Saturday, March 27, 2010

Have wheels, will travel

Much has been said about how much "greenie" New Zealanders love their cars.  It's all true.

Saturday morning on the motorway

Here in central Auckland, the buses aren't bad... but they aren't that good either.  I've yet to try the trains or ferries.
A car is - well, not essential in urban areas, but very handy.  And the roads are very developed in the interests of drivers.  (To my disgust as a pedestrian waiting many minutes for all the various filter lanes to have their go at junctions.)
Car-user services don't end there.  Driver's licences are pretty easy too.  In Italy, Ross (holder of a 10-year-old perfect New Zealand driver's licence) had to re-do his driving test from scratch to be legal to drive.  It cost well over 500 euros by the time everyone had their cut, even though he didn't need lessons.  I took my Italian driver's licence to the AA in downtown Auckland and, after some form filling, an eye test and a payment of $45 (about 22 euros), I was the proud holder of a New Zealand driver's licence.  (The actual card arrived in the post 2 weeks later, but I was given a temporary licence for the meantime.)  I even got to keep my Italian licence. 
Despite all these conveniences for drivers, there were some problems for me.  The cars available here are quite different to European cars - or even American ones.  I liked my manual car in Italy, and didn't want to learn a different interface (especially not after doing several emergency stops as I tried to find the clutch pedal and got the brake on Ross' dad's automatic sedan).  But 90% of second hand cars here are automatic.
I was also very keen on getting a small car.  Our carpark here at the house brings to mind bulls and china shops.  I'll happily admit to hating parking.  Small cars consume less and are easier to park.  Simple.
But New Zealand cars are usually nearly-new Japanese imports.  (Something to do with the Japanese being obliged to support the car industry by buying new cars, and both countries driving on the left.)  From what I can tell, Japanese people must like big silver sedans - what I would call corporate cars.  Not my cup of espresso.
Ross has begun work (yay!) and is away 12 hours a day, six days a week (boo!), so I started the car hunt on my own.  After a short while, I realised that (a) cars cost a lot here (we sold our '99 Corsa for 700 euros in Italy, while similar cars cost four or five times as much here) and (b) I was going to have to relax my criteria on the transmission.  A good brand, I decided, was more important, and I would just have to learn.
Turners Auctions seem to get the cars before the dealers do, and have so many I felt it was a good place to start.  At my first auction I had my heart set on an '01 3-door Toyota Vitz (that's Yaris to Europeans).  My heart pounding, I was building up the courage to raise my numbered card to bid, and someone pipped me at the post.  It sold for $5,300 (about 2,500 sterling) - plus charges of $700 as it had to be licenced in New Zealand for the first time, like most of the cars there.
My second auction saw me a little more confident.  I tried 5 cars, and bid on 4, but was outbid.  Depressed, I went home to see if we could raise some more cash.  Our budget of $6000 (including the $700 of charges) didn't seem to be able to get us a 2000 small car with 100,000km or less on the clock.
Saturday morning's listings renewed my enthusiasm.  There were no fewer than 17 hatchbacks that met my criteria of being a well-reviewed car on Honest John's website and had the year and the mileage to suit.  I arrived, red-eyed, before the doors even opened at 8.30am so I could test drive them all.
At least 10 were worth bidding on - mostly Toyota Vitzs, but also some Hondas and Mazdas, and a couple of my favourite Mitsubishi Colts.  I duly drove and rated them all (I had previously checked their records online) and prepared myself for disappointment.
When I won the first car I bid on (and the fourth car in the auction of 200 cars) I was so shocked I was shaking.  The Mitsubishi Colt is ours!  And it came in on budget and it's 2003!  Please don't let it be too good to be true!  We'll ask a local mechanic to check it next week.

In Italiano!  Abbiamo delle ruote, possiamo viaggiare 
Nella Nuova Zelanda - famosa per essere ecologico-ambientale ecc. - una macchina e' essentiale.  Communque, non e' difficilissimo.  Ad esempio, in Italia, Ross non poteva scambiare la patente neozelandese per una italiana.  Doveva fare l'esame da capo.  Qui, ho messo una trentina di minuto a scambiare una patente italiana per una neozelandese.  Ho pagato $45 (22 euro).
Ho cercato di comprare una macchina all'asta.  All'asta arrivano tante macchine dal Giappone - semi-nuove, ma purtroppo maggiormente grandi, e esclusivamente automatiche.  Volevo una macchina manuale, ma dovevo fare dei compromessi perche' avevo solo $6,000 (3000 euro) e faticavo a trovarmi una dal 2000 in poi con meno di 100,000km di una buona marca.  Dopo aver provato a tre aste, sono riuscita ieri, ho comprato una Mitsubishi Colt del 2003.  Spero che non abbia problemi invisibili!

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