Adventures in Car-land

Finding a car has been a real endurance adventure and it has already been a week and still isn’t over. Along with a mechanic, I went to several car dealerships, searching for a 4WD Manual vehicle that has clearance enough to make it through some serious croc infested rivers (you know the ones where the wildebeest break their ankles trying to get across and then either drown or are eaten). Some dealers weren’t able to find the keys to the cars. Once found, some keys didn’t actually open the door to the car. Some doors had door handles that fell right off. Once you got inside, things really got interesting. Some cars were missing the central console – a mat of wires coming up from the center. Others simply didn’t start. Others required an interesting rig to get them going, since the battery had died (see photo – this guy is actually standing on an active battery while holding some frayed wire next to the car battery to get it going). Talk about a jump! Most cars were just too small, automatic, or otherwise unsuitable for the conditions I would be taking them through. I also met with a few private sellers. One showed me here cute Mitsubishi, which she said was “great for a single gal, bopping around town” – not quite how I would describe my planned activities, though it was fun to test drive.

After three days of getting in and out of cars and walking through dealerships with cars so tightly packed that you would literally have to come back the next day for them to get a car out for you to see and I finally found the magical car. Both the mechanic and I walked away smiling. The engine sounded great. The car is a suitable sized 4WD, manual with working AC no less and I even like the color – all within a budget that would usually get you a compact Suzuki. So I am happy about the car and am planning to call it the Blue Beast once it is mine.

But finding the car was nothing, let me just say that buying a car has been one of the most complicated and unpleasant process I have had to go through in a while. What has been difficult is the issue of logbook, ensuring that duties have been paid, coordinating with three different institutions across two continents and the country to allow for payment through a grant, and making sure it is mechanically sound. There are a lot of stolen cars here, so making sure you have the right paperwork is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately there are also a lot of clerical errors in paperwork to begin with and confusion about what the proper paperwork actually is. Plus about half the time you have to go “tip” some government official at the equivalent of the department of transportation office to make sure the car is legal. Another issue is that NGOs don’t have to pay duty on cars, so when someone else buys the car later they can get landed with all the left over tax. This is an issue because most of the best cars are owned by NGOs (they tend not to rip up the interior of the car and destroy the engine unlike some vehicles that I saw). So finding a good car with tax already paid is difficult, then it is even more difficult to verify that the tax has been paid. I was lucky in that my car is owned by an NGO employee, but not the NGO itself. So the duty has been paid. In any case, I am down to the final stage, the wire transfer. Yet one more slow, painful step. Then I just need to service the car and head to the bush to finally get started on what I actually came here to do.

Start your engines! (by standing on the battery no less)
Start your engines! (by standing on the battery no less)

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