05 August 2006

Car shopping...Italian style

About a month ago we decided that we definitely need to get a car as relying on the local bus system is a study in frustration. There are a couple things about cars and car buying in Italy that are different than the US. First, you notice the cars are smaller, which is actually a good thing for 2 important reasons. Gas is sold by the liter and with the unit and dollar conversion a gallon costs about $4. Also, small cars are much easier to drive here in Italy. The company I worked for in the US supplied me with a vehicle which was a mid-size 4 door sedan which I found comfortable driving the long stretches of New Mexico highways. In Italy I would have a hard time parking that vehicle and maneuvering it through most city streets.

Lancia Ypsilon rental in Ascoli Piceno

We have had 3 different rental vehicles here: a Chevrolet Matiz, which is about as big as a golf cart; a Lancia Ypsilon which is a little wider; and a Ford Focus wagon. The Ford Focus was too big, I found it difficult to find parking spaces in city centers and some medieval city streets are too narrow for it to navigate.

The car ownership process in Italy is also different; if you are not a legal resident you can not buy a car, even if you have cash in hand. The papers we have for our stay do not give us this status and we don’t want to take the time to do that to buy a car. The pace of bureaucracy would give us the necessary paperwork round about the time we’ll be leaving Italy, we think. What we will be doing, which is apparently quite common, is to find a car and have friends buy it for us in their name, while we pay them for the car and insurance. Once we leave Italy they will sell the car and can forward us any proceeds.

We looked into car lease programs for expats but these are 6 to 8 months in duration and the cost is as much as buying a new car. We don’t want to pay that much so we have been shopping for used cars at least 5 years old. After visiting several car lots it became evident that car dealers here are quite different than what you would experience in the US. The big things that stand out are that they don’t keep the cars sparkling clean; if it has rained and the cars are dirty it may be a few days before they will wash them. Also the interiors may be in need of a good vacuum.

The high pressure sales that car dealers in the US are known for is non-existent here, many times we have to search for the proprietor to check on vehicle prices as they are not listed. If you say you are looking for a used car for 4,000 Euro, that is what they will show you, not all the up selling to higher priced vehicles. If you want to test drive the car you have to ask, in the US they are pushing the keys into your hands and talking payments and “how can we get you in this car today?”. When we leave there is simply “Ciao”, as though they just enjoyed chatting with the Americans, no exchanging of business cards.

Our friends Giorgio & Francesca went on vacation this week to the Torino area with some friends and left us their car to use while they are gone. We have taken advantage of this opportunity and spent a couple days this week visiting car dealers in and around Anzio, probably going to at least eight different lots. We found a ’97 Ford Fiesta early in this search with low kilometers and the dealer told the story of “the little old lady who only drove it into the country”. The car was in good condition for the year but we were concerned for the age. As we searched the other lots it became apparent that this vehicle was going to be out best option for our price range as other vehicles we saw showed signs of neglect, heavy use and/or hidden damage.

We went back twice to look at this Fiesta and test drive it before agreeing that this would be the car for us and Friday night we put a deposit on the vehicle. Now we await Giorgio and Francesca to return from vacation so we can finalize the vehicle purchase and become more mobile here in Italy.


Barbara said...

Check your math, because if you're buying gas here for the equivalent of $4/gallon then we're coming to your gas station! It's the equivaenet of $5.50 around us in Umbria, and that's for diesel, regualr gas costs more!

Bryan said...

Actually we're both wrong. Benzina here in Anzio is 1.38 euro/litre. There are 3.8 litre in a gallon so that would be 5.24 euro/gal. With $1.28 to the euro that makes a gallon cost about $6.70 - ouch!