Our pace has quickened the last couple of weeks - I'm in the middle of a busy time with my work and just returned from the U.S. after a terrific visit to check in with family and attend conferences in Houston and L.A.
We have been quizzing every Uber driver we ride with and looking at cars in preparation to buy one for Sergio to start Uber driving for dollars (or pesos, actually).
Its a fascinating Wild West - or shall we say, South, landscape here. The internet is unevenly adopted throughout the society; this is reflected in a microcosm with the used car market online.
We looked extensively online; I would say for every legit offer there are 2 suspect ones, from being simply out of date to downright fraudulent. Unfortunately, scam artists are in all countries and car ad webites face similar challenges from fraud as does Craigslist and other sales sites in the US.
Fraud regulation is either minimal or enforcement is unable to keep up, perhaps a combination of both.
Buying a used car in Mexico has traditionally been a bit of a minefield. Over the past few years the government has made improvements and there is a website to check the VIN number now, just as in the US.
After one unfortunate trial run with a private seller who wasn't really a seller, we decided to stick to the "agencias" - used car outlets usually attached to a new dealer.
At first we were just looking at basic Uber cars - Sentras and VW Ventos are selling like hot tortillas here. One night we rode with a driver who had a Toyota Avanza - a model I had not seen. Its awesome - its like a SUV / Minivan cross, low to the ground like a car, but with an optional 3rd row seating to bring total capacity up to 7. Its perfect for Uber because Sergio will be eligible for not only regular Uber rides but people requesting extra seating and / or cargo space (think families vacationing in CDMX in the summer - or groups of execs needing a ride from the airport to Santa Fe!)
Looking for this specific model put us in competition with many other Uber wannabees. Sergio spent 2 days on the phone, calling on vehicles that had just been sold, or with a wrong number, and leaving messages with people who never call back.
A couple of weeks ago he says “Look mi amor! It's a new listing - its white, 2013, 50 km (about 40k), and its below our budget!"
I am immediately suspicious and say, "Who is selling it?"
"The used car agencia for the Hyndai dealer."
He calls to make an appointment - this has become one of my baselines in Mexico. Sergio’s bias is to act - its one thing I love about him - but that often means just heading out and seeing what happens when we get there.
Now we try to confirm certain things before I agree to spend half a day getting someplace just to find out they are closed, or the item is sold, or the person with whom we have an appointment had to leave and no one knows when they will reappear.
No one answers and he leaves a message. I think, well that’s that, and settle back into work.
A couple minutes later, they call back! Qué milagro!
Yes, we can come by at 12:30 no problem. An appointment! Qué milagro!
So I hop up and say, "OK lets go."
Sergio looks startled, "Don’t you want to eat breakfast first?"
By this he means typical desayuno con Sergio - full-on leisurely brunch on a sunny patio with eye contact and conversation. Usually I love it, but today I assert my gringacy.
I say "No. We have to go now because it's way north and it will take us over an hour to get there. That car will sell today, and if someone with pesos hanging out of their pocket shows up before us, it will be hasta la vista Avanza."
We grab some fruit and energy bars and off we go.
The dealership is located in Colonia Industrial - an industrial area north of the central city core - its not pretty but it is fascinating. Traditionally it was an area of rail convergence, and today there are still many warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
We pass groups of workers, tattooed young men smoking cigarettes on their break outside of the buildings. Their chit-chat swings with the cadence of Mexico City slang and grocerías (curse words).
We arrive at 12:30 (on time! Que milagro!) and meet the Sales Manager. He is a serious, calm man with a bonsai tree on a cabinet in one corner of his office, and a busy secretary on the phone in the other.
He speaks slowly and carefully, tells us about the car, answers our questions and then calls his associate to show us the car and take us on the test drive.
We go look at the car, it is in great shape. Apparently a young man doted on it in its prior life. The windows are darkened, there is a brush guard on the front and tacky chrome strips on the wheel wells. The dealership has removed a large boom box speaker from the back area and is planning to remove the chrome strips from the wheel wells, which is all good with me. I can tell Sergio is considering salvaging them.
Choosing my battles, I change the subject and ask to look under the hood and not just at the aftermarket mods. Channeling my former father-in-law, who was a legendary haggler in car buying, I take my time and pretend I know what I'm looking for. Sergio does the same, he has a better idea of what to look for than I do, plus the vocabulary to ask car talk kinds of questions.
Next, we test drive the car. This salesman is more ebullient than his boss; he chats almost the whole test drive. We pass a panhandler at a stop, this sparks a monologue about how we must make our own luck in the world, how his dad still gets up and goes to work everyday even though he could stay home. I like his energy but I do wish I could hear the engine better.
Arriving back at the dealership, we express our interest and Sergio asks what the best price is they can offer for the car. The sales manager gravely says, the price is as quoted. So much for legendary haggling.
I figured this would be the case; he fielded at least one call for the car while we were sitting there and who knows how many while we were test driving it.
After some more of the usual car buying paperwork, we leave a deposit and walk out, 90% of the way to the finish line of being car owners.
Little did I know the last mile (or kilometer) in Mexico takes on a whole new meaning.
That was almost 3 weeks ago and we still have not picked up the car. We have one more hurdle to overcome, finalizing the liability insurance. Next week is Easter week so its not likely we will have the car for another week at least.
Due to a domino effect of bank delays, holidays, protracted registration process, and waiting on insurance, it is taking almost a month. I literally had to draw a flow chart for myself to keep up.
Sergio is using an agent, a friend of a friend, to buy insurance because they were recommended to him and he doesn't want to offend anyone. Now we have to wait for the rep to submit the same information we could have submitted directly at an agency. Then Sergio has to go pay for the insurance at a bank, and give that receipt number to the agent.
THEN It takes 2 - 3 days for the agent to receive the policy back from the company.
One part of me knows that this is how things get done here, but I finally had to withdraw from talking about it, other than to say, that's nice dear. It is too big a stretch for me, I haven't been here long enough.
So good news is, we are almost there. Stay tuned for some anecdotes from Uber in future posts!
Join our email list and receive our stories from the road, every Sunday.