid questions? Would the salesman try to scam me as soon as I walked through the door? Would I forget the really important questions to ask? Can I do it alone?

I want to see if it could be done… rather, I want to see if I could do it on my own. Granted, I have the added perk of having a bevy of handsome, knowledgeable auto journalists a few feet away from me. But these guys are fanatics – once they start talking car shop, I’m in over my head about 10 seconds into the conversation. Plus, they’re all guys, so when it comes to knowing what it takes for a woman to get a fair shake at a dealership, I’d have to go it alone. I wanted to share my experiences with other women who were more than a little reluctant to go car shopping on their own. I guess you could compare it with going to a fancy-schmancy restaurant dateless – is everyone thinking that someone stood you up or do they feel sorry that you’re all alone in the car buying process?

I’ve heard the slack from all the convertible haters out there: It’s impractical. What will you drive in the winter? They just aren’t safe to drive. They’re easy to break into. You can’t wear a hat because it will fly off your head. But I’m a woman who knows what she wants, and ever since I saw Barbie in hers, I have coveted that incredibly sexy ride (without the pink paint job and useless Ken doll, of course).

The truth is, convertibles have come a long way baby. With the advent of the retractable hard-top, the convertible is harder to break into, is safer in a rollover and keeps you toasty warm in the winter. And because I have a larger-than-average head size, hats fit snug – there’s no chance of it blowing off when the top is down.


Wait until the summer is on its last legs… that’s when I strike. I’m the convertible ninja. My invaluable Editor-in-Chief Colum thinks I should wait until November to make my move, but I’m more than a little impatient. Look hot in a convertible now or wait to save a few hundred (or a few thousand) dollars. Decisions, decisions…


  1. No men are allowed to accompany me when I go to the dealership to test drive or when I buy the car. I can ask for advice from outside sources, but that’s as far as it goes.
  2. I can’t buy after I test drive it. This isn’t the impulse buy rack at the supermarket. I’m leaving my money and credit card at home.
  3. If a salesperson presents the vanity mirror as one of the key features of the car, I am allowed to kick him in the junk.


There are more than a few convertibles out there to choose from. Which ones should I consider buying? If I had the time and the money, you know I’d be all over the high-end rides (seriously, how awesome would I look in a Lexus or Mercedes convertible?). But realistically, that’s not going to happen. I’ll need to figure out what cars fall into my price range and fill my needs (and perhaps a few wants). And it’s probably not a good idea to test drive a car I’d have to sell my liver to pay for – I’ll be able to tell the difference when I take out the cheaper counterpart. It’s hard to go back to eating hamburger everyday once you’ve had a taste of Kobe beef.

My list of convertibles is going to comprise of four models. Once I’ve settled on them, it will be time to dig into some closets to unearth the skeletons.  I’ll be examining reviews, both professional and customer-based. These will be able to give me a good idea as to what to expect from each car. Things like common issues and concerns or product recalls could be the deciding factor on whether or not a car makes it passed the elimination round. And armed with this knowledge, I’ll be able to ask the salesperson at the dealership what has been done to correct these problems.

Another important factor will be the different trim levels. Each model will come with its own set of standard features. When you go up the scale of trim levels, the price starts to creep up as well. This is where my handy list of needs will be invaluable.


This is a big process and I find it helpful to break down each of the steps before moving on to something new. That means that I’ll complete the bulk of my research before going into a dealership. If I go in half-assed, it will show through when I pick the wrong vehicle and pay the wrong price.


Which convertibles made it to the sudden death round?