Friday, September 30, 2011

Expat Tales: Buying a Car

 Meet Mia, our new car!
Mia is a '97 Kia Sportage.
She has a little over 200,000 kilometers.
She has 4-wheel drive. (yay!)
She's a manual. (not so yay)
She has been on the road longer than either Andrew or I have been driving.

Buying a car has been on our to-do list ever since we moved to Australia, superseded only by finding an apartment and setting up a bank account.  Having a car equals a bit more freedom for us.  Freedom to drive to the beach (only 2 hours away) and freedom to drive to the mountains (climbing spots are only 45 minutes away). We've been enjoying the city of Canberra but it's nice to know that we can now venture further afield.

Having taken care of the other big items on our agenda, we started scouring the For Sale ads online.  A few weeks ago, we went climbing with friends in the mountains and the access roads were a bit treacherous, so we knew that we needed something more durable than our old Neon.  With that in mind, we narrowed our criteria to 4-wheel drive vehicles.  We had been warned away from the used car dealers so we mostly concentrated our search on Gumbtree (Australia's version of Craigslist*) and the local classifieds. 

After a couple weeks of looking around, we lucked upon an ad for a '97 Kia Sportage.  It was a bit older than what we wanted, but the price was well within our range.  The girl who owned it was moving to Sydney and couldn't afford to park her car there so she was reluctantly selling it.  She had maintenance receipts for the entire history of the car and, because she hadn't planned on selling the car, she had already taken care of the 200,000k check-up and the necessary repairs from that.  We met up with her one Saturday and took the car for a test drive.  After a few days of bargaining, the Kia was ours.

Now, lest you think this deal was all roses, let me tell you the downsides.

The car is a manual.  The last time I drove a manual, the phrase "traffic hazard" was bandied about.  (Yes, Mom, I was a little traumatized.)  Most of the cars in Australia are manuals though, so I knew there was a good chance that we would buy one.  Drew has been giving me driving lessons and so far, I haven't had any horrible experiences.  The upside to having not driven a manual in over ten years is that it doesn't bother me at all that the gear shifter is on the left side.  Drew, however, has hit his hand on the door several times when he attempted to shift with his right hand.  Speaking of switcheroos, the turning signal is on the right side of the steering wheel and the windshield wipers are on the left side.  Drew's first experience driving was with his boss.  Every time his boss said "Turn here," Drew would accidentally flip on the windshield wipers, prompting his boss to remark, "Or wash your windows."

The other downside was basically our fault.  A number of the advice websites that we read told us to have the car checked out by a mechanic before we bought it.  Since the previous owner had kept such good maintenance records, we decided to skip this.  Also, we were just plain cheap and didn't want to spend the extra money.  We found out rather quickly that this was a bad idea.  In Australia, if a car is over seven years old, you must take it to an authorized mechanic and get a "roadworthy inspection certificate."  It's sort of like the yearly inspections that Virginia requires, but way, way, way more harsh.  Our lovely little car failed on 4 counts.  One of the parking lights was out, one of the wheel's bearings needed grease, and the break pads needed to be replaced.  It didn't set us back too much, but if we had had a mechanic look at it before we bought it, we could have asked the owner to pay for all of the repairs.  Well, now we know.

Overall, buying a car was one of the easiest things we've had to do in Australia.  (Renting an apartment was horribly stressful...I'll have to write about that experience some other day.)  We really do like Mia and we're excited to take her on some road trips.  Plus, she's got a kangaroo guard.  It's actually called a bull guard but most cars have them here to protect against the kangaroos jumping across the highways.  Kangaroos are like deer in the United States - everywhere and not to savvy about roads.  Fingers crossed that we never hit a kangaroo. 

*Craigslist does exist in Australia but it is mostly scams. 


  1. Oh- what a cute car! I am so glad that your car buying experience went so well. It can be stressful. Too bad about the roadworthy-ness of your car. I hope you never hit a kangaroo too! That seems so sad.

  2. I would be in trouble! Driving a manual AND driving on the other side of the road? Sheer trouble! But Mia is super cute :)

  3. Yay! That's so great that you guys will be more mobile now. Good luck with the manual! Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature though. I'm sure you'll have it down in no time. :)

  4. Congratulations on the new car! I'm a new reader, was just doing a search on bloggers in Australia/Canberra and yours came up! Very excited because I'm blogging out of Canberra too!

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Vanisha. It's always great to meet other Aussie/Canberra bloggers! :)

  6. Amusing story! Indeed,buying a car is so much fun! Most especially, if you're being offered by a car salesman with a good car at a very low price. Buying something like that is like winning the lottery!

  7. Good post. I will be dealing with a few of these issues as well.
    used car for sale in Qatar


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