No Car Mats!

Having driven for 17 years, and this being my 4th car, it is a strange sensation to have to buy all the car stuff from scratch. The first morning, in preparing to drive Chris to the train station, I realized I didn’t have so much as an ice scraper yet. It’s a most bizarre feeling – I have a trunk full of car stuff … in my car in the US. Of course, it needs to stay there, because of our two cars, that one’s much more likey to break down and need those things.

However, I gradually acclimated to this notion. I realized that starting with a clean slate gave me the chance to deliberately choose things, instead of just having things that once sounded like a good idea but I had never managed to use in 10 years or some such and would look at every 6 months and think, “I really must get rid of that,” not do, and still have it and think the same thing 6 months later. Not that I know this from experience!

So, I have to get a whole new set of car fluids, ice scraper, and all those odds and ends I think of as essential for peace of mind while driving. I finally managed to get to grips with that.

What’s really discombobulated me, however, was getting our car home and realizing that it had no car mats! This is just so bizarre to me. One friend of mine had advised me to refuse the car mats and all the other extras the dealer would try to sell me. If I’d bought a new car and refused the car mats, then it’d make sense that my car had no car mats. But I wasn’t even given the option. Used cars should already have car mats!

I don’t know how well the bare carpet will hold up, so I quickly set about sourcing some mats. I phoned up the company I ended up ordering from, and had a conversation about the different types of mats they make – the cheapest ones might be expected to wear out and get holes in them within a few years. Holes in carmats? My 21 year old car has the original mats it came out of the showroom with, and it certainly hasn’t suffered wear like that! (There are one or two stains, and possibly a bit of fading from the sun, is all.) I’d never have even thought of holes in carmats. I shouldn’t have to think about this – cars should come with carmats!!!

What I’d really like to know is what happened to the ones that were in the car. The carpet condition is too good for there to have been none. I wonder if they were just ratty, so either the last owner or the dealer took them out to make the car look better. Others have suggested that the last owners removed them to put in their next car, which sounds ridiculous to me because they most likely wouldn’t fit.

At one point during the buying of the car, I found the salesman digging in a closet. He said it was full of car mats – new ones. I guess those would be the ones the new cars came with that the buyers declined to pay the extra fee to keep. This is all so strange, and wasteful. The carmats should just be included with the car; what good is a closet full of extra car mats that don’t fit other cars now? The automaker should be doing everything in its power to have its branding all over – it’s usually on the carmat, too – having unbranded car mats all over is not good for them, either. Very peculiar that the maker lets the dealer separate it out as a line item charge.

The car mat company is going to send me a sample to be sure I’m happy with the quality before they proceed with making the set. Hopefully I’ll find a set that’ll just last and I won’t have to think about carmats again for many years – until we buy our next car!


I don’t know if I’m just abnormally easy on carmats, or if there are just some really flimsy ones out there. Please, tell me your experiences of car mats! Have you ever worn holes through them, or had other major wear and tear? What sorts have you had?

Sedans and Saloons, Oh My!

As I mentioned, the lingo is slightly different here. In this entry, I’ll focus on the different classes of cars.

This is a sedan:

A sedan

A sedan.

The Brits call it a saloon. Naturally, that always makes me think it should look like this:


Thanks to Chris for making this image.

A saloon, complete with spitoon.
Thanks to Chris for making this image.

One salesman actually used the word sedan with me recently, and it was so very refreshing – I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it. Ah, the little things.

More pictures …

Also, this is a station wagon:

A station wagon.

A station wagon.

The Brits call it an estate. Makes it sound like a completely different beast, doesn’t it? After all, The Chatsworth Estate doesn’t quite have the same ring as The Chatsworth Station Wagon, for example. 😉

Car salesmen know what an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) is, and also talk about Crossovers and MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles), but I can’t see a difference between these three, myself. What’s really weird is that my friends are really clueless about what SUVs are when I mention them. Even describing them (as tall estates, for example) yields confusion. I’ve yet to figure out what SUVs are known as colloquially – but it’s okay; I only need to know how to communicate with the car salesmen (and women, if I ever find any), and I can do that.

Mazda Tribute 2.0 GSi SUV

Mazda Tribute 2.0 GSi SUV

Infiniti EX 3.7 GT SUV

Infiniti EX 3.7 GT SUV

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi Titan SUV

Kia Sportage 2.0 Titan SUV



Citroen C4 Picasso MPV

Citroen C4 Picasso MPV

Seat Alhambra MPV

Seat Alhambra MPV

Volvo XC60 Crossover

Volvo XC60 Crossover

Mazda CX5 Crossover

Mazda CX5 Crossover

Skoda Yeti Crossover

Skoda Yeti Crossover

Beyond these, there are the superminis, which are the tiny baby cars that haven’t yet grown up. 😉 There’s a brilliant bumper sticker on one red one I pass frequently that says, “When I grow up, I want to be a fire engine!” There are the small family cars, which are smaller than their American counterparts. There are the family cars, the compact executives, the executive cars, the luxury cars. Shrinking back down, we get the coupes, which the people who can’t pronounce fillet correctly suddenly decide needs to rhyme with the American fillet, so it’s ridiculously written as coupé and it’s even pronounced as two syllables. When I’m feeling particularly irritated at the process, I get the white out and obliterate the stupid accent mark from whatever magazine I’m reading. Lastly, convertibles get renamed cabriolets, just because that’s a fun word to say, I think.

Each car comes with about six to 24 different engine choices, and I’m learning lots in sussing out what all the mysterious acronyms mean. My determination to research and choose something I’m happy with bleeds into most decisions I make (consumer and otherwise) – and a car’s the second biggest purchase a person will ever make (unless they immigrate) – so this is a long process, not helped by the weather and other difficulties, but we’re hoping to be happy with it in the end!

Chris remains steadfastly against getting the Porsche, however. No matter how many times I tell him that all the models get top marks for reliability! 🙁

One day, Porsche, one day!

One day, Porsche, one day!

Car Shopping Tidbits

Tidbits I’ve learned while car shopping, in no particular order …

* Going in the evening, an hour or two before closing, often means getting the managers / assistant managers / senior salesman. This could be a pro or con for you, but it seems to be pretty prevalent.

* The idiotic “tire repair kit” (that is, can of fix a flat) that has replaced many spare tires in newer cars is set into a foam insert taking up the space that the spare tire should be set into. You can simply remove that and put in a spare tire, if that’s what you want to do. I was so worried that they’d actually removed the space for the wheel and that a spare tire would have to sit in the trunk, but thank heavens this isn’t so. (They’ve taken out the spare tire to make the car that teeny tiny bit lighter to improve gas mileage, you see. Thus, they say it’s “better for the environment”. I reckon having all those chemicals released from those cans of fix a flat into all those flat tires across Europe is probably worse for the environment than the teeny tiny bit of less gas that’s used, but they don’t actually care about that sort of thing.)

* Just like in the US, a dealer will have makes of used cars for sale in the lot other than the brand on the sign. There seemed to be such a perception amongst friends and acquaintances that a Honda dealership, for example, would only ever have Honda cars in the lot, that I became so confused. See, in the US, it’s quite regular for car buyers to trade in their cars at the dealership; I know it’s an option here, too, though I don’t know how frequently it’s done. The trade in could be any make, though, so the Honda dealer could be left with a Toyota or a Ferrari or whatever to sell – thus, a used car buyer can find pretty much any make in the lot, regardless of what’s on the sign. Having done some temporary work at a car auction house in the US, I wondered if all non-Honda cars being traded in at that UK Honda lot would immediately be sent to auction, so that even all the used cars on the Honda lot would be Hondas? Turns out nope – the car lot has all different makes on it, just like in the US. They just want any car that’s in decent condition, and they’ll try to sell it.

* There are, in the Greater Manchester area, quite a few local chains of dealerships. Hopefully this means I can tap the whole chain’s stock instead of just one location at a time, and this can work to my advantage. We shall see.

* Bizarrely, the salesmen don’t approach me when I’m looking at the cars in the lot. I don’t know if that’s just the ones I’ve been to so far, or if that’s the norm here. It feels like I’m being really neglected, though.

* Also bizarrely, you seem to have to make an appointment to take a test drive. I could be wrong about this one; will update as we do more research.

* I am amused that all the salesmen so far have assumed I’ve only just arrived in this country.

What Is Car “Servicing”?

Having gotten my UK driver’s license in December, the car shopping has now commenced. The rest of December was given over to a trip to the US, and then a rather severe illness followed me home, so some down time was in order once home before I could pick the thread up and start really trying to make heads or tails of car shopping and owning in this foreign country. I’m learning about it now, though, and reckon I may as well write up bits as I go.

As with everything else in this country, the system is just slightly different from what it is in the US, except for a few things that are majorly different and a few things that are exactly the same. One of the things I’ve realized in this process is just how much I don’t really know properly about buying a car in the US – despite having done it three times! But there, I have a trusted Dad and a trusted car dealership both to help me through the process – so whatever details are fuzzy, I trust that they’re looking out for me and it’s taken care of okay. In talking to friends here, I’ve learned that they’ve mostly relied on one or both of these as well (well, their own trusted friend/relative, not necessarily my dad), and I’ve gotten some recommendations about dealerships. Of course, those dealerships haven’t earned my trust, so I’m figuring out the whole system so that I know exactly what’s going on, with none of the vagueness this time – and less opportunity for anyone to pull the wool over my eyes, let’s hope!

There are a lot of things to figure out. This entry shan’t be an exhaustive listing; that’d be too long and tedious, and it’s been done really well elsewhere. When I’m done, I think I’ll post a link list of really helpful resources. As I go along, though, I want to highlight some of those things that work differently, either minorly or majorly, either for the vague interest of the readers I know I have, or potentially to help out other immigrants finding these pages later on, similarly flummoxed by the whole system.

In this entry, I want to talk about servicing: some car listings will advertise a full service history. You might also see mechanic shops ((Mechanic shops are commonly called garages in England and America, but I hate the ambiguity. Garages in America and England are also places to store your car (or your junk). In England, garages are furthermore places to put gas in your car and places to buy a car.)) advertise “servicing” specials for £99, for example. But I was left wondering one very large question: WHAT IS “SERVICING?!”

Come into the rabbit hole with me!

I started out by asking friends who have cars. I got unclear answers that disagreed with each other. The answers did tell me that the prices were extremely variable, and servicing day could be quite a source of stress – the amount it would cost could be quite an unknown. The guides I’ve been reading are telling me how many miles or months to do servicing for each vehicle make and model (it’s different from car to car). The service history is some sort of bound log book that should have stamps and signatures from the mechanic shop saying that the “service” has been done, whatever it is. I got a quote on a warranty to see what sorts of things it would and wouldn’t cover, and saw that maintaining this “full service history” was a condition of the warranty. I asked and asked and asked around, though, and got vague answers that didn’t agree with each other. I was very frustrated.

Not only have I driven many hundreds of thousands of miles in my 17 years of driving, but I’ve done a fair bit of work under the hood, too. When I was a college (university) student, I had a Pontiac Grand Am – I swear it was the worst car ever made, mechanically – and my choices were to learn how to fix it or to do without a car, basically. The latter’s not really an option in middle America, which I know is not something most Englishpeople can wrap their heads around, but it’s true. So, I got the shop manual and read it, and learned to fix some things. Dad helped me with some – the serpentine belt is definitely a two-person job. I’ve changed oil, replaced belts, fans, thermostats, fuel filters, spark plugs, brakes, put tires onto wheels, changed innumerable tires, and various other odds and ends. Simple stuff: I’m no mechanic, and I don’t pretend to know the complicated stuff, but I can read the directions for how to replace a thing – it’s the same, really, as following a recipe or reading a mathematical proof. If I have the tools, I can usually give it a go. I don’t always choose to, but I know I am perfectly capable of doing a great number of things on cars.

Combine that background with the general background I grew up with: the closest I’ve ever come to anything so vague as “servicing” is “tuneup”, but I finally got an actual definition for that when I was around 18: it apparently means replacing the air filter, spark plugs, and wires. I’ve been told that same definition by many different people and companies over the years now, so it seems to be fairly universally accepted. Else, in the US that I grew up in, we took our cars “to get the brakes replaced” (or done) or to “get the oil changed” or “to get the tires replaced”, etc – we actually say what we’re having done. I’ve never been aware of anything so universal and vague and useless as this “servicing” malarky that doesn’t give any clue at all about what’s being done. Some people have told me they have it done every three months; the books I’m looking at only call for it to be done every 12-24 months for most cars. What could it be that they’re actually doing?!

I’ve already thrown up my hands in frustration about the lack of car loving here – at least in my current social circles. There’s this widespread misconception that, while owners used to be able to work on their own cars, they absolutely can’t now because computers control so much, so now everyone must take their cars to mechanics for everything. Computers do have a lot to do with cars that shadetree mechanics can’t do much about – but a lot of the simple stuff doesn’t deal with that at all. Besides, the way to deal with computer errors is to get a computer code reader that you plug in to the car, so you can see what errors you’re getting, and then you can address them. I know cars have changed since mine was built, but I can’t imagine it’s as difficult as people make out.

Anyway, I did manage to learn that a full service history is something that I should definitely get when buying a car. It would be some sort of bound booklet, and it would have stamps and signatures from the mechanic shops that had done work of some sort – I was still not sure whether it was preventive or curative (as in, oil changes type work or fixing something gone wrong type work) – on the car. If the car didn’t have a full service history, I should eye it very skeptically and give it a wide berth. However, the service booklet probably wouldn’t tell me what was done to the car – it’s just that the mechanic wouldn’t have signed off on it if the right stuff hadn’t been done.

I stayed confused and frustrated for a long time – surely people aren’t just blindly giving their money to mechanics? Surely they have some clue of what they’re paying money for, right?

Reading the guides I’d found, and putting it together with what I’d been told about servicing by my car-owning friends, I finally concluded that this must be something like the schedule I’d seen in every car owner’s manual I’ve had, with things like oil change every X miles, belt changes every Y miles, fluid flushes every Z miles, and so forth, lining up different preventive maintenance things to be done every so many thousand miles or months. That would help to explain why this guide I have shows a different schedule for every different car, and why the answers were so fuzzy and different from each car owner.

Eventually, I had a chance to go by a couple of local mechanic shops and ask. I’d thought to do this, both to try to get the answer, and to feel out local mechanic shops – because all cars need fixing sooner or later, so I’ll need a mechanic, so it’d be good to go have a chat and start to get a feel for these places.

The first one I went to, I got an answer a lot like my friends’ answers, leaving me not much clearer – though he was at least able to give me some pricing information, and to answer another question I had clearly.

The second one I went to was brilliant, though. Once I explained what I was after, the confusion cleared from his face, and he showed me the blank form on his clipboard and said he was just about to do a servicing right now – and showed me the three-page checklist. Brilliant! I don’t remember everything that was on that list, but a lot of it was the sort of things that get checked at a full service oil change in the US (one of those with the 49-point inspection type things). They’re looking at the condition of the belts, tires, fluids, wipers, and so on.

He showed me the bound booklet, but all I could gather was that it came from the manufacturer – it had no stamps yet because it was a brand new car, just in for its first servicing (well, 11-month-old car) – so he didn’t flip it open. So when I do buy a car, I’ll get that and see more.

We talked at length, and I came home that day and started this entry, and then left it far too long. But I came to realize that it’s an inspection ((not to be confused with the MOT, which is what most Brits seem to think of when you mention “inspection” and “car” in the same sentence. I’ll talk about the MOT another time, but just bear in mind that this is something completely different.)): nearly all those entries on that checklist started with “Check condition of…” Once this dawned on me, I realized that I had my answer to a question that had plagued Chris and I: to get servicing or not to get servicing?

See, I generally buy a car and keep it til it won’t go anymore – my first car was totalled by an accident, and my second car’s motor gave out (that was the Grand Am; by then I was Done with it – So Very Done). My third car will cost far too much to import, and then the steering wheel’s on the wrong side, so I’m not dealing with that; she’ll stay in the US to be driven when we’re there until she won’t go anymore. This time, though, I was pondering, do we get a car that’s “good enough for now” in the hopes of selling it on in a few years, and getting a nicer one, or do we follow this same pattern, and get a car that we’re quite happy to keep til it won’t go anymore (or, most likely, costs too much to get to pass its MOT)? If the former, then we need to be sure to keep up the service history stamps. If the latter, then we can do what we please – do our own work, or whatever.

Once I realized it’s mostly just a checklist – an inspection – then I realized that Chris and I could check our car over ourselves, at least most of the checklist, and know before servicing whether any work would need doing, and thus alleviate the fear of the unknown bill part. Heck, if any of the simpler things needed doing, we could even do those ourselves before taking it in, and save the labor and the marked-up parts costs. Then we could still get the precious stamps, but with less extra costs on top.

Since I’ve started this entry, I’ve even found one of those checklists online, here. Looking at that list closely (well, I’m sure that’s a different list; it’s a different shop), and seeing the prices, I’m astonished at the highway robbery of it. I think Chris and I will be coming down on the side of “keep until it fails the MOT” – it seems cars are lucky to make it to age 10 or 12 here – and just doing it ourselves with no precious stamps. We could spend a day doing all the things on that list, without any specialist tools at all, and pay ourselves over £200, with no chance of scamming ourselves!

So: What is car servicing? It’s looking everything over and making sure everything works right (lights, etc); making sure nothing’s nearly worn out (belts, brakes, etc); replacing things on schedule according to the manufacturer (oil, fluids, spark plugs, air filter); replacing things that are worn out (wiper blades, etc). That’s all. “What’s included in a car servicing?” got me results from Google, if you want some more sample lists.