Saturday, October 18, 2008

buying a car in a strange place

Step 1: Obtaining a driver's license. I do not have an American license and as I hate tests (at least when I can't hand them out myself), I was delighted to find out this state recognized my countries' license. I only had to have it transferred and was told to bring in:
- my original Social Security Card
- a (very) current letter from the Visa people to prove that I was indeed legally employed and in possession of a valid visa (did I note that my state has one of the toughed anti-immigration laws?)
- my original driver's license
- a certified translation (a high school teacher would do)

I ran into my first problem, sorry, challenge, when the visa people at school whom I already know by name noticed that I was lacking a tiny slip of a paper I was apparently given at the American Consulate in Jerusalem, a disingenuous-looking little thing that looked as if a ten-year old could photo shop it:

When I couldn't find it, I was told that it would take a year and $400 to get a new one. In the meantime, I would not be able to get a license, nor, one added to scare me into searching harder, be able to leave the country. Needless to say, I panicked and eventually dug it out from underneath some heap of paper. I went back to the visa people and received my precious letter.
Next came the translation. I translated my driver's license and sent it to a friend in NYC who asked another friend to (truthfully!) confirm that he spoke my language. Ok. He gave me my letter when I was in NY but, unfortunately, forgot to sign it. After some two weeks, the second copy of his letter finally reached me and my Brooklyn-born rosary-toting Jewish cabdriver took me to the one DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles: taking care of everything from licensing to voter registration takes place) dealing with foreign licenses where I was told that I was still missing a form that had to be signed by my translator. I briefly contemplated faking it but thanks to the internet and cellphones, that signature reached me two days later.

Step 2: Taking driving lessons. I hadn't driven in 15 years and was terrified to hit the road again. It took me a while to find a teacher who was ready to take me on, maybe because wasn't providing enough income. My instructor was a tough-talking former waitress/ bank teller whom I couldn't understand for the first 30 minutes (and vice versa). Here, classes last a minimum of 2 hours and I ended up taking a total of four hours. It was fun, mostly, and to my surprise, I could still drive and even parallel park on the first try. I picked up the few American oddities, such as using the median, this scary yet useful middle lane used for left turns, learned to briefly stop when parallel-parking instead of rolling right into my space, and how to park in an incline. Turns out that Americans don't like using the handbrake, for some strange reasons.

Step 3: Choosing a car. That one was easy. I knew I wanted a small, energy-efficient vehicle. Unfortunately, none of the small cars I was familiar with exist in this country because the local safety guidelines necessitate comprehensive changes, essentially canceling out the energy-efficient traits of most European car, let alone the profit-margin. I thought about a used car but decided that I was not ready to haggle and began to make internet inquiries at several car dealerships who got back to me pronto--long live American business sense!

Step 4: Obtaining a loan. I applied online at my bank and played phone-tag with my loan officer for a few days. Once I managed to talk to her in person, she gave me a nice quote before telling me what I had been waiting for all along: that I was not eligible for a loan because I had no Greencard. Great.

Step 5: Buying the car.
My Dad came to visit me last week. He arrived right after Yom Kippur and on Friday, we went shopping. We hit a few used car lots, without success, and had a few close encounters with scary car dealers.

Once at the car dealership I had been in touch with beforehand, things moved surprisingly fast. I knew what I wanted (a basic model Honda Fit with a remote opener which is not standard here) and that was it. My agent, Angela, must have been a novice, she pushed virtually nothing on us. There was a lot of paper work, and for some strange reason, she regularly disappeared for a few minutes. Our chat with Angela had taken place at a small table, while the financial officer whom I met afterwards resided in his own "sound-proof" glass cubicle. He, too, seemed new at his job and hmmed and ahhed, telling me, in essence, that I didn't have much to offer in terms of sureties (big surprise!) and couldn't expect the interest rate I'd been hoping for--in fact, his was better by .5%.

Step 6: Getting the car. My car wasn't available and had to be ordered. After Sukkot, I called to schedule a shuttle as the agent had told me to do. However, when I made my call, I was told that this was really only applicable when cars where being serviced. When I noted that I was after all picking up a new car, I was again told that this was impossible. I am not sure what I said, but I do remember that I slammed down the receiver after telling the manager that I was almost sorry I'd bought my car at his dealership. Five minutes later, they called and delivered the car to my office. And so, after all this, I could finally hop into my sparkling little car and zip away...


mother in israel said...

Titchadesh. And they say Israeli bureaucracy is bad! So, you won't tell us what country you're from?

tnspr569 said...


And do tell us how you like the car! Us Americans are just starting to get used to the idea of cars of this size (and from what I hear about that model, you picked a good one!)