The Price Of A Car
Some people have a high opinion of German cars. Here in Asia they are supposed to be so expensive, that only rich people can drive them.
This is a prejudice. In Europe it is not a shame to buy used cars, because they are reliable. In 35 years of driving in Europe I used up just 4 second hand cars, which I had bought at an average price of 125K baht. Saving on cars made it possible to fly to East Asia regularly.
When my daughter entered university, my father gave her a Volkswagen Rabbit. It was a used car. My father had paid 3000 Deutsche Mark or 1500 Euro for it – something like 75 K baht. The car was eight years old. But it still ran as rabbits run. It accompanied her for ten more years. The gasoline of course flew out of my pocket.
When I retired to Thailand I developed no interest in having a car, because people drive on the wrong side of the road (except in British eyes), and I do not come clear with the traffic rules.
One day my Thai household manager approached me.
"Felix, wouldn't it be nice to buy a car?"
"What for?" I asked.
"The Songtiaos (baht buses) are always overcrowded, and you have trouble climbing up and down because of your legs."
"Where can we park in Pattaya?"
"In the Royal Garden. I park there every time with my motorbike. The location is very convenient, close to the Soi Post Office and all."
"Can you drive?"
"You will teach me."
In a weak hour I had bragged about giving a Chinese lady "private" driving lessons, which were a great success. But that was in South Africa, on the Western Atlantic Coast and in the Kalahari Desert, where you just meet every 30 minutes another car.
"If this is very important for you," I replied, "you can make a tour of the used car dealers in Pattaya and look for old cars around fifty thousand baht. When you have selected the best, we can go there together on your motorbike, and we will decide."
"You cannot find used cars in Thailand for fifty thousand baht. You must pay between two hundred fifty and half a million."
"I don't believe you. In Germany car mechanics get the highest wages in the world. And still you can buy a used car for seventy five thousand baht. In Thailand the wages of car mechanics are much lower, so the prices of used cars should be lower than in Europe."
"You do not understand Thailand."
"Maybe. But I am not going to pay more for a used car here than I would at home. I am not ba-ba bo-bo."
That was it. For a while.
At the swimming pool of our condo I often met an old man from my home country. His skin told his age, but otherwise he looked lean and sportive. He was retired like me and had a young lover who was highly intelligent and appealingly pretty. They lived in a three room flat on the north side of the condo. (The best location, because the rooms are not heated up by sunshine, and you have a good view of the beach and the Ocean Marina, with all the sailboats floating in and out). I visited him in his rooms and he explained to me how he accessed the internet at home. But he never returned my visits. Probably his lover was not in favour of our contacts.
One day at the swimming pool my neighbour told me that they had just bought a small new car at the bargain price of 450K baht or nearly 10,000 Euros. (Six times the price of my daughter's reliable Rabbit).
"How can you afford that from your pension?" I enquired.
"I had some savings, and I am going to get a lot of money back which I invested into an apartment complex that has never been completed. The court will decide next week in my favour."
"Do you have an International Driver's Licence?"
"I do not drive myself. That would be too risky. My Thai companion is an excellent driver."
"What do you need the car for?"
"We drive to lonely beaches nearby for swimming. You should see the untouched nature and the clean seawater."
We had a lonely beach in front of our condo, and while he told me this we sat relaxed at the pool.
When we met the next time at the swimming pool my old neighbour had big news for me. His landlady had decided to sell her flat, and she had offered it to him to buy it for one million baht in cash. That was a reasonable price. Similar objects in the same house were on the market for up to two million.
"Congratulations," I said.
"I don't have this amount now," he told me, "but every day there must come the decision from the court that I get my money back."
A few days later I found him very depressed.
"The judges must have been bribed. The investors do not get one satang out of the settlement. But we have to move out here at yearend."
"Thailand is full of surprises," I said, "but you can surely rent another unit in this condo. We will stay neighbours."
His lover sat nearby. From the body language of the lover I won the impression that I was not welcome to talk to the old man. Why? I found out soon.
When I met my neighbour again at the swimming pool he was alone.
"I have been lucky," he told me. "I do not want to be dependent from the moods of a landlord all my life. (He was 70). I have decided to buy a house of my own."
"Houses are expensive."
"I found an occasion where I only must pay down a few hundred thousand baht. The rest is on instalments, which are covered by my pension. Isn't that great?"
"Where is this house?"
"Twenty miles inside the country. We can drive to the beach every day. We are lucky to have a car."
"Did you sign the contracts?"
"Yes, everything in order."
It was too late to offer him any helpful advice. I felt deeply sorry for him. But I didn't let him feel it.
The new house of his own was of course in the name of his lover, not his own. This is the law in Thailand, and a big part of his pension would be spent on the instalments, leaving him much less to live on.
What was he, a man who loved the sea, looking for in the green countryside, encircled by snakes and grasshoppers? What if the car broke down? Or the love? I close my eyes not to see into the future.
If my neighbour had not bought the bargain priced car, his savings would have been sufficient to buy his flat in our seaside condo. He could live there without paying rent and enjoy the full amount of his pension. Even small cars are just too expensive in Thailand.
Second hand cars in Thailand are expensive, and that is why it is best to buy new. New cars simply do not depreciate in price that fast, and are thus not a terrible investment. Also, pick up trucks are very reasonably priced.