I have not owned a car of my own for over three years now. I never found it essential in London, and I was in the Streetcar sharing club anyway, so when I did need a car I could just go and use one for about £5 an hour.
And it’s not really different here. I’m living in a very central part of São Paulo. There are two metro stations nearby and buses run right past the front of my house – so it’s really easy to get around the city.
But, a one-hour drive down the road and you can be on the beach and with the Brazilian weather being so much nicer than London, that’s a big temptation. I have rented a car a few times now to go on beach weekends – it is about R$400 to rent a small car all weekend, which is about £160. Hotels and camping grounds are cheap too, with a decent place within a few metres of the sand costing about £40 a night.
There are frequent buses going to places such as Santos and Bertioga for little more than £5, but if you want to get a bit further along the coast to some quieter resorts then you really need a car.
So I’m thinking about getting my own car again and trying to work out all the pros and cons. This was also stimulated because a neighbour just down the road from me is selling his 1961 VW Beetle (called a Fusca here in Brazil). The photo below is the car itself… not bad for a ’61?
1961 – In the UK that would be a wreck after 50 winters full of snow and salt and rain. This one looks pristine, with new upholstery and a brand new engine that has done less than 1,000km.
I’ve been thinking about whether an old classic like that is really practical though. I would probably need to get a Haynes manual and take up car repair as a hobby, just to keep it on the road. That is something I used to do as a teenager, when I drove a series of bangers that I kept on the road by working on them myself, with the help of my dad. But as I got older, and busier, I never got under a bonnet again – I just paid a garage. So I have not changed an oil filter in about 18 years.
I see my options as:
1. Get the Fusca. It’s about R$11,000 (just over £4,000) so I can pay cash without worrying too much about the investment. It would be fun to have an old classic. It would only ever be used for beach runs at the weekend – this is not something I would rely on daily for commuting. The only downside being that it might need more maintenance and it’s not so practical for driving in the rain or at night.
2. Get a brand new car. But cars are relatively expensive in Brazil compared to the cheap hatchbacks back in the UK, or even cheaper in the USA. If I wanted something like a Ford EcoSport (a basic 4×4, but not as lavish as a LandRover), it would be about £18,000 new, and a basic VW hatchback would be almost as much. Nice to get a new car, but it’s a big investment for something that will be used only rarely.
3. Get a second-hand vehicle. A 2-year old VW Fox or Gol would be around £9,000. So it’s cheap enough to pay cash, and has advantages over the old classic with lower maintenance and more reliability in the rain (São Paulo streets are a bit like San Franciso, huge hills so driving in the rain in the city can be full of unintended wheel spins).
4. Get a long-term rental or lease. This would be a really good option if compared directly to the purchase of a new car. In Britain, specialist leasing firms arrange long term rentals, but in Brazil it is the regular car hire companies like Hertz and Avis – you can just arrange to rent a car for a year or more. It avoids the need to worry about insurance, maintenance, depreciation… and works out well if you are comparing to a brand new purchase.
I’m leaning towards the Fusca, with option 3 as a possible alternative. 3 offers more reliability, though there is little excitement in owning a 2008 VW hatchback, it certainly has none of the romance associated with a 50-year old classic.
But would the old car give me so many headaches that I regret ever buying it?