It must seem as if I'm being a bit of a drama queen these days, or at least that I invite drama (although I do everything I can to avoid it), but I have to tell you about my chaotic car catastrophes (see what I did there?), and then that's it for the trials and tribulations, I promise.
Back in January, you may remember that I had to kiss goodbye to my beloved little car, Buttons. She'd failed her APK (the Dutch version of the MOT or roadworthy certificate) and the repairs would have been too costly to be justifiable. So, there I was without a runaround, something I find essential for my way of life with boats, teaching and dogs.
Koos has a wonderful ancient Opel Astra, affectionately known as the Blue Classic, which at 29 years old is defying all the mechanics' predictions that she won't see another year. So far, they've been wrong, but to avoid tempting fate, we nurse her a bit now, ever conscious that she might be wearing her last tyres. This year's APK could well be the deciding test, although we hope not of course. What I'm trying to say is that even without Buttons we weren't completely car-less, but living where we do often makes it awkward to have just one vehicle, especially one as old as this one.
The Opel wears her life scars proudly, but it can be a bit embarrassing at times. For instance, the last time we were in France, a distinctly inebriated local in a very rural village mistook us for criminals coming to make mischief. Yes, really! Now when someone is that drunk, it seems that diplomacy and courtesy take a back seat (so to speak), and honesty is all they can produce. When he slurred how he thought we were 'outsiders' from the city coming to see what nefarious deeds we could commit, I was a bit shocked and not a little mortified until I saw the funny side. However, seeing yourself as others see you can be surprising to say the least.
Anyway, that's not really my story for today. The point is, I needed a new small car, so after weeks of searching online and a few trips to go and look at cars, I became the hesitantly proud owner of a bright, shiny, red Kia Picanto.
The hesitancy part came early; in fact, before I even left the garage. I got in the car to drive it away and it wouldn't start. Thinking it was me doing something wrong and inadvertently flooding the engine, I gave it a minute, turned the motor over and gave it a good pump. It started, but I needed to rev it up a lot to keep it going.
After that, it was fine and I drove the 130 km home without a problem. However, that wasn't the end of the problem. Over the following days it happened several times and was it also prone to stalling. It made me very nervous of stopping anywhere, especially on the hill approaching our opening bridge over the canal. So at the weekend, my very auto-savvy daughter came and with the aid of a diagnostic tool, we established there was an electrical problem, possibly with the alternator.
I then got in touch with the salesman at the garage and he was full of apologies. "Take it to a local garage and we'll cover the costs," he said. So I did. I took it to the Kia dealers nearby who diagnosed a serious wiring problem. "It's a mess," they said. "We're not touching it. You should take it back." Not very helpful, but clear.
Further contact with the sales garage resulted in my returning the car to them and getting a full refund, which was fantastic of them. I was aware they didn't know much about the inner workings of the cars, so I didn't blame them at all. Still, I was surprised and grateful they were so decent about a problem that didn't fall under the guarantee. That said, the whole experience had involved six trips there and back and four of these with a second car (being our poor old Opel).
So, what then? I started my search again, this time focusing on a Fiat Panda, which is a car I liked very much, and even test drove one before buying the Kia. Sadly, that one (the Panda) had clearly not been driven for way too long. Its exhaust was seriously rusty with lumps falling off it, while the engine bay was covered in cobwebs and full of dust.
Inside, though, it was very neat and clean, but there were a few clues regarding the previous owner that had us inventing stories. There was a crucifix plus a small plastic angel hanging from the mirror and the radio was tuned to classical music. My son-in-law, Sherlock van der Holmes, concluded the car had belonged to a single older lady from Breda (a city known for being in the Netherlands' Catholic south), who had a small dog, probably a Yorkshire terrier, judging from the sprinkling of hairs on the carpets. Whatever the case, and much as I enjoyed driving the car, it hadn't been maintained for too long.
But with that experience in mind, I began looking in earnest for a suitable Panda to adopt. It felt like a long and, at times, frustrating hunt, but was actually only a week because I returned the Kia last Wednesday and it was just yesterday I found the one I could buy and drive home in. So, without further ado, let me introduce Bobby, so named after the British policemen who drive (or at least used to drive) Panda cars.
Bobby is also quite old for a new car but has far more bells and whistles than I've ever had before: electric windows, air conditioning, central locking etc., none of which I wanted or needed, but it's difficult to find a car without them now. He was born in 2006 and has 143,000 km on his clock. He's averaged 8500 km a year, which is quite modest, so it's unlikely he's been thrashed, and hopefully, I'll have some good driving time with him in the coming months and years. A compromise? Maybe, but I have a feeling I could grow to love him quite quickly as long as he behaves.
So that's the end of my car saga for now. At least I hope so. I think that all told I've seen and test driven seven cars in the last month and travelled a few hundred kilometres in the process. I need to thank my wonderful daughter and son-in-law (or son-out-law, as I call him) for all their help and support in my search. They also spent a whole day driving me around their area, for which I'm endlessly grateful.
Anyway, let's hope the chaos with cars is over for a bit.
Enjoy the weekend allemaal!