Sunday, March 25, 2007

Buying a car.... or trying to

The last few weeks and weekends have been very busy for us as we have been looking for a car to go with our (then non-existant) licences.

Much scouring of ads on Craigslist has been done by Brendan and Geoff (cheers, Geoff) every single day... cars were compared and pronounced "mean" or "not mean"; new car parts, makes and models were learnt, and we spent a good deal of time travelling to new suburbs and getting lost and referring to Alex's map. So we have more thoroughly explored San Jose through the act of buying a car. And spent the last few weekends and week-nights on this.

So, we were looking for:
  • A Japanese-made car
  • 1992 or above
  • few problems that we need to fix! Since neither of us know that much about cars.
  • around the $2K mark
  • 4-door (since we've spent lots of time cramped in other people's 2-door cars - now we can make trips to LA etc)
  • and probably some other stuff that Brendan could tell you
Most of the really good deals were in Oakland, which is right next to San Francisco across a bridge. Given Oakland's distance and dangerous reputation (I think last year the highest number of people were killed - 140. Very sad.), and the fact that at the time neither of us had our licences and couldn't drive back, we didn't really pursue them. You need a car in Oakland, and to look like you aren't lost. Carjackings at lights are apparently very common.

One place we went to was in South San Jose - the dodgy part of town, with Alex. It was next to the Stadium, and teams were practicing on the grass behind the 5m tall link fence. The guy spoke very little English, just Spanish. He took us down the road to where the car was, gave us the car keys, and said "Come back when you're done." The petrol gauge was almost empty, and we wanted to test it on the freeway, but in the end we stopped on the street instead to test it out. Heaps of black oily liquid spurted out of the end when you hit the accelerator, and it had lots of other problems. I called Geoff in NZ (and discovered calls from a US cell to a NZ cell cost $1.00 per minute) but we decided not to get it.

Car selling seems to bring out dodgy people - there was one guy (who barely spoke English - poor Brendan on the phone!) whose car sounded stolen - when asked about the origin of the car, he said, "My friend got it from an impound lot." The man in South San Jose also seemed like he had stolen the car, since he really didn't care about it at all. And when we called a week later about another car, it was a similar story. He seemed like he had people calling to buy cars all the time, and he just wanted to get rid of them by pricing them at low prices.

Another place we went to last weekend, in Alum Rock above San Jose downtown. The guy bought the car for his daughter, but it was very broken and she didn't want it. (I can see why!) Brendan drove it on the freeway, and I drove it back on the main road, but it had (again) lots of stuff wrong like panels needing to be replaced, and bad tyres, things like that. Alum Rock seems to be a wealthy Hispanic area, since the supermarkets had signs in mostly Spanish. I asked a supermarket packer where the sunscreen was, and she only vaguely understood, and answered me in Spanish.

We did go and check out a car yard in Saratoga which always seemed to have good deals (we have now spent a LOT of time in the Saratoga and surrounding areas!). After lots of confusion with map reading, due to the fact that the 280 Freeway on the map is spread over about 20-25 pages, with about half a mile on each page, we finally found it.

We took a '97 Toyota Camry for a drive, and it was very spacious and roomy. The salesman was a jovial American guy who chatted to us during the drive along the freeway about different things, but they wanted $3999 for it which didn't include taxes, and was more than we wanted to spend.

Finally, we found the right car. I'm going to let Brendan talk about our new car, so look out for his pictures. Thanks Alex, for driving us!

No comments: