So on October 16, I took the theoretical exam again for my drivers license. Seriously, I debated it. If I hadn't already forked over several hundred euros I was just going to call it a day. My driving instructor had told me that you don't need a Spanish license to drive or insure a car here, but if you get caught you could get in trouble. I was thinking I was willing to take that chance rather than have to continue with this painful process. But the goodie two-shoes in me decided that I have to do things the "right" way. And so I took the exam again... and passed.
But trust me, it wasn't passing without doubts. I left there with at least 4 questions (you can only get a max of 3 questions wrong or you fail) that I was unsure if I had the correct answers. I looked them up as soon as finished and was out the door. Two of them I definitely got right, the other two I was unsure. And so I figured as long as the other 26 were correct, I stood a good chance of passing. The idea of the wait was agonizing but thankfully I actually got the text that night with the good news. I'll admit, I did a little shout (to which Aidan who was upstairs freaked out - why are you screaming mom???).
However, before I go on to where I am now, let me just share a few of the questions that I had on this second exam. Two of the four that I had doubts on were motorcycle related. Yes, motorcycle... you know, because that's the license I'm getting???? No seriously, I'm not getting a motorcycle license but apparently that doesn't matter because apparently I should know some key info about them regardless. Perhaps this is because after 2 years I can legally drive one??? Who knows. But I had one question asking where the gear shift is on a motorcycle (the left foot in case you wanted to know) and the other was in reference to the brakes - if a motorcycle has separate brakes for the front and back, where is the front brake (the right hand). Thankfully my years of owning an ATV came in handy and I vaguely remembered where those were and I did get them right. So two down, 2 unsure.
Regardless I passed. And now on to the driving portion of this process. I couldn't get a hold of the driving instructor via email - bounced back 3 times... didn't bode well for me - though just figured, ahhh Spain. When we had spoken at the school, Eduardo had told me that for experienced drivers, he normally suggests at least 3-4 double lessons (a single lesson being 45 mins). The "mandatory" lesson is considered to be the day before the exam. Why? Because believe it or not, the route is given from the DGT (the DMV of Spain) to the driving school. So the day before you practice your route. Finally we texted and made an arrangement for last week for me to do a practice lesson.
Of course, he was late to the lesson. And I only had just enough time to get back in time for the school bus. But regardless, the lesson was a good one. I hadn't driven since July but like riding a bicycle, I jumped right back into it. I tried to focus on not just the signs, but on my hands on the wheel (at 10 and 2) as well as my speed (it turns out in your exam you are allowed to go up to 10 kph over the speed limit... seriously????). A lot to focus on...and then translate in Spanish.
We didn't do the class entirely in Spanish but did do most of it. And he showed me a bunch of areas with spots that always had people failing the exam. The more I drove, the more comfortable I felt. But again, he's the instructor, not the examiner. However, apparently I did well enough that he actually said I didn't need 3 or 4 double lessons but just the one right before the exam. My exam date has been set (and no, I'm not telling you) and so now it's just a waiting game.
In the meantime, I'm on the hunt for a car. I think I've found one but am waiting to hear back. Josh and I had talked about several options here. We don't want to spend a ton of money for a car we will have for just under 3 years, especially in a city where the guy pulling into a spot really could care less about bumping you. Cars just get the crap beat out of them here, it's just the way it is. So do we buy used? Do we lease? What to do?
I solved that problem just knowing that I was going to be the one who had to deal with all the logistics. I've owned a used car before but always bought from a dealership. To buy a cheap used car here was going to mean going direct and that meant negotiating, purchasing, title exchange, etc etc in Spanish. I made the executive decision that this is not the way that I want to go. I don't want to deal with all of that not to mention having to figure out how in the world am I going to sell it down the road when I'm already trying to pack up our lives again to go back home?
That leaves me with leasing... ok, it's not actually leasing here. It's renting. Leasing is pretty much like buying - I'm not actually sure of what the difference was between leasing and buying but they sounded almost identical. Renting is like leasing in the US. It includes my insurance, license plates, maintenance (except oil changes I think) - everything. And in 3 years, I turn it in and I'm done. No worries about selling it to the next guy. No problem about inspection stickers (which actually on a new car doesn't have to be done til the 4th year!), etc etc.
But the $64,000 question is - what can I afford? We haven't had a car payment in the 3 years we've lived here. And it's been nice not having to add that in to the budget. We've substituted that expense with travel which we have done an abundant amount of. So now we will have to compromise on travel or make cut backs in other ways (hence my new cell phone plan that I just blogged about). We don't want a high end car here, not when people constantly bump into you and have little regard for your vehicle. Not that we can afford it here anyways. And I didn't want a junker that was going to fall apart easily or not be safe enough for the family. I need something in the middle of the road - affordable, safe, compact (no big SUV here).
Regardless of the compromises, I think the freedom we are going to feel with a set of wheels again is going to make it well worthwhile. The ability to get somewhere on time and not have to allow for extra time for public transportation or walking. Don't get me wrong, I love to walk everywhere. But there are times when I just want to get to where I'm going NOW. Or as an example - Liam had a playdate the other day - the parents were lovely and offered to pick him up at our house. When here they asked if I would mind coming to get him later. I told them I'd be more than happy to, just give me their address. The dad then proceeded to give me driving directions - I had to interrupt... "but we don't have a car". He looked at me and said, "then we will drive him home too". Super super nice. But I'm tired of living that way. I want to go to the family class parties in Gava. I want to go on the hikes to an out of the way restaurant in Sant Cugat. I want to get to a Halloween party that's late in the evening outside the city and not stress about getting home with two small tired kids via public transit. I want to just say, hey, let's go to France today. Or let's go to Port Aventura with the kids. Or let's go explore a town that we've never been to! Freedom!
Now on to the car shopping. It's interesting to note that my US drivers license does not work here BUT that I don't need to have a Spanish license to buy or insure a car. However, if I get caught driving the car without the license I can have a hefty fine and they can tow my car away. Though if I've had my US passport stamped within the last 6 months (which I have), I might be able to get out of said fine and towing. Obviously it makes more sense to just have the license. I don't want to be driving around stressed that I'm going to get pulled over.
But since I don't need that license to get a car and since I am taking the test in a matter of weeks (and even if I fail, realistically I should still have the license before the end of the year, even if it means taking it several times), I've started my car hunt. Actually I've found a car and am just anxiously waiting to hear back if I've got it.
I went on Friday with a friend of mine to go look at cars. We wanted to find out the difference between renting and leasing (as I described above - didn't know this info before Friday). And then to find out what cars based on that information would fit into my budget. My initial thought was VW (my preference), Audi (highly unlikely but you never know), Toyota and Honda.
We stopped in at Honda and took a look at the Civic. Nice enough but a bit plasticky feeling. And when we asked him about renting versus leasing, the dealer explained it to us but also said that the majority of companies will only rent or lease to corporations, not to individuals. We'd have to buy the car. My heart sank - this is not what I want to do. Maybe buying used off the street is the way to go???
He ran some numbers on the Civic for us, the Civic Sport, so it's a relatively bare bones car. And yet, the payments for 3 years would be over 600 euros per month. Oh and the average interest rate here is about 8% - my last car I had 0% financing so 8% is pretty high (not to mention tax here is 21%). Yes, for a Civic!! Ridiculous!! We left there and I felt a bit frustrated and felt that a car may not be in my future despite the cost outlay for the license.
We decided to try Volkswagon before heading to lunch and then depending on how VW went, come up with a plan of action on where to go from there. Thankfully the woman at VW was hugely helpful and yes, they do renting there! Yes!!! We looked at the Polo, Golf and Tiguan. Of course I loved the SUV but to get it in an automatic meant buying the fully loaded package which ran about 36,000 euros - a bit out of my budget for a car I'll have for barely 3 years (especially since Josh's original budget to me was 3000 euros - which I've managed to stretch...oh just a bit). So down to the Polo and Golf. My preference of course, the Golf but it comes down to money.
She ran the numbers and remember, the renting includes insurance and maintenance. The Golf was first and YES, fit my budget...sort of. Fits my budget depending on what Josh had planned for insurance and maintenance (since my budget was originally just for the car), otherwise I was off by about 160 euros a month. But I think that easily would have been what we were paying for insurance and maintenance. And I dropped my cell phone plan by 60 of those euros, so now we're really only at 100 euros over budget which definitely would have been around the insurance rate, right?
Regardless, the Polo only came in 50 euros less than the Golf and so really for 50 euros it didn't make sense to get a car that much smaller with that many less features. So Golf it is! But wait... there's more (there's always more isn't there?). I live in Europe... I drive an automatic. The two really don't mix. And it limits my options.
Option 1 - a white 2012 Golf, not fully loaded but pretty close (and honestly I don't need fully loaded for a car I don't need to drive daily).
Option 2 - a pacific blue 2013 (my timing sucks as it's the new model year this month), fairly basic car, pretty color though. 10 euros more per month than the 2012 but with many less options.
Obviously I want Option 1 (even though white is not my preference in color, but beggars can't be choosers). The problem is the 2012 is on hold by someone. Their hold expired on either Fri night or Sat AM (I can't remember which) and she said that she would call today to let us know if they didn't take it. I'm still waiting... and waiting ... and waiting...
Josh has given the ok on either of them... like me, he'd prefer Option 1. While we don't need all the bells and whistles, why pay more for the car that doesn't have them? I agree. So for now, we wait and while waiting I've put together the majority of paperwork needed to move forward. My hope is that by the end of next week (this may be completely unrealistic especially since we are gone Thurs/Fri this week and I'm gone Tues-Thurs next week), we will be the new owners of a VW Golf. Keep your fingers crossed and I will keep you posted!!