Yesterday was huge: after all this time living here and hating my commute to and from work (sometimes over two hours) I finally got the courage to drive to work. Now you’re probably wondering what took me so long. Please refer to the following investigation of Chilean transportation through the eyes of two Americans who don’t have mucho dinero.
First of all, I’ve never pretended to be a great driver. Though I’ve been lucky enough to avoid accidents my driving ‘skills’ in the US consisted mostly of being able to deftly manage texting, adjusting the volume on the radio (high to very high preferred) and drinking a caffeinated beverage all at the same time. I’ve also been blessed with loving parents who bought me a sweet ride that carried me from college into fake-adulthood (or what I like to call the ‘waitressing years’) without a ton of expensive repairs. My car experience in this country however, has been the exact opposite of those carefree days back home.
[Car prices in Chile are outrageous – about double or triple the cost of the same car in the U.S. and generally in worse shape. I’m no economist but I think it has to do with the fact that they have no domestic auto industry and it’s a relatively little country so the actual number of cars available here is small. Regular unleaded 93 gas here is currently 830 Chilean pesos per liter ($1.71 per liter). One gallon =3.785 liters so gas here is approx. $6.50 a gallon right now. And when you figure into the equation that we make about $1,500 US dollar a month combined (on a good month) and need to travel to and from work every day, that’s a big chunk of money.]
We knew that when we bought a property here we would also need to buy a car to be able to visit on the weekends and get work done. Thankfully after buying the property we had just enough money left over to purchase The Beast. We found The Beast (our 1983 Nissan Patrol) after a bunch of research and hubs went to test her out. At 1,750,000 CLP (about $3,600 US dollars) the price was right. She had a few imperfections and made a horrible loud ‘eeeeeeehhhhhhhhh’ sound as you drove her but she had a huge powerful engine that was perfect to haul house supplies out to our property.
She had her fair share of problems though. She got broken into twice on our street in Santiago but fully recuperated after the loss of her radio (no biggie, we couldn’t hear the radio over her noisy engine anyway) and a window. We had a good mechanic in Santiago but after we officially moved to Laguna we were forced to go to random mechanics in our new city for her monthly weekly repairs. Once we went into a mechanic for an oil leak and squishy brakes. The mechanic said he would check it out. Upon returning the car was up on a lift and the oil pan and all the wheels had been taken off. At that point, the mechanic told us the situation was dire. He explained that he would have to clean the entire engine as it was falling apart (note that this conversation was in technical Spanish and in retrospect was obviously designed to frighten us). We ended up paying 450,000 CLP ($800.00 US dollars) for him to replace the seal on the oil pan using high temperature silicone. He also did something to fix the brakes ‘temporarily,’ telling us we would have to replace the whole brake system very soon. Hubs went to a few different mechanics, searched all over Valparaiso and Vina to find brake parts and spent more money. A week later, the brakes failed coming down this road.
Then we found a good mechanic in Laguna named Richard who finally fixed the brakes. A couple weeks later, the clutch broke and we had to be towed from Valparaiso to Laguna Verde. They tow cars here by simply attaching a rope from the car in front to the broken down car’s front frame. You have to steer the car while it’s in neutral and brake to maintain tension on the tow rope. It’s basically an art form. An added joy to this whole process was the fact that the car was so old that we were unable to find any parts for it as it slowly fell apart, so Richard had to substitute parts in for those we couldn’t locate. A couple weeks after that, this happened.
We called it quits that day. Thankfully we found a nice older man who wanted to fix her up and give her as a gift for his son in the South of Chile who has a dairy farm down there. Somewhere in Osorno, Chile the Beast lives on.
We bought this adorable little jeep next. We were so excited because the previous owner said the engine was perfect and the mechanic that we had check it out said the same. Even though we balked a little at the 3,000,000 CLP ($6,000 US dollars) price tag, we figured that since we wouldn’t have to spend any money into repairs that that was just fine.
Surprisingly(!), the new jeep has the following problems (that of course, were undetectable at first because it seems the previous owner hid the problems with a thorough clean up and some half-measure maintenance products like engine oil additives. Nice guy.)
-it leaks oil, we ‘fixed it’ and then it leaked worse
-it was burning oil, so we had to give it an engine overhaul (300,000CLP, $600.00 US dollars)
-it has an electrical problem, some sensor we can’t find in any store
-the exhaust needs to be replaced
We were thinking about trading the Samauri in for an automatic but with our track record, that car would probably be a worse wreck than the first two. So for the time being, I’m just manning up (womaning up?) and driving the stick shift half-running Suzuki for as long as it lasts.