Sunday, 23 May 2010

Buying a New Car - Part I

For most people, the process of buying a new car is a pleasant experience, at least until the bill arrives through the letter box. It is an opportunity to take the time to find cars that suit you, both aesthetically and economically (and ecologically, if being green is your thing), and involves garage visits and test drives before choosing the perfect match. For me, however, it was a bit more complicated than that.

In October 2009, I had driven over to Switzerland in my trusty – if rusty – Peugeot 106, the car I had been driving in England since I bought it from new in 2002. The car had given me more than 7 years of mostly faithful service, and I decided to take it with me to start my new life. This decision was partly based on the fact that I could pack a lot more possessions into the car for the move than I could fit in a suitcase to take on a plane, and also because we would not have enough money to buy a new car while I was still looking for a job.

The only potential snag was that we might have to import the car to Switzerland, and that would almost certainly involve putting it through an intensive test/service. I really didn’t think it would pass that kind of inspection; the car’s engine warning light had been on almost constantly over the summer, and repeat trips to garages in Welwyn Garden City had not yet determined the cause, despite changing various sensors in and around the oil thing in the engine (apologies for the vagueness, I’m not much of a gear head).

The car had also been making various funny noises for the last couple of years, and although it had made it through MOTs in the UK, I doubted that it would pass the stricter tests in my new country.

Fortunately, a check on the DVLA website revealed that we could temporarily export the car for a maximum period of 12 months, as long as the car was taxed and had the proper level of insurance. This meant that I could drive the car in Switzerland without having to permanently export it until the end of September 2010. “That ought to give me enough time to find a job so we can buy a new car,” I thought to myself, and proceeded with the planned drive to Switzerland (see “The Big Move”).

Upon arrival in Switzerland, I had to fill in a form for the administration to tell them that my UK-registered car would be with me in Switzerland. For the privilege of the administration lady putting a date stamp onto my form, I had to pay a charge of 40 CHF. Nothing is free in Switzerland. Oh well, at least now the Swiss government would let me have the car in the country for up to 12 months before it would have to go through the “Immatriculation” tests.

At the time I was insured to drive Pepe (short for “Pepe le Peugeot” as my Peugeot was known) through Tesco Car Insurance. I had been with them for the entire time I had driven Pepe, and had had no problems with them whatsoever – I would recommend them to anyone looking for an insurer, as they are pretty cheap and the call centre people are always helpful.

I would have stayed with them until we bought a new car, but as we approached the end of the year I still had not found a job to permit us to buy a new car, and Tesco Car Insurance only covers European travel for up to 90 consecutive days. I therefore only had until the end of December with Tesco, with my options either to get rid of Pepe completely – leaving us without a car – or change insurers.

With my thinking hat on, I reasoned that changing insurers was a minor inconvenience compared to having to rely on public transport for every trip, and so I opted for the latter, leading me to conduct an Internet search for any companies who would offer me European car insurance for around 6 months or so (Pepe’s next MOT was due at the start of July, so I had hoped to get a job and subsequently a new car before then).

As it turns out, there are not many companies around who could offer me the insurance I needed. The problem was that I was driving a UK-registered car outside of the UK, and most insurance companies don’t like that. After many hours of searching, I came across Stuart Collins Motor Insurance, who’s website stated that they were specialists in providing the exact type of insurance cover that I was looking for (they didn’t mention my name directly).

I contacted them to make sure of what I was doing, and obtained a quote, which I later followed up on by giving them my card details. A quick cancellation call to Tesco, and everything was in place for my plan of keeping Pepe in Europe for another 6 months.

Pepe managed to keep going all through the harsh Swiss winter, largely thanks to Nelly and Bernard allowing us to keep him in the garage of their apartment building, so he did not turn into a giant Pep-sicle. We even kitted him out with winter tyres – something that we have no use for in England, given the less snowy/frozen climate – and bought some chains to wrap around the tyres if the snow got really bad (fortunately we never had to use the chains, as I would have had no idea how to put them on).

In early February, I managed to find a job (hooray!). That became the catalyst for us to start planning our next car, as we could use my salary to determine what we could afford. Chris and I began looking at different types of car, but we quickly agreed on one particular requirement for the new one: it needed to be big. Basically, we were both thinking ahead to the near future, when we hope to start a family of our own.

There would be no point in buying a new car of a similar size to Pepe (like a Corsa or even a Fiesta) as trying to squeeze pushchairs and other baby supplies into the boot would be a nightmare, or even downright impossible. So, we decided to look only at estate cars.

Our initial search involved looking at the main car manufacturer websites, such as Ford, Kia, Volkswagen, Skoda and Mazda. We both did not want another French car, given Pepe’s somewhat checkered history in the reliability stakes, so did not even bother to look at Peugeot or Renault. After our first checks into what sort of cars we liked, we had identified the Ford Focus (estate version), Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Octavia, and the Mazda 6 as potential candidates.

Luckily we had Bernard helping us with this, as he has a good knowledge of car dealers in Switzerland, so spent several hours aiding us in our Internet search.

Fortunately for us, our search coincided with the annual “Salon de l’Auto” in Geneva, the big international car show where all the main car dealers display the latest models in their respective ranges. This gave us the perfect chance to have a look at the cars we were interested in, and hopefully narrow down the list, so Bernard got tickets for the three of us and we waited for the date of the show.

While we were waiting, Chris decided to pop down to a Mazda dealer in Crissier to have a look at the Mazda6. This proved to be a key decision on her part, as she ended up falling in love with the car. The design, comfort, feel and style of the car captivated her attention, and from that moment onwards she had a clear favourite in her mind. I had not gone with her to the car dealer (I was working) and so told her that I would wait until the auto show in Geneva to have a look at her dream car.

The story continues in "Buying a New Car - Part II"...


Clint Moore said...

Car shows are really helpful! These events can help you find a car that fits your preferences. Sometimes, people can feel as if a car is destined to be theirs! Those feelings normally occur in auto shows. Strange, but true! ;)

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