Saturday, December 29, 2012

About Owning a Car

So, you’re thinking about relocating to Chiclayo or some other Peruvian northern coastal town and wondering if you’re going to need a car. Here are some things you may want to consider before plunking down your nuevo sols.

At least 90% of the collisions I’ve seen involve a private car. Commercial drivers… taxi, mototaxi, colectivo, combi and trucks drive in pretty much the same rhythm and know what to expect from each other in the semi-controlled chaos that are Chiclayo streets. For example, Commercial drivers (and native pedestrians) know to look both ways when crossing a one way street. They know that the taxi or combi or mototaxi ahead of them will suddenly swerve left or right or come to a dead stop, because they do it themselves and are prepared to deal with it. Private car owners are on a different rhythm – slower, indecisive and much more cautious. And they do the unexpected, like slowing down before turning and not ‘shooting the gap’ between oncoming vehicles, and stopping on a yellow light. And so they get hit or hit somebody.

Driving isn’t the only drawback. Parking is a bitch. There is no difference between trying to find a parking spot in downtown Chicago or in Chiclayo. And unless you have a private and secure place to keep your car, especially overnight but also during daytime, chances are good that when you next visit your car you’ll be missing your side view mirrors (a favorite ‘midnight auto sales’ item) and whatever else the thieves were able to remove. There are parking garages scattered throughout the city, but unless you know they’re there they are difficult to recognize and are not convenient to get in or out of.

There’s the cost of gas, which right now is on a par with USA gas prices. In Chiclayo for $1.20 you can go to pretty much anywhere you want to go by taxi and even less in a mototaxi, and you don’t have to drive in what always resembles a demolition derby, or worry about a parking spot and if your car will be there in whole or in part when you get back. That same $1.20 will get you to most surrounding towns like Lambayeque and Pimentel, albeit in a combi, which is sometimes not the most comfortable mode of transportation if it’s an older model.

And there’s the expense of auto insurance which is mandatory, though most incidents are minor and unless injuries are involved amount to nothing more that shouting and exchanging insults with each other before driving off as if the whole thing never happened.

Despite the above, there are advantages to having your own car.

Going somewhere at night on a combi or collectivo is a pain because of limited hours, and the often unsafe areas where they are boarded. Taxis are the only other option, and at night they are both expensive and dangerous if the driver has a second occupation as a thief. Secondly, a car is more convenient for long trips, where the only public transportation is by bus and you have to travel on their schedule….not yours. Peruvians have no trouble traveling on a bus from Chiclayo to Lima (12 hours) or to Cajamarca (6 hours), but my restless leg syndrome kicks in at about the 3 hour mark and if I can’t pull over and walk a bit the remainder of the trip is torture.

Still think you may want to buy a car? Okay, let’s look at your options.

If it’s a new car you’re thinking about there are a handful of new car dealers in Chiclayo with modern facilities and showrooms. The Maquinarias dealership offers Nissan and Renault.  Other dealers handle Honda, Toyota, JMC, Daewoo, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Suzuki. To my knowledge the only General Motors brand available in northern Peru is Chevrolet. The Chevy offerings from several dealers include the Sail ($11,500) and Spark ($8,000), as well as a van and SUV. I don’t know the model names of the last two. A new Chevy van at the Real Plaza Mall dealership has a sticker price of $10,500. I have been told that almost all of the new cars sold in Peru are built/assembled in Brazil or some other South American country.

There are several ‘pre-owned’ car lots in or near Chiclayo. I have not visited them so am not familiar with their offerings or operation. Most used cars are bought and sold through either word of mouth or seeing a for sale sign on the streets. It is my understanding that this 1981 Buick Skylark with automatic transmission seen in the photo was owned by a sweet little old lady who only drove it to church on Sunday. The Ford Escort parked in front of the Buick is also for sale.

If you’re going to own a car you’ll also need to maintain it. New car dealers have complete service facilities but are regarded as expensive, probably because they’ve adopted the ‘replace’ philosophy of US car maintenance facilities. Peruvians don’t like to ‘replace’ anything unless it is absolutely necessary…they repair. An old radiator, brake shoe, generator, window crank handle, shock absorber, etc isn’t replaced, it’s repaired. It’s a marvel to me how these mechanics can keep 30, 40 and 50 year old cars on the road. Their repairs won’t last forever but no matter – they’ll repair it again and again until there is nothing left to repair, and then they’ll come up with some other exotic solution.

Repair shops come in many flavors ranging from a complete facility at a new car dealer to somebody’s back yard. Jam Motors is one of the newer and more modern. Several of their mechanics were wearing coveralls with “certified GM mechanic” embroidered on the back. They were working on three Chevy Spark taxis parked on the street when this photo was taken.

The majority of auto repair shops in Chiclayo look like this one. Most of them have been around for a long time and are trusted by locals. Their hours of operation are iffy and they may not be able to accept your job immediately and it will probably seem to take forever to get your car back, but the job will get done and at a cost that will be laughably low.

There is one remaining item ahead of you...and it’s a huge one. Three years ago the then President Alan Garcia signed legislation making the attendance of a driver training school mandatory to obtain a first-time driver license. There are several “Escuela De Conductores” that will be happy to teach the rules of the road during a three-month course at a cost of $785. When you’ve completed the course your next stop is at the Department of Transportation where you will undergo a physical examination and then be required to pass a written and road test. This at an additional cost of $392. It’s hard for me to believe that this system is enforced as stated…the average Peruvian would not be able to afford it, but true or not there is probably a substantial amount of time, money and red-tape involved.

Are you really sure you want a car?

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