Tag Archives: vw

How hard can it be to buy a blue car?

Back in February me and my wife decided to buy a new car. We have lived in São Paulo for a year now and managed without a car – just using public transport – but with the beach and mountains so near, a car really offers up a lot more options for the weekend. We have rented in the past, which is fine, but needs to be planned – you can’t just wake up on a Saturday morning, see the weather is great, and decide on a trip to the beach.

I have owned several cars before, but never a new one. In the UK, the depreciation on cars is quite severe. In the first year of ownership a vehicle takes a huge hit on the resale value, so I have always tended to buy cars that were about a year old – except for the old bangers I drove when I was younger.

Here in Brazil depreciation is far less of a worry – cars really do retain their value over time so I decided to just get a new one, also assuming that any good car dealer would offer me interest-free credit on a new car if I stumped up at least half the value in cash.

To cut a long story short, we visited a lot of dealers and drew up a shortlist of cars that we liked and were in the right price range. One consideration is that you really need to buy a locally produced car. Imported cars are hit with enormous taxes – a Mini costs about £40,000 here and a BMW 3-series is about three times the price it would be in Europe. Imported cars are real status symbols here – when I walked past a BMW showroom recently all the display models featured bullet-proofing.

What struck me was how different the service levels were in different dealers. Nissan were horrible. Can I test-drive the car? No, it’s too late, come back tomorrow (about 5 minutes after 5pm, when test drives are supposed to finish). The sales guy was a petrol-head who was clearly not interested in talking to my wife about the car and wanted to sell to me – obviously men are more interested in cars?

Hyundai had some nice cars, but were not prepared to offer any kind of financing without interest. Even paying half the cost of the car in cash they wanted to charge 11% on the remainder. Enough for me to walk away – and they also only offer silver or black, what’s with Brazil and their bland car colours? We went to VW and asked about the SpaceCross and SpaceFox – the dealer said he has none in stock, but we can look at the regular Fox as it’s just the same anyway… I liked the look of the Chery Tiggo, and it seemed like good value for a 4×4 SUV, but the reviews are terrible – cheap Chinese rubbish if you believe the press.

We eventually chose the Citroen C3 Picasso. It looks great, has good reviews, comes in blue, has a 3-year warranty, roadside assistance, and the sales guy was friendly – even letting us have a look around at the car when the dog was with us. Citroen also offered 0% on the car if we pony up half on purchase.

We ordered. We had added a load of extras, like airbags (passenger airbag is not mandatory in Brazil for another year), and because we had picked blue it meant that the factory in Rio would have to make one – the wait would be perhaps 40 days. We started waiting, then after a month Citroen called to say that it would be another 30 days on top of the original estimate – strikes at the factory had caused trouble with deliveries and our “unusual” requests meant we were bumped down the list as more regular (black and silver probably) cars were produced.

We went to a few dealers again to see if we could just dump Citroen and get another car, but a trip this past weekend to VW drove the point home. The salesman would not even quote to the nearest month when he could get us a blue SpaceCross… if we wanted black then we could have it tomorrow.

For all the management studies I read about efficient supply chains, I can’t say I have seen it in the new car market here. A customer walking in and asking to buy a car with a big chunk of cash for a deposit should be what these sales guys dream of, but don’t ever think of asking for something slightly out of the ordinary – like getting the car in blue…

Citroen C3 Picasso

Photo by Giovanni licensed under Creative Commons

The day the brakes died

I crashed my car last Saturday. A lot of people have been asking me about it on Twitter and Facebook, so here is the story… fortunately it all ends pretty well considering how bad this could have been.

In May me and Angie bought ourselves a new car. New to us at least, but it was actually a fifty-year-old VW Beetle – or ‘Fusca’ as the Beetle is known in Brazil. Considering it was a 1961 model, it was in astounding condition with a new engine having done fewer than 500km and all new interior and seats… it looked great and we wanted a car just for weekends anyway. This is a big city of 20m people, believe me, the bus and metro are better options during the week.

1961 VW Fusca

We used the car a few times around town and a couple of weeks ago put it in for some maintenance work. All the normal servicing work like brakes, sparks, filters, oil… plus our local garage told us the suspension was a bit dodgy and the carburettor was shot, so we had everything done.

I collected the car from the garage last Saturday and was pleased to find it running so nicely. The gear changes were noticeably better and it just felt that way cars do after a big service and tune-up – improved.

Unfortunately, on the way back from the garage I was running along a long downhill stretch of Rua Diana and the lights turned red. There was no rush, so I slowly applied the brakes. Then suddenly the pedal felt like it snapped. It went to the floor. I pushed it up and down a couple of times only to find it was completely loose and we had no brakes!

A taxi had stopped at the red light and we ran straight into the back of it.

I hurt my hand as it was still on the steering wheel and my thumb was torn backwards… it’s still sore now. Angie had it worse than me as her seatbelt broke so she was thrown into the windscreen, banging her head on the glass and bashing her knee into the dashboard.

Thankfully though, we were both OK and able to walk out of the car to talk to the taxi driver and figure out how to get our car off the road.

I was angry with myself for not yanking the handbrake, but then the time between the brakes failing and us rolling into the car may have been a couple of seconds at most – I was focused on the brake failure and just never had time to take alternative action…

It was particularly annoying to have just spent a lot of money at the garage, and to have all the brake pads changed, only to find the brakes failing on the car. I was initially pretty angry about the situation. We could have been going faster, there could have been a person instead of a taxi, or a child could have stepped in front of us… the situation could have been a hundred times worse and yet we had supposedly just had the brakes fixed up.

The short story of the aftermath is that the taxi driver was very philosophical about it all. He lost a day of work, but was actually OK about it – enjoying his day off. He asked us for about £200 to repair his bumper, which he has still not come around to claim so he is in no hurry. He has chatted on the phone and talked of his sorrow at seeing a nice classic car all broken up. He was sorry for us and we had crashed into him!

Our car has a damaged bumper, bonnet, and wheel arch, but remarkably the axle and steering are all OK so it’s superficial damage that looks worse than it is. We are waiting for a couple of repair estimates still, but it shouldn’t be too much.

The garage where we had the work done rescued us with a tow-truck and they have kept the car all week. They are sorting out the brakes. It was a hydraulic failure – so all the pressure was lost suddenly. Though we were pretty angry with the garage, they had not done any work on the hydraulic system itself so it was just one of those things – it could have happened anytime. And in any case they are now fixing it up for us without any labour charges.

So, it has all turned out OK in the end. The damage won’t cost too much to repair, the guy with the taxi was more upset about our car than his, and our injuries were only minor and already healing.

On the evening of the crash itself though I did find it hard to sleep, just thinking about all those possibilities. For a total brake failure, we had just about the best possible conditions, fairly slow, running up to a red light, with a car in front to take the impact rather than sailing out into a main road. It could all have been so much worse, and with Angie’s seatbelt breaking with only a minor crash the thought of what might have happened if we had been going faster was quite disturbing.

Angie now doesn’t trust the car. It’s romantic to have a beautiful fifty-year-old car rather than some boring grey motor from GM, but this episode with the brakes has shaken her. We may well be selling it as soon as it looks perfect again… and getting the typical city-dwellers 4×4.

I never thought I would say that, but I’m also thankful to still be here after that experience.

VW Fusca in garage

Almost got the dog today…

We went to the adoption centre today expecting to pick up our new dog and to give him a nice long walk home from the city centre to where we are in Perdizes. Unfortunately, the day did not work out as planned.

First, we found that the dog we had chosen last week is not very used to walking on a lead. Sure, it won’t take long to get him up to speed on that, but it’s not ideal to walk a dog home from the adoption centre when he needs to get used to the new owners first.

So we had to change plan and go home, expecting to drive back to fetch him, but when I started the car I found that we had a flat tyre.

Usually that would not be such an issue – a quick wheel change and away – but I had only noticed this morning that the jack we received with the car is useless. I had made a mental note to get a new jack soon. I never realised that the very same day would be when I needed it!

So I just had to park up the car again and abandon the idea. I’ll have to buy a new jack in the morning, sort out the wheel, then get the car over to a garage to have the original tyre checked and maybe refitted.

In the meantime, the old pooch is going to have to wait for us… I’m sure we will see him in a few days. At least it gives us a bit more time to prepare… he still has only one bed so that should be sorted before he arrives!
Dog shelter, São Paulo

Help me choose a new car…

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?

I’m tempted to just say ‘what the hell’ and if the old Fusca gives me trouble, I can always sell it on. What do you think?
1961 VW Beetle for sale

We never manufacture things any more…

A common refrain about the state of the world today is the economic emphasis on services rather than manufactured products – the cry that we don’t make ‘stuff’ anymore, we just import it all from low-cost countries and the only jobs are in shops or giving acupuncture to dogs with wealthy owners.

But take a look at the news about British car manufacturing in the Financial Times today. Production of cars and commerical vehicles has jumped to over 1.4m vehicles in 2010 – that’s up 28% on the year before.

But it’s still not like the good old days is it? The Rovers and British Leyland marques that dominated the world?

Well, the absolute peak of vehicle production in the UK was in 1970 when just over 2m units were produced. That’s right, just 2m. Not much more than today is it? And by 1980, car and commercial vehicle production in the UK had slumped to 1.3m units – less than today’s figures.

But they are all foreign brands, none of them are British anymore might seem the next response…

But those companies – like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, VW, GM, and Ford – are all employing local British workers to build their vehicles in Britain, so those companies are creating British jobs and investing in the industrial manufacturing heritage of the nation.

Who complains about Santander being one of the dominant high street banks today (and not British)? Or Green & Blacks chocolate being the dominant brand of organic confectionary (and not British)? Or that cup of (Indian) Tetley tea?

The world has certainly changed since the automotive industry was all about local design, local production, and local sales, but it can’t be said that Britain doesn’t build anything these days. Britain is still building and exporting, it’s just not always British brands that are exported from Britain.
Morris Oxford