Today I went shopping for a used (or pre-owned to put an artificial luster on it) car. Car shopping falls just below root canal surgery on my list of least favourite things to do. It's not that difficult. It's just that no matter how much consumer research I do and how many classified ads I peruse, I just can't seem to shake the notion that I'm being fleeced and that I'll drive away in a shiny lemon with empty pockets and my pants around my ankles.
Although we've managed to learn how to use Auckland's mass transit system of buses, ferries, and trains which seems to adequately cover a wide territory with a minimum amount of transfers and fuss, we need at least one car in the driveway to satisfy that most famous of American addictions: the automobile.
Rick and Kris agreed to help me by taking me to a car fair at the Ellerslie Racecourse. The car fair is an organized flea market of sorts consisting of private sellers who gather in a vacant parking lot to display their wares for buyers seeking a good value, attempting to avoid commission costs, inflated profit margins, and general defilement that inevitably comes from used car dealers. The car fair appears to be well organised, with parking attendants in neon coloured traffic waistcoats. A trailer with helpful officials is there to provide immediate internet service for checking any Vehicle Identification Record so that if the car has been reported stolen, or has outstanding citations, these minor indiscretions may be cleared up prior to concluding any deals.
Megan and I originally talked about buying a small pick-up truck, or ute as they're called here. But Kiwis don't share the same predilection for the 4 x 4 and off-road vehicle that Americans crave: a rig (said in a deep voice while adjusting the crotch and spitting). So there is a dearth of utes to choose from and most of these seem to have retained their value, which really means they cost way too much. SUVs are out of the question since petrol costs about $3.65US per gallon and we don't want any part of that conspicuous consumption. SUVs in Auckland are unaffectionately called Remuera tractors, which labels these gas hogs with the ritzy suburb that has an average home sale price just shy of $1,000,000. You get the picture.
I spent most of my time looking at cars in an area designated between $5,000 and $10,000, which is about the price range you get for cars that are 5 to 12 years old with mileage (why isn't it kilometreage?) ranging up to 250,000 km. I settled on a 1994 Honda Rafaga with 63,500 km selling for $6,800. I talked the seller (the name on his business card was Max Ma but it seemed made up to me) down another $250 for a cash deal, which was about all the hard ball dealing I could stomach. If I were a real Kiwi, I would have held out for about a $1,500 discount, but I don't have the patience or the swagger necessary to pull it off. The car has a 2.0 litre engine, 5 cylinders (yes, 5, not 4 or 6), automatic, cruise, A/C, and low miles if you believe the odometer wasn't tampered with before the used car was imported to New Zealand from Japan a year ago. To save my last shred of pride, I choose to believe it. Ignorance is bliss. Plus the conversion to US dollars would be about $4,500. Do I sound defensive?
After concluding the VIR check and driving to the nearest post office to fill out a Transfer of Title and forking over a hand full of cash, I safely navigated my way back to our new home in Avondale, driving on the left side of this upside down world. A new car and a new home all in the same day! Making progress.