Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"You Can't Sell a Car to a Foreigner"

Apparently if someone doesn't know the answer to a question making
something up completely is totally reasonable and a nationally
recognized tradition. My current favorite is that foreigners aren't
allowed to buy or rent anything in China. Recently my first wife and I
rented a flat in the wing pit of China. For those not familiar with
China it is shaped like a chicken in what is referred to as General
Tso's Chinese Chicken Theory. Recently the response we got from the
police when we went to go and register are foreign selves was "You can't
rent to Foreigners, its not legal". Which of course is not true and the
police should know since they are the ones charged with registering
foreigners. Obviously it is totally legal to rent to foreigners and in
some cases its better since we are dumb enough to pay more for less. To
illustrate my point further we were told today that "Foreigners can't
buy cars". This also is not true since there are many foreigners driving
around China right now enjoying the freedom of being behind the wheel.
I can safely say now that it is totally legal to buy a car in China, if you have evidence that you will be in the country for at least 6 months. I
know this because today we purchased a car from a used car dealership.This was after several trips to the used car district of Chengdu. I firmly feel that this is the last chance for most of these poor used cars to be used one last time before they die. Most of the cars in the used car district are of questionable sourcing and of even more questionable condition.
At first we were looking for a Beijing Jeep and thought that we had found one. It was a nice Yellow BJ2023 built in 2003. A little rough on the inside but not bad on the outside. Upon meeting the seller (owners and sellers may not be the same people) and taking note that the sign in the window specifically mentions no bargaining, we got them to pop the hood and start the thing up. At first everything looked normal and the engine sounded quite right. Upon further inspection of fluid levels and the oil in the engine I began to pander questions to the seller. As a side note, generally I try not to question the knowledge of people in the auto industry as you never know what their experience and expertise lie in, that being said I felt that the sellers in this case were maybe not as well informed as I would liked them to be. Of course now I realize that they were maybe just a little bit too used car salesman-like for me. When I looked into the radiator to see the condition of the radiator fluid I was not surprised to see it discolored and a little bit low. When I took the oil cap off the top of the engine and noticed the water condensation on the valve cover it was apparent that something was amiss.
Hearkening back to my younger days I was reminded of my second Subaru. My first Subaru was a 1978 edition of the venerable 4wd wagon, I bought this when I was 19 or 20 and spent a lot of time trying to spruce the thing up. After a catastrophic failure of the gearbox it was left to the care of Todd Martin's Subaru bone yard. This was of course after it had to be towed back to my parents house. My next Subaru however was a chance encounter whereby someone was looking to get rid of a small 4wd hatchback that may have had a bad motor. The story was that the car had frozen and after the thaw the block had likely cracked. In my corner however I had another motor that I could purchase cheaply and the car could easily be towed to the Martin's for repair. Also there was a small chance that there was not actually a crack in the engine block but that the freeze plugs could have been popped out in the freeze and all I needed to do was put them back in. Deciding to take a risk on the freeze plugs I pulled the valve covers off and low and behold the two freeze plugs fell out. Brilliant, I was going to get another Subaru to replace the old one and not pay anything. After popping the plugs back into their respective places and putting the valve cover back on I decided a test of the engine was necessary. I plugged the battery back in and started the car up. It ran, that was the first test. After buttoning up the rest of the bits that needed to be done I figured that I should make sure it was holding water. After driving it out to the yard and putting the hose in it I realized that they're really must not have been any water in it because it sure was taking a lot of water. Normally it takes a couple of minutes to get the radiator filled, this time however it was just drinking and drinking. The car was still running so it couldn't be that the water was going into the oil, or could it. Rest assured that when your car begins to puke out brown sludge the color and consistency of which resembles spoiled chocolate milk out of every orifice, the likelihood of successfully fixing the problem the first time was deemed very small.
Now I mention this because when I buy a vehicle I know to look for certain things that can be a sign of problems, and water in the oil is definitely one of them. In this particular case however the seller at first tried to tell us that it was perfectly normal to have water in the oil and that it was supposed to be there. He then tried to tell us that the water was from cleaning the engine, I questioned as to whether he had tried to clean the inside as well as the outside. Finally when all the cards were out, I asked him to drain the oil out and put fresh oil in as a sign that the engine was not taking any water. This is when the big guns were called in, out of nowhere a woman shows up and explains how this car is used and that if we don't want to buy it that is fine and not to waste their time. Feeling a little disheartened we decided to leave, though this was the best jeep that we had seen, I could not in good conscious take a risk on buying a vehicle that was potentially going to blow up on us.

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