Our apartment in Austria is on the main street of town, so just about everything we need is in walking distance, including Eric’s job. This means that we don’t really need a car on a daily basis which is quite a change from SoCal where you can’t go anywhere without one.
Having said that, we really do need a car here – the bigger supermarkets and household/furniture stores are all outside of town or in the next town. We also want to be able to go skiing or hiking and explore the neighboring countries too. We’ve had a loaner company car for a few months, but they asked for it back. It’s finally time for us to take the plunge and buy a car here. It’s complicated enough in English in the US and I totally dreaded doing it here.
It turned out that buying the car itself wasn’t the biggest challenge. The selection here in Austria is not that good. If you want a Volkswagen or an Audi there are some to choose from, but used BMW’s with low mileage don’t seem to exist. A few people recommended that we go to Munich in Germany where they are made and it was great advice. There are several large dealers there and the one that we picked had thousands of cars. It was like a candy store for us.
We picked out a few that looked promising and made an appointment to take one for a test drive. When we showed up they handed us the keys and told us to be back in hour. We must have looked stunned because the dealer finally said something like “oh that’s right, you don’t where to go… just go down the street and try the autobahn.”
Autobahn? Sweet. Since there are no speed limits in Germany let’s just say it was an excellent test drive. At this point we decided that we definitely wanted another Bimmer. We had to sell ours in the US before we left and I think it was the low point of our moving experience. I don’t normally get attached to mechanical things, but I think we had been through a lot with that car and on some level it represented the lifestyle in Cali that we gave up to move here. I couldn’t even watch when the buyer drove it away.
Back to Munich and the car dealer… We found the car we wanted, but were told we couldn’t buy it because it was a Saturday and the cashier was closed. We would have to make another appointment to come back in a few weeks and pick it up. What? I don’t think any dealer in the US would ever actually let you leave the lot without a car. We walked away with nothing but “we’ll call you next week.”
The next problem was the financing. In order to pick up the car, we were told we basically had to show up with cash. This could either be our own or from a bank loan. However, since we don’t live in Germany we can’t get a loan there. After a lot of discussions with the bank in Austria and a review of our savings in the US, we finally got that all sorted out. However, the last few days were a little tense as we waited for the wire transfer from the US to get into our Austrian bank account here, and then waited for it to get into the dealer’s German back account. In the end it all went through electronically and smoothly, and I’m relieved we didn’t have to carry 30 grand in cash on the train (yes, we actually considered that at one point).
After that was set, the next step was to go back up to Munich to pick up the car. I need to point out that most of the conversations with the dealer were all in English, which was a huge help, but there are some things that just seem to get lost in the translations. We kept asking about whether the car would have license plates or insurance, and if not how to get them. We got a lot of vague answers like “yes” with no further explanation. In the end we decided to trust the process and hope it would all work out. One thing we’ve learned about Germany and Austria is that things take a lot longer than in the US. However, they work very efficiently, so as long as you are patient and follow the rules, you really don’t need to worry that things will get done.
I think this is a key difference from the US. In the US, if someone hasn’t returned my call by the next day, it probably means they forgot about me or something went wrong and I have to chase them. Here it just means they are still working on it and will get back to me when it’s done. I’ve seen this with our visa applications, furniture orders, and now with the car. It requires a certain level of patience and confidence that someone is actually doing their job and whatever you’ve asked for will eventually be delivered.
I think this is a good place to take a break and I’ll continue next time with the rest of the story. Picking up the car in Munich went well, but it was really just the beginning.