Goin’ Mo-bile!

A musical interlude, before we commence the blogging:

I know I am too old for teenage rebellion, but there is something about getting a new vehicle which just requires dipping into The Who’s “Who’s Next” album for a golden oldie.

We spent the last several weeks investigating our automobile options. We knew we wanted a new car, as my Toyota FJ is 11 years old, can not be nationalized for Mexico (damn that NAFTA), and is a hot deal on the stateside resale scene.

The new-car buying experience is similar between Mexico and the States. You work with dealers, in big showrooms with lots of salesmen, and they offer a standard suite of models with trim/option packages. So far so good. Now for the differences.

New car prices in Mexico are set by the manufacturer on a monthly basis and are uniform across the country. No haggling, no imaginary MSRP, no “INSANE” labor day sales. The only way you can change the total price is by varying the options or by using dealer provided financing (which is relatively new here). This is nice, since we didn’t need to wonder whether the dealer across town had a better deal.

At least in our area, the dealers were all in Guadalajara. In the States, it seems like every small town has a few car dealerships, who are often big fish in the local business community.  Does not seem to be the case here. And that’s important, because in Mexico, when they say “you should use the dealer for all maintenance”, what they mean is “…if you want to maintain your warranty.” That’s right, any unauthorized (i.e., non-dealer) maintenance, or any missed maintenance, VOIDS your warranty.

What happens when the grass is greener on the other side of the road?

Now you may think that the warranty is not a big deal, but maintenance is a major factor in your Mexico driving experience. Roads here vary between normal pavement to cobblestones to dirt streets, often with massive potholes, accompanied by roadside livestock, cyclists and mopeds which pass on all sides, and of course, random pedestrians. Even if you are very alert, you’ll face the ultimate Mexican driving challenge: the topé.


Can you see the bump? ‘Cuz it is there!

Topés are a cross between speed bumps and the Czech Hedgehog. In place of frequent police radar traps,  these silent sentries pop up everywhere to slow you down. Sometimes they are a series of rumble-strips on steroids, or metal bumps which rattle your frame, and the always popular undercarriage scraping raised platform.  Sometimes they are foreshadowed by warning signs, sometimes not. Sometimes old, worn

Where ya’ gonna go now, ranger?

topés are left in place, and they no longer work, but you don’t know that! In general, the poor roads, erratic traffic, and topés = double your maintenance costs.

Sorry, topés brought on a rant, back to cars: dealers here don’t seem to be the cutthroat experience of the States.  Apparently sales staff are NOT paid on commission, and are not necessarily expert on their product. Just-in-time inventory is not quite.  We went to one Subaru dealer who was selling still new 2016 models because they had not received any 2017 models, and yes, this was as the 2018 models were coming out! When we asked about the turbo option on another car, we received the following answers: yes, no, never, of course, and finally, yes. Yes was correct.

We were looking for an SUV, and preferably a manual transmission with a sunroof.  This is the unicorn of new cars, and we quickly realized we needed to compromise.  Like in the States, manual transmissions are less than 5% of new car sales, and generally not even available on most models. Now if you know me, you know I love my manual transmission, but it was clear that requirement needed to go. Judy had a 2008 Subaru with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but that really did not satisfy in the acceleration department. We did research, and learned that the CVT’s had become much more responsive; I also ran into Volkswagen’s dual clutch transmission, which intrigued.

We test-drove the Hyundai Creta, Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan, and Honda HRV. We found some models did not have cruise control (?), or lacked a turbo, which we found necessary for automatics. It came down to the Kia and the VW, and we ended up selecting the VW. There was only one left in stock: a special edition Wolfsburg.

Meet my new ride

We were taken on our test-drives and met with the dealer’s/sale staff accompanied by Spencer Shulman, who runs S&S Auto, a local car retailer who also serves as a buying-service for expats. Spencer also completed all the paperwork, helped us transfer money to the dealer (all electronically), got the car registered and plated, and delivered it to us.  He will also assist us getting all the maintenace done. He was also invaluable in explaining how dealerships work here, what is and is not available.

You’ll see us driving our VW with Jalisco plates back in the States sometime. We’ll be passing you, maybe even on the left!

Czech Hedgehog: I hope the Mexican government never learns about these!

Leave a Reply