Buying a car

People here tell me that you don’t need a car in Switzerland. They tell me that the public transport system is so good that you can get to anywhere you need to easily. It isn’t quite that simple when you live on a hill out of the main town and you need to catch the bus to the main train station, a bus that runs only every hour for most of the day. It is not only this bus, but other busses and trains that might have similar schedules such that a trip back from the climbing gym, just 10 kilometres away, takes well over an hour by public transport.

It is true that, to get to major centres, trains and busses are more efficient, speedier, and less impactful on our environment, however, being here is more than just major centres. Here, there are gems to be found and the only way to truly discover these is to drive into the remote valleys and then walk. And here is beyond he borders of this country into places which are far less connected. A car is not essential to be here, but it is essential to live here.

I wish it was an easy process to buy a car. It isn’t. In order to buy a car one first has to be registered in the local commune and the process for this took six weeks after the plane touched down in Zurich. On September 29, with residence permit in hand, I started looking in earnest.

Searching for a vehicle is much like you would do anywhere these days. There are online portals which filter by region and a host of other categories and these spill out possibilities that can be navigated through in German, Italian or French. It is fortunate that I have a little bit of French and that I can use the online translator into English, when it works. This didn’t really help with deciding what car to look for. It couldn’t just be any car as trips into mountains and long journeys require more than a Smart vehicle. There are so many different types here: diesel, petrol, electric, small engines, large engines, mid engines and all sizes in between.The search led me to find car yards, none of which were anywhere nearby, but this is where one has to go and look, and look, and look.

Unfortunately, the linguistic efficacy of google translate does not really exist when stuttering face-to-face. I cannot ask anything other than basic questions and, even so, not in a way that is comprehensible to those selling the vehicle. I am reduced to being shown the odometer, looking at registration papers, opening the hood, and kicking tyres. Nevertheless, persistence pays, and I have found a car to buy.

The process of buying a car here is easy, you just exchange money with the owner of the vehicle. The process of registering the car in my name is not so. To register the vehicle, the seller has to take the plates off, give me the registration card and then I have to, somehow, take them to the registration centre 30 kilometres away from here. Once I bumble through the meeting there, I will walk away with new plates and a registration certificate in my name.

Before I do that, however, I have to organise insurance. Simple you might say. Not so. Today I spent hours and visited five insurance companies, only to be told (in Italian) by the first four that they could not offer insurance because I held an “L” residence permit. It was only at the fifth, after a phone call to somewhere, that I was told (again in Italian and a smattering of French) that they could offer me an “assicurazione touristico”, a one-year basic policy which expires on the last day of my permit in June of next year. If I damage the vehicle, if it gets broken into or stolen, I am not covered. I am only covered for damage to other property. I think I heard the word “rimborso” in the exchange. Does this mean I get a reimbursement for the time I don’t use? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

“Quando paga per la polizza?” I asked.

Apparently, I have to make an appointment to get the plates first, then pay the insurance company who will send the policy to the registration centre.

“Posso pagare qui?”

No, I had to pay at the post office and return to the insurance office with my receipt, before they could proceed.

“Non e possibile con codice QR sulla mia app di banca telefonica?”

No, I cannot pay for it through my telephone banking app.

“Devi avere le gomme invernali,” the gentleman said as we finished up our conversation.

Winter tires. In order to be insured I must have winter tires I gleaned from that comment. Did the car have winter tires? I hadn’t asked the seller.

With something in hand (and with some running around to do during work hours in the coming week), I went to the registration centre site to make an appointment and determine what else I needed. I found out that, apart from all of the papers I have, or will be given from the seller, I also need a “Certificato de domicilio”, a piece of paper that I will try and get from the local municipality in the next few days, that attests to my residential address. I also found out, or so it seems, that there is no online portal to register for an appointment. With no bilingual speaker at hand (the school is closed and almost all the staff are on 4 or 5 day field trips) I picked up the phone and dialled. Despite having the online translator at hand, I achieved nothing other than a reinforcement of how poor my Italian is. It is at times like this, when despite my willingness to jump in and do what I must, that I feel all at sea.

If it was just one foot in front of the other it would prove much more agreeable, but it isn’t. There is all manner of dancing, to scales I am not familiar with, to make my way here. It is not that I didn’t expect things to be difficult, but I had no idea that it would be this convoluted, that it would take so much time to begin to feel established.

However, this is how it is – the dance, as awkward as it might be, continues. We will see where the road leads.

Road – Switzerland 2021

Published by Athan Rodostianos

Educator, world traveller, dreamer. The world is there and open. Live it, love it, breathe it share your experiences, be kind, be good.

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