Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features I bought a car on my year abroad so you don’t have to: a cautionary motoring tale

I bought a car on my year abroad so you don’t have to: a cautionary motoring tale

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From what I can tell, it is almost inevitable that almost every keen student makes a few mistakes in the first couple of weeks of their year abroad. Whether that be in the form of paying a deposit on an unseen flat in their chosen city- just to have it end in disaster- or realising that the internship of a lifetime turns out to be a demeaning combination of photocopying and coffee making, every year abroad requires a certain level of good luck as well as the ability to remain patient and cool-headed. Unfortunately, this is not something which I am good at, and the sad fact about my year abroad is that the disaster which I have experienced during the first couple of weeks of my Erasmus experience is entirely of my own making.

Image: author.

After graduating in the summer of 2018, I made the decision to work for the British Council in the small city of Gijón in Asturias, northern Spain. The hellish bureaucracy which haunts most students working abroad was made easy for me, aided enormously by my Spanish boyfriend who was able to make up for my towering inability to deal effectively with the unending red tape and rubber-stamping needed to register as a foreigner in Spain. My flat was also a wonderful success, perched on the coast with views across the beach of San Lorenzo and charming German flatmates to boot. Sadly, my aforementioned mistake was a biggy and requires a little explanation.

I got my driving licence within a few months of turning 17, and gaining access to a car reduced my total daily school commute from over a two hours on the bus to a much more manageable 25 minutes each way. Throughout my time at Exeter, I had enjoyed access to my little green and white classic Mini- affectionately known as Patrick- which the eagle-eyed amongst you may have seen poorly parked at the bottom of Forum Hill last year. I used it almost daily to take friends to and from Morrisons, where we attempted to fit 4 people plus shopping in a car the size of a postage stamp, as well as the inevitable bbq trips to Exmouth where the tiny sub-one-litre engine would struggle to make it up the hills on the way in and out of the city. To say that that car didn’t provide exceptionally memorable moments would be a lie, as well as giving me the freedom to escape the city on the regular occasion that the library became too oppressive. I will admit that the next sentence will sound nothing but entitled, but having access to a car had become a standard in my life. However, I did understand that maybe this would have to change, especially after realising I would not be able to take Patrick with me due to complex and frustrating EU legislation preventing the insurance of a car using a policy outside of the vehicle’s nation of registration.

When I moved to Spain, I had already researched the public transport options  in the mountainous autonomous regions of Asturias and neighbouring Cantabria. I did this because I wanted to know how I could travel the country as well as visit make regular visits to my partner circa 120 miles away in Santander.  I decided that committing to regularly travelling 5 hours by bus or 6 hours by train to complete a journey which takes less than 2 hours by car, wasn’t something which I wanted to do; thus began the car search.

I was fairly confident that this car was a goodun’… more fool me.

Armed with an outrageously optimistic budget of 800€ for a car, Coches.net (the Spanish equivalent of Autotrader) became my prime tool, but quickly I realised that the price of second-hand cars in Spain is nothing less than a joke. In the UK, it is perfectly possible to buy a car for £1000- anyone who has watched a single episode of the now ailing Top Gear knows that- but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case. Spain lacks the bulging company car market which the UK enjoys, resulting in a much more limited second-hand car market. Slowly, my budget grew and grew until I was looking for cars under 2500€. Once I had successfully navigated around 2 scam adverts, which had culminated in a very pleasant conversation with a charming Nigerian gentleman, I eventually came across a tasty looking Mercedes (cars which I thought were supposedly famously reliably cars, a fact that I will come back to) from the 1990s and I set up a viewing for the following weekend. Unfortunately, on the Friday the owner called me to tell me that the entire engine had exploded and that it was therefore no longer “convenient” for me to view it. Well, there went that option then. Eventually, I settled on an older Mercedes which I found at a local second-hand car garage, light blue and beautiful. Whilst I am no professional mechanic, but having worked on Patrick for years, I was fairly confident that this car was a goodun’… more fool me. Anyway, I was besotted and started with the paperwork.

Image: Gijón. Taken by and used with permission of author.

As it turns out, buying a car in Spain isn’t a cheap thing to do. To begin with, there is a tax on the purchase price. A regionally varying rate of 8% of the purchase price, for my new car, it was just under 200€. Add to this another 200€ for the solicitor’s fee for changing the title and registration documents. Then of course, if your car is reasonably new, there’s the road tax which, although less than the equivalent in Britain, is still somewhere between 40-200€. Fortunately for me, my car was tax exempt due to the fact that it was too old. “Congratulations,” I thought; I had bought the car and champagne was consumed! But the congratulatory mood was soon dampened by the nightmare of Spanish car insurance. I had requested quotes before I bought the Mercedes-Benz (a 190d to be exact) based on the fact that I have a clean licence, good insurance history and insurance covering me on another vehicle (Patrick). I was not, however, made aware of the fact that my insurance on Patrick would be a valid constituent part of my insurance until after the purchase was made. Hence, the insurance jumped from around 500€ for a year to an eye-watering 705€… for 6 months. But I had made the purchase, I had made the commitment, and therefore I bit the bullet. 1410€ per year bought me third-party insurance with breakdown cover and the ability to cancel after 6 months if I decided to sell the vehicle, as long as I didn’t make a claim; something which I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t have to do. 

whilst it is possible to buy a car during your year abroad… for the sake of your sanity, not to mention your wallet, don’t do it

When I started working, I quickly realised that I didn’t have time to commit to daily visits outside of the city, plus Gijón is so small that, like Exeter, it is entirely possible to walk everywhere in the city. Furthermore, whilst the inter-city public transport was fairly appalling, a lift sharing app called BlaBla Car is incredibly popular in Spain, providing cheap and speedy transportation around the country. So, my Mercedes became fairly unnecessary even if it did give me autonomy over the timing of my journeys.

Image: the disastrous car. Taken by and with permission of author.

What added insult to injury was that, in true Top Gear fashion, the first time I drove the car to visit a local landmark it overheated, leaving me stranded at the side of the road halfway up a mountain. My beautiful baby-blue Mercedes-Benz, which in total had cost me over almost 3500€, let me down. I’m not going to lie, swear words were uttered, but quickly I thought “well it’s not the end of the world, I have breakdown insurance”. What I didn’t realise was that if I called the breakdown service, it would count as an insurance claim and then I would not be able to cancel it after 6 months, effectively costing me upwards of 700€.  In the end, I decided not to call anyone, instead allowing the tired engine to cool and before topping up the almost entirely evaporated radiator from a nearby café before limping the vehicle home. My car was broken.

So here I am today, trying to work out what to do with my car. I have certainly lost at least half of the investment, and am too scared to now use it in case it decides to overheat again. So, I guess that I’m going to have to spend yet more money on the mysterious issue with the cooling system and then sell the damn thing. Following my misadventure, I feel that I am in a lucky position to impart a little bit of wisdom to anyone who might be a little bit interested in purchasing a car on their year abroad. My conclusion is this: whilst it is possible to buy a car during your year abroad… for the sake of your sanity, not to mention your wallet, don’t do it.

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