The search continued…
After the viewing and mulling over the Tico, I was a little down but a (seemingly) serendipitous meeting was coming.
One day a week I go to another office, connected to my research of women pastors. I was sitting in the cubicle I had sat in on previous visits. A man came in and over to me. “Am I sitting at your desk?” I asked. Yes, I was. I moved my stuff to a nearby space with his help. I introduced myself and asked him his name and what he works on. He told me he was a teacher in a ministry that trains young men to be auto mechanics. Really? Can you help me buy a car? I immediately asked. He asked me how much my budget was. I’d increased it, deciding that it was better to spend a little more to buy some piece of mind. $2000-$3000. He recommended that I get an Atoz, the car that was made by Hyundai, the next model after the Tico. It was a better car with a 4-cylinder engine so it didn’t have as much trouble running the air conditioning. It was a cheap but good car.
He said he’d call around and see if he could find one that someone was selling.
A few days later I got a call. I learned that his brother had a friend who was selling a gold Atoz, a 1997.
When I went to see it, the car looked well cared-for. It was clean outside and the seats were in remarkably good shape.
I needed a vehicle to really start a lot of my fieldwork and I trusted this teacher of mechanics so I decided to go ahead and buy it. The man selling the car wanted $3000 which seemed like a bit much for it. I said that I’d pay $2500. In the end he wouldn’t go lower than $2800 which my new friend advised was a normal price for this car. I agreed to it.
I didn’t have the money with me and the bank limits the amount of money I can take out per visit to the ATM. Hence, I’d need several days to get the money together. We wrote out a contract and signed it and added our thumbprints. Then after paying a down payment, I took the car home. This seemed like a good solution. I wanted to take it on a substantial trip before paying the rest of the money.
When I went to back it out of the parking area, the engine started missing and the gas would not work. My friend called the guy who sold the car who got his mechanic to come take a look. After many hours of work on the spark plugs and cables, finally, it started to sound normal. I drove home.
A few days later, I nervously drove it to Oudong with my research assistant as my co-pilot. We made it there. We made it back. The shifting seemed to be off but I felt a bit better.
Then the day I paid the former owner the rest of the money, as we had agreed, his mechanic fixed the oil leak and the driver’s side power window which wasn’t working. This took almost the entire day. That night I stopped at a coffee shop on the way home. When I tried to move it from one parking space to another, the accelerator stopped responding. I thought it had run out of gas because the tank was low and the mechanic was running the car all day. I paid a guy to get me some gas. He did. I tried it again and it still didn’t work. I called my friend to come help. He came. The sparkplugs again, he thought. He went to get his tools and came back with some guy who was apparently a mechanic. My friend had seen this man while he was on his way home and decided to have him come take a look. This man had his hands all over the engine plugging and unplugging the cables while it was running. He wanted to replace a cable to the spark plug but the store was closed so he wrapped some of them with electrical tape so the car started again. Then he wanted to clean the spark plugs. I went with him to his shop. My friend came, too, not wanting to leave me alone. We sat at the mechanic’s shop while he worked near a puddle of putrid water at the entrance of the garage. Darkness had fallen and mosquitoes were feasting on my feet and legs. The space and this mechanic’s tools were makeshift versions. He syphoned gasoline from his moto to use to clean the spark plugs. Finally he finished and I was released.
Before my next trip I did some preemptive work on the car–replaced all the spark plugs and the cables and some other maintenance.
Now I have a car. Sometimes when I honk the radio turns on. Actually, the radio turns on often without warning. It’s been on some trips–to Kampong Speu, to Kampong Chnang, and more recently on trips to and from the airport, filled with suitcases and tall adults.
It’s served its function and I will drive it to the provinces for my work, but not without a little bit of trepidation. And so, I still don’t really know. How do you buy a car in Cambodia?
Weeks after this ordeal I found a “helpful” article on Khmer 440–So You Want to Buy a Budget Car in Cambodia?
Seriously? Now you tell me?