My wife and I have begun looking for a new car.

Let me clarify that sentence.

First, "begun." The word implies we just got started. But if our lives were a movie, calendar pages would be flying away on seasonal winds.

Next, "new." When we say "new," we may mean "used." What we actually mean is a car different from the one we presently own, which is to say, a car that doesn't stall in traffic.

When it began, our search was fun. Driving new cars, inspecting each one for its appeal and flaws as if we had become Car and Driver writers. "Good suspension." "Tight ride.""Responsive."

But as we trudged from dealership to dealership, things between us turned snappish. "This car bites." "Bites? What do you mean, bites?" "Bites. You know. Bites. As in … bites." "You didn't think it bit last month." "Yeah? Well, it bites now." "I don't know what you want." "I don't know what you want." Silence. "I think I'm beginning to get an idea of what I want." Silence. "Yeah. Me, too."

Eventually, we narrowed our search to two cars. One was a brand-new sedan with a six-disc CD player and a volume control on the steering wheel. The other, a three-year-old station wagon with 55,000 miles and a recall outstanding on it. My heart was with the used wagon.

Here's why. Over the course of our pursuit, we scoured scores of ratings: reliability, gas mileage, resale value. We scrutinized Carfax, examined Edmunds, perused Consumer Reports. We explored manufacturer websites, read newspaper car columns, interrogated friends. And we came to the inescapable conclusion that the single most important thing when considering a car is not its brakes or its engine. It is its sound system.

Um, let me clarify that. When I say that "we" reached that inescapable conclusion, I mean "I."

It just so happened that Jessica's closest lifelong friend, Lana, was visiting from Texas the weekend we told ourselves that we would make a decision between the two cars. Here in Washington, D.C., she could have been visiting memorials or touring museums. But Lana got to do something truly special, and sit in our beat-up old convertible's back seat while we drove to car dealerships. Do we know how to show guests to the nation's capital a good time or what?

We went first to the dealer that had the station wagon. I wasn't just drawn to its sound. I liked its look. I don't know why. My family had a wagon when I was growing up, and a wagon was the first car I owned when I could drive. If a person buys a sporty car to recapture youth, maybe he gets a station wagon to relive it.

Whatever the reason, while taking it for one last spin, I stopped in a parking lot to give Jessica the wheel. When we got out, a squeal came from the engine and the exhaust pipe belched a huge blue cloud, backfired a few times, and shuddered. We got back in the car and looked at each other. We had made a decision. Who cared how good the stereo system was?

"Hey," Jessica said on the drive back to the dealer. "We forgot to play a CD."

What possessed her to do what she did next remains a mystery to this minute. She slipped in one of the CDs we brought along. Immediately, all three of us were transported. We luxuriated in the sound's sensual embrace. "This is better than the system in my husband's $70,000 car," Lana said, which, for the record, is a price more than three times what this one was going for.

My heart broke. I knew I had to give up this car, but I wasn't ready to accept another.

"Jessica," Lana said. "I can't believe you did that."

“I can’t, either,” Jessica said.

Dutifully, we turned in the car and said our goodbyes to it.

Just as dutifully, we took the competing car, the new sedan, for a spin. It was fine. Nice ride. Nice seats. Nice sound. Jessica loved that it rode well and would likely provide us years of shop-free driving. But for me something wasn’t quite right, not after hearing the magnificent sound in that lousy car.

This was not a popular position to take.

Jessica melted down. “That’s it!” she fumed. “You want to keep looking for a car? Fine. But leave me out of it!”

Let me clarify. When Jessica says “leave me out of it,” she really means “You’ve done it now.”

Prudently, Lana stayed silent in the back seat.

Sometimes, a miracle happens. In this case, the miracle was the Internet. One night while scouring cyberspace for cars, we found the same model wagon at a different dealer. We went there the next morning, found it to be in good working order, and bought it. On the way home, I blasted the stereo.

Let me clarify. When I say “blasted,” I mean Jessica admonished that I might blow the speakers.

Ahhhh, harmony.