Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Buying a car? Renting a car? A Renault? A Peugeot?

Nothing duller than cars unless they're being discussed by Jeremy Clarkson. At least then you get some seriously controversial rubbish, some laughs and a few bits of common sense to lighten up a deathly topic. Plus, the floppy-haired other ex-public-schoolboy, James May, who's quite compelling in an irritating way. And the little handsome one, Hammond, who's sweet and clearly insane.

But, if you live up a track in a forest, you have to have a car. The track is Grade A bumpy and the white dust makes any vehicle filthy within 500 metres. So I wanted a no-frills-at-all, bump-along-the-track-and-park-in-the-forest car.

Being here, the obvious choice - almost the only choice, looking around - was between Peugeot and Renault. I had a Renault Megane in Scotland and it must have been the worst one they manufactured. It quickly developed a fault and started making grating noises as loud as a plane taking off. And would then just stop. In town. On the motorway. On a junction. Every time it did it, it had to be towed somewhere to get fixed. And sometimes it started again on its own and the mechanics insisted there was no fault because the onboard computer said there wasn't one. Useful.

Every time you set out on a journey you had the comfortable feeling that it was likely to turn into a major problem involving the hard shoulder, the (wonderful) AA, a trip home sitting in one of those towing lorries that are so huge they make you feel like a child, and another discussion about the infallibility of the onboard computer at the garage.

So, with very little thought, and some very bad advice from an ex, I rejected the Renault option - Renault Megane or Renault anything- and got the smallest cheapest Peugeot I could find. And hoped for the best.

Hope wasn't effective. The car goes, and it's OK on petrol. But I overlooked the finance. The ex persuaded me to get the thing on a personal lease and it's turned out to be the most expensive Peugeot 206 the world has ever known. 6 years at hundreds of euros a month. Including elusive insurance and maintenance features which reliably result in more bills every time you try to make use of them.

I could have bought the car twice over with the money I've paid if I hadn't trusted advice simply because it was about a car and came from a bloke.

The calamitous exchange rate hasn't helped either. Every time I've looked at the OANDA currency exchange site in the last two years it's made my hair stand on end.

The good-looking charming salesman who sold me the deal has transformed dramatically as the contract has progressed. He started out young and smiley but is now bald and unhelpful. Probably unrelated to my car hire. Perhaps he looks at OANDA too.

I recently asked him if there was any way he could quietly drop the lease and let me just go away and buy a car in a normal way (ie. from one of the many roundabouts where people stick their old cars with AV signs and outrageous prices on them). But he remained rock-solidly bald and unhelpful. He flipped his laptop lid up, tinkered under the bonnet for a moment and then displayed one of those revolting Excel files with thousands of cramped little cells showing that my only exit would be through a new bill for several more thousands of euros in order to ‘buy’ the car. He was deaf to the argument that I've already bought the car at least twice.

So I’m stuck with it. The only other forms of transport I’ve got are an old bike leaning against a tree, with flat tyres, and legs. Which are not willing to walk thousands of miles a year.

A group of neighbours share the swimming pool here.
Perhaps I’ll suggest a car pool too.

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