People – myself included – complain a lot about the car buying process in the U.S. Mostly it has to do with slimy car salesmen and feeling like you’re getting screwed over, lied to, or taken advantage of. My favorite is when a dealership advertises a car at a certain price and when you get there the car is suddenly not available but of course they have other options at much higher prices for you to check out. (My father in law was a car salesman for several years and he’s explained that the dealerships can get away with that if, at the time of placing the ad, at least one car on the lot meets those pricing requirements. #themoreyouknow)
Buying a car in Ireland though as an expat? Well, that’s a whole different ballgame. Prepare yourself for a very long tale.
First of all, almost every single person we know wanted to know why we were getting a car. Hu? So many people here go without one and they don’t seem to understand why we would ever need one. Thinking maybe they were on to something and we could get by on rentals, we looked into it and yeah, that was *not* going to work. First of all, there were two rental options – one in the city center, and all of the ones out at the airport. At a minimum it would take us at least 30 minutes to get there to pick up the car, then 15 minutes (driving) to get back before we could ever even go anywhere. Getting out to the airport? An hour there at least on public transportation. So basically you could go ahead and add at least an hour to any big grocery shopping trip you might want to do. At least. And that city center rental option? The office closes at 5 p.m. on Sundays so any weekend road trips we might want to take would have to be accelerated to accommodate that early close time. No thanks.
Having decided that was not a viable option for us, we seriously looked into what it would take to get a car. When we were here vacationing in 2009 we ran into some weather. Okay, most of the roads were flooded and our tiny little BMW 1 series had a very hard time dealing with it. We also hated the lack of visibility since so many country roads are hedged in. We kept saying, “Man, a Land Rover would be so awesome right now!” A handful of years later we were looking at SUVs and we test drove a very used Land Rover Discovery that was a tank and unfortunately didn’t work for us. It never stopped us from loving the look of that damn car though, and when we found out we were moving to Ireland we started talking excitedly about getting a Land Rover at long last, and at first we thought this would mean getting the new Evoque model.
As it turns out, Alan’s office in the ‘burbs is right near the largest Land Rover dealership in the state so one day he walked over there and talked to one of the salesmen. He got to sit in the Evoque and came home with information about it. A couple of days later I took the LUAS out to his office and we met up there for a test drive. We got in the Evoque on the show room floor and right away I knew that was *not* the car for me. It is TINY y’all. I hated it. We walked over and sat in the Land Rover Discovery, a car that we’d seen *everywhere* in Dublin but I hadn’t given much thought to. Alan, however, had often said it was his favorite model. Right away I loved the roomy and spacious interior and the visibility was tremendous. We took it on a test drive and it drove like a dream. Better, really, than I had expected given our test drive of a 1999 model many years back. We talked with the salesman about our options and learned that nothing was available until mid-October. He kept asking us how much we wanted to spend and we kept evading the question because no one had talked to us about financing yet as an expat and so we weren’t even sure what our options were at that point. Would we be laying out a huge chunk of change or doing it in smaller monthly payments through their bank or ours? We simply didn’t know. In hindsight I think that evasion made him think we weren’t serious about buying the car because he pretty much stopped being as responsive as he was prior. Finally, the finance guy called Alan and told us we could do financing even though we were expats but the numbers were certainly higher than we wanted to pay for a five year purchase, especially since our contract here is two years.
At this point, two things happened:
- We looked into a deal our relocation company has with an Audi dealership.
- We looked into getting car insurance.
While the Land Rover was our dream car, there’s no shaking a stick at the Audis either. In fact, when we bought the Subaru a couple of years ago, I had been coveting an Audi Q5 but decided it was too nice. It’s an SUV, yes, but first and foremost I felt like it was a luxury vehicle and I would have cried the first time I – or someone at Trader Joe’s – dinged it. But here we have a large, secure parking spot behind our house and I wasn’t at all worried about parking in a tiny lot with neighbors who like to pinch you in. Unfortunately it turned out that the dealership didn’t have any automatic Q5 models and couldn’t say when they’d be getting others in. They put together a few packages for us on other cars that we hadn’t expressed interest in, but none were right for us so we scratched the Audi off our list.
In the meantime, I tried to get insurance quotes from every single car insurance company known to man, which is incredibly difficult because (1) we didn’t have a vehicle registration number, and (2) the forms ask for a lot of information that as drivers with U.S. licenses, we simply don’t have. As you can imagine, every single one turned me down. I went on the expat message boards and discovered a company based in the U.S. that specializes in expat insurance and they were ready to sell us a policy at a huge markup. The number made my eyeballs fly out of my head and I was a little freaked out that was our only option for full comprehensive insurance.
Feeling discouraged, we reconsidered our options but didn’t have the best hope for a positive outcome. One night I was walking in our neighborhood and passed the smallest car lot known to man and saw two used Audis – a Q5 and a Q7. Early two Saturdays ago, I logged on to the most widely used car buying app here in Ireland to search for the price and specs on the vehicles. While searching I decided to look for Land Rovers as well. What I ended up finding was a luxury used car dealership out in Howth that had a Q7, several BMW X5s, and … a 2013 Land Rover Discovery. Alan was still asleep but I forwarded him the links to the cars as something to do to pass the time. When he woke up we talked about what we wanted to do for the day and decided if nothing else, a trip out to the seaside town of Howth would be a good site-seeing excursion.
We took the DART up there and walked the 1/2 block from the train station to the dealership and wandered around. As it turned out someone else was there to test drive the X5 that I loved so much, so we told the salesman the other cars we were interested in looking at. The first one he took us to was the Discovery. He opened it up and we got in and truly it was in such good shape! Quite surprising to us was that it also had pretty low miles for a used car. We found out it was owned by a wealthy man who gave it to his wife when he wanted a Maserati and she thought it was too big so they sold it to the dealership. We took it for a test drive and while it didn’t have some of the bells and whistles that a brand new model has, it did have some of the upgrades that we wanted on the new model but don’t come standard so would be additional money if we went the new route. After our test drive, we talked with the dealer about the vehicle and basically told him we wanted it. We filled out a piece of paper to see about getting financing and he gave us the name of a man he works with all the time who could get insurance for expats and then we left to go get lunch.
Over the course of the next few days Alan had several conversations with both the dealer and the insurance broker and while the numbers didn’t come back exactly as we had hoped, in the end we settled on a two year loan and an insurance policy that didn’t make me want to puke when I heard how much it was going to cost. On Friday we took the train – during a transportation strike, mind you – out to Howth again where we signed a few forms, looked at the car again to make sure everything was on the up and up, and then drove home with it.
It’s a lot of money to spend on a vehicle that we aren’t going to use everyday. We know this. But it’s also the vehicle we really wanted and we budgeted for it accordingly. In the end, our monthly payments are about what we paid each month for the Subaru and in two years when it’s time to leave, we will own the car outright and can sell it back to recoup some of the payments we outlaid. It’s a ridiculous vehicle, yes, but it makes us happy. One of the things we said when we knew we were going on this adventure was that we were going to do it up and that’s what we’re doing. This is the only shot we have at this sort of opportunity and we don’t want to let it pass us by without doing the things we absolutely want to do.