Walking to work won’t be a good option, and public transport is a bit weak out in the suburbs, so I needed a car. This pursuit led to three separate challenges: registering me as a driver, getting the money into place, and acquiring the vehicle. My friend Gerard helped me with the first mission on December 9th; we drove over to the Bellville Traffic Department, and I completed the paperwork (and submitted my photographs) for my Traffic Register Number. The clerk said the registration should be complete within two weeks. The second task cost me considerable aggravation, but I included some cash for buying a car when I moved money here for the purchase of Turtle House. Finding the right car to buy should be easy, right?
Actually, there are many adjustments to make in buying a car overseas. In the United States, the Hyundai Accent is the bargain basement subcompact. In South Africa, though, the Accent is positioned above the i10 and i20 (both with engines of lower power); at 91 kW of engine power, it’s a mid-sized car for this market. We think of the Honda Fit as a subcompact for the United States, but it is joined by the Honda Ballade, which could be considered a more budget-minded Civic. I started looking at GumTree, which is similar to a local Craigslist, but then my attention shifted to dealerships so that I could take advantage of better warranty options.
Because my last two car purchases were Hyundais, I found myself drawn to the Hyundai Accent, and I test-drove one from the Parow Hyundai dealership. I saw a used Accent sedan at nearby Hyundai Brackenfell, but my interest waned when I learned that the model had only front airbags. In the end, I decided I could not deal with the limited rear visibility in the Hyundai in sometimes-chaotic South African traffic.
A posting for a used 2013 Honda Jazz (same as the Honda Fit in the United States) caught my eye from the Honda Tygerberg Dealership, and I decided to take a look on December 17th. While waiting for the taxi, I felt something hit my hair. A bird had sent some unpleasant good luck in my direction. When I saw the car from the listing, my spirits rose. It was a happy, sporty red, and the interior was all black leather. The car had been tarted up with all the amenities, including a trailer hitch / tow bar (no, it would not be weird to tow a trailer behind a subcompact in South Africa).
I was nervous about test-driving on busy Durban Road, so my agent Cathrine drove us to some quiet residential streets. I loved how the car felt. The manual shift felt good, even though the handle was a little further back than in my Veloster (automatic transmissions are somewhat less common here). Happily, the windshield wipers and turn signals were on the same sides of the steering column as in my former car. After getting us lost and then unlost in the neighborhood, I decided to go for it and put down my deposit.
On Monday the 21st, I accepted delivery of the car with temporary tags (the real ones must await my Traffic Register Number), and I added a four-year warranty to the car since it covered most of the expensive components and cost less than $500. I drove home by way of Voortrekker Road in Bellville.
At this point, I must admit that my nickname in driver’s education during high school was “White Knuckle” from the way that I clutched the wheel in traffic. As I drove my new car, I felt intensely nervous, since I was also adjusting to the driving conditions. Voortrekker is frequently very busy, and lanes are blocked with little notice as buses or passenger cars suddenly stop for a pickup or lurch into the other lane. Happily, the guards waved me through when I arrived at Tygerberg Hospital.
The big test came the following day! A friend of mine from my old department was visiting Cape Town, and I was not going to let my driving anxiety prevent me from saying hello. My path first led to Tyger Valley, where I formalized my auto insurance (did you know you can drive here entirely without insurance?). From there, I followed the N1 highway to its terminus in Cape Town. The last few kilometers are unpleasant since the traffic network into which the N1 empties is always stop-and-go. Motorcycle couriers blast between stopped cars, with inches to spare. I violated the verbal morality statute when one roared by in slalom style. At last I made my way to Sea Point, where my friend was staying. I stopped shaking after a glass of water, and we made our way to lovely Camp’s Bay for a long lunch. Perhaps driving here won’t be so bad after all?
I didn’t even swear on the drive back to Tygerberg.