Road Trip Europe – 22/11/28-12/01 The Spanish Car Buying Experience

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This morning, Eric and I set out to look for possible used cars. The first one we check out is a private ad for a 2005 camper van. It looks like a serious possibility: suitable for sleeping, mileage high but not absurdly so, 4×4. I take it on a long test drive. It has the power to pull hills, the owner seems straightforward, and the price is very reasonable. It’s big and heavy, though, almost certainly a fuel hog, and has a couple of symptoms that might indicate needed repairs but there’s no time to get them evaluated. I express interest but say I’ll continue to look.

Very tempting camper van but with some drawbacks.

The external constraint I have is that in 7 days, Eric is driving off on vacation. Since he has to register and insure the car in his name, all paperwork must be complete by noon this coming Monday — no ifs, ands, or buts. Talking it over on the drive back to Girona, we come to the conclusion that it would be wiser to shop used car dealers despite likely paying a premium over the private market. The advantages are substantial: a one year warranty, more efficient shopping than traveling to individual private owners, and experts to handle all the paperwork.

Unfortunately, as we drive from dealer to dealer, we’re finding slim pickings for what I want. We do, however, find one very appealing prospect on the used car lot of the upscale BMW franchise.

Not where I expected to find an affordable used car.

It’s a Citroën Berlingo, a very common small van sold all over Europe. In fact, the same car is sold under about 5 different brand and model names, so it should be easy to service or repair wherever we go. A long test drive is flawless and I’m very tempted to commit to this despite the disturbing thought that it’s the only suitable one I’ve seen.

This car has amazingly low mileage, almost flawless cosmetics, is only 4 years old, and is – unusually – equipped with 4 wheel drive. Many European vehicles have 4WD added by Dangel, a third party authorized by the manufacturers. The modification is made between leaving the factory and arriving at the dealer, so it’s in no sense a kluge or juryrig. Curiously, this Berlingo costs no more than a similar one without 4WD. Apparently, the market doesn’t value this feature very much, although I do.

My Europe road trip vehicle. The only choice, but a seemingly excellent one.

After looking further, on Thursday we go back and commit to buying the Berlingo. The price is quite a bit higher than the camper I drove, but still pretty reasonable. Now the time crunch is palpable. Our salesperson isn’t working Friday, nothing happens in Europe on the weekend, Eric is leaving Monday at noon, and Tuesday and Thursday are Spanish holidays which means the rest of the week is shot for business purposes.

Eric signs the contract, while the dealer finds an “all risks” insurance policy that covers the car in all countries, not just those in the European Union. This policy costs more and protects less, but it’s essential for my travel plans. I pay a down payment on my credit card and then we run home so I can arrange to wire the substantial balance to the dealer from my US account. Because of the time difference the wired funds won’t arrive in the dealership’s bank until tomorrow, Friday, and there’s no guarantee the dealer will confirm receipt by Monday — the drop dead date.

I’m on pins and needles because it’s absolutely essential that all the remaining paperwork be resolved by then or I’m screwed. But, it’s now out of my control, so there’s no point in fretting until then. Eric and I drive home. The three of us celebrate by eating out at a local pizzeria. As usual outside of New York City, it’s good but a big variation on what I grew up eating.

Catalonian pizza production.

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