Car buying in the Foreign Service

So, one of the things I decided to do over home leave is to buy a different car.  My current car is ok and still in pretty good shape, but it’s getting up there in years and I wanted a car that had more space for hauling things and people and that had some features that would help in the winter weather in Ottawa.

However, like so many things, buying a car in the Foreign Service is a bit more complicated.  First, I have no idea where I’m going after Canada and what kind of car would be appropriate there.  The roads might be narrow or they might barely exist.  They might drive on the same side of the road as we do in the USA or they might drive on the other side.  It might be easy to get a certain model serviced or it might not.  Gas might be a few cents a gallon in Venezuela, but $10/gallon in Europe.  So, since conditions vary so widely that makes it difficult to know what kind of car will work where.  That large 4WD SUV might be great in an African post where roads are not great but be a huge pain in a large Asian city where roads are not super wide and they drive on the other side of the road. That snazzy German sports car might be great in Europe but be a carjacking waiting to happen at some posts or be swallowed by the potholes in other posts.

As if the varying conditions weren’t tricky enough, many countries add import restrictions in to the mix.  A country might not allow cars over a certain age, like 5 years or even older than the current model year.  They may not allow you to bring a car that’s built for the other side of the road.  They might restrict the color of the car if it’s similar to emergency vehicles.  I’ve even heard of restrictions on window tinting.

Then, while not necessarily a requirement, you have to ask yourself if you want to stand out with a car that’s clearly “not from around here” and is not available on the local market.  From a safety perspective, it’s generally better not to draw too much attention to yourself, so getting something that’s available locally in the country where you’re going can be helpful.  It’s also easier to get your car serviced or repaired if it’s available locally.  If they have to order a new bumper from the USA, it’s going to take a lot longer and probably be a lot more expensive.

So, the process is a little complicated and there’s a lot to consider.  At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that I could take any car I buy now to my next overseas post after Ottawa, but I wanted to get a car that would give me the option of taking it if the host country doesn’t prohibit it for some reason like driving on the other side of the road.  So, I started out looking for a small SUV that is available in a lot of countries thinking that it could serve me well in Canada and also be appropriate for not so great roads if I go to a post without good roads after Canada but also not be too big for narrow roads in some other posts.

However, on a bit of a whim, I test drove a hatchback car and decided that folding down the seats would give me the space that I need when I buy or transport something large and the car-like driving and better gas mileage really appealed to me especially since gas is about $4.50/gallon in Ottawa.  So, I settled on a hatchback that’s available in lots of countries, gets really good safety and reliability ratings, and that has some good winter weather features like heated seats and defrosting mirrors! 🙂

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1 Comment

Filed under Austin, Canada, FS Life, Home Leave, Ottawa, Shopping, Texas

One response to “Car buying in the Foreign Service

  1. rock-n-roll-circus

    While Ottawa isn’t exactly Michigan it’s pretty close. My family has always driven hatchbacks as it’s what we’ve found to be the best mid-point between winter roads and size/money concerns. Just to give you an idea of big cars on tiny roads, one of the men I work with drives a hummer here in Tokyo. It seems like that would be very hard to navigate — but he’s good at it!

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