My first car was a Ford Fiesta. I had no say in the colour, the make, the size, the year, the price. I’d been talking about getting a car and was even taking driving lessons. I went home one weekend and the car was there. My dad had gone shopping for me. I got the car and the bill. It wouldn’t have been my pick and ungrateful wagon that I was back then (hey, I was young), I still remember feeling a tad peeved at not having had a say. But it was a car on a deferred payment scheme and it got me from A to B. I soon forgot any complaints I might have had.
My only car in California was a two-tone green monster of a Buick Regal. I mentioned wanting a car and someone knew someone selling this one so I bought it. No research. No shopping around. It was in my price range and he said it ran fine. The front seat was like a sofa. The first time I went to put gas in it, I had to leave the garage, embarrassed. I couldn’t find the tank. I circled and circled and circled the car but couldn’t find it. How was I to know that the tank was hidden behind the licence plate.
The next car I bought was a maroon Ford Mustang. A great little car. I drove it up the Alcan highway from Washington and took it on the ferry when I moved from Anchorage to Valdez. But it wasn’t built for snow. I was constantly getting stuck on snow berms in winter and would have to call the pub to see if someone could come tow me out of trouble.
Back in Ireland, I drove my mam’s old Starlet. And then my brother’s Santa Fe. It’s been years since I’ve had my own car and I’d forgotten what it was like.
When the search began, I had a budget. And for that money I wanted the newest car with the lowest mileage in the best condition. Not a tall order, I thought. A pretty reasonable ask. Clueless, I asked a mate, TZ, who knows cars for advice.
He asked some questions: projected mileage (I way overestimated); preferred capacity (a boot that would fit two large suitcases and a back seat that would take three people comfortable); trips envisaged – frequency, length, etc. (I definitely exaggerated); parking; total budget; degree of urgency. He then sent a list of cars (models/makes) to avoid as it’d be parked on the street and these were prone to theft. This isn’t something I’d have thought about, ever. He then discounted various other makes/models for a number of reasons. Third generation of this car had a design flaw in backseat placement. Second generation of that car had an engine fault and so on. His knowledge of cars is encyclopedic.
We went shopping on Saturday. Three cars to see. The first, a Ford Focus, I’d have taken in a heartbeat. Low mileage, good nick (or so I thought), and well within budget. An import, from Germany. And so the education began.
Mileage was suspiciously low. It had been crashed at least once (the bonnet didn’t align quite exactly !*&S! – like I’d have noticed that). The tyres were old (check the four digit number). And the upholstery screamed valet job rather than regular upkeep. (So there was a hole … wouldn’t have bothered me.)
The next place had two cars on offer. Both Toyota Avensis – one a 5-door liftback, the other an estate. Both looked great, if a little big. Both were in budget. The five-door was gold though… I wasn’t mad about driving around in a bling car but I wasn’t going to be a girl about it. If it worked, it worked. I checked the bonnet – it seemed to align. I checked the tyres for the week/year and they seemed okay. But I missed that the wear on the steering wheel and gear knob were too much for the mileage done, even though the rest of the car was in great shape. The oil around the oil pan was went rather than dry flaky dirt-like stuff (another new one). All an education. The other was too big for me – I’d never parallel park it.
Sunday we saw Ime. A silver Toyota Avensis. She’s had one careful owner who has babied her for years. Lots of years. She’s in great condition and looks way younger than she is. She’s immaculately kept. Records of each and every service in its own plastic sleeve. Serviced religiously every 10 000 km. In budget, silver, good to go.
She’s my first grown-up car. The type of car my dad might have had. It took me a while to come around to the fact that I am grown up, too. When I mentioned to TZ that I thought she might be too big, too grown-up for me, he said, in all seriousness, referring back to my original list of wants: Mary, you can’t have sex and still remain a virgin.
I took her home today. And tomorrow the bureaucratic nightmare begins with the help of another of Hungary’s wonders, CM. The chassis test (to verify that she is just one car and not a mutation of many parts and that all parts are her own). Then it’s to the Halls of Hell to transfer registration and pay my ‘wealth acquisition tax’ (oops – capital transfer tax – a tax on transforming cash to steel) and get my car papers sorted. And then to another office to get my parking permit for district. The NCT/MOT is due in November when she gets a new clutch and a complete fluid transfusion. You see, when it comes to looking after her, I’m going to be more Hungarian than Irish. I’m going to do it by the book. I need her to live a long, healthy life. I need her to keep going.
This week in 2007, I came to Budapest. Nine years later to the day life seems to be motoring along in a direction I’d not have planned (were I a planner). But hey, the scenery is great; the route’s full of twists and turns, never boring; and there’s plenty of miles left on the clock. This week, I’m so glad I met the embodiment of the used-car classified ad classic: one careful owner. And for mates like TZ and CM, who willingly donate their days to help, I’m truly grateful.