Desperation was beginning to set in. My new job was starting in a distant city and after a month of searching for a car, I still had no vehicle for the commute. I sensed that perhaps my status as a 30-something English-speaking woman was a disadvantage when dealing with the Israeli used car industry.
I had begun my search as a novice. Following the advice of more experienced acquaintances, I visited local leasing agencies to learn what they had for sale in my low price range. Most employees I encountered were brash young Israelis who spoke Hebrew a kilometer a minute. My linguistic skills were left behind in the dust.
Some experiences were more humiliating than others. A suspicious security guard at one dealership asked me three times whether I was certain I wanted to buy a car rather than rent one before he allowed me into the parking lot. After repeated assurances, he reluctantly opened the gate, followed me inside, and insisted on personally escorting me to the sales office.
Most cars at leasing agencies cost more than I could afford. Fortunately (or so I thought), there was another option. The so-called migrashim. These used-car lots sold older models at lower prices. Maybe this was my solution.
I spotted a car that seemed to suit my needs at one such lot. The kilometrage was low, the car drove smoothly, and the negotiable price was within my range. The salesmen reassured me that the car had been in no accidents. If an independent test turned up major problems, they would refund the cost. I expressed hopeful interest.
TWO DAYS later, I returned to take the car for a test. To my surprise, the manager of the lot insisted on accompanying me, explaining that the car would not be insured otherwise. She asked where we were going and called out the window to inform her boss as we left the lot.
I drove to the official testing center in the next town. The administrator immediately went inside; ostensibly to ask which long line the car ought to be in. When she returned we traded places. She drove into the wrong line while I went to pay NIS 400 for the test.
The over-heated center was filled with fumes and testy mechanics yelling at each other and their clients. One shouted at the manager to move the car to the correct line. It was our turn to be tested.
A mechanic peered and prodded under the hood. He jacked up the car and strode underneath, poking a metal instrument here and there. Every time I asked a question, he replied impatiently that if I were patient, everything would be fine.
Eventually, after taking the car for a lengthy drive, the mechanic invited me to discuss the test results. The manager followed. I was dismayed to see that every box on the report except one was marked unacceptable. The mechanic covered that half of the page and told me to ignore it. The comments were the important part, he said. They showed the car had experienced average wear and tear but was basically in good shape. He asked the manager to leave the room. â€œJust between you and me,â€ the mechanic said, leaning closer, â€œI think you can buy this car.â€
I left feeling somewhat hopeful though I resisted the managerâ€™s pressure to sign an immediate contract. Instead, I took the test results for a repairs estimate.
The man at the front desk glanced at the report and said there seemed to be something wrong with the kilometrage. I didnâ€™t understand his convoluted explanation and asked for someone who could explain it more slowly. He pointed me to a back office where I found a man hunched over a desk who shrugged at the report and estimated the car would need NIS 5,000 in repairs.
I asked about the kilometrage.
The man glanced around carefully and shut the door. In a low voice, he said he would call a friend and check it out for me. He told me to come back 10 minutes later.
â€œDonâ€™t touch that car,â€ my informant said as soon as I returned. The kilometrage was 202,000 not 102,000, he explained quietly. Furthermore, the car had been in an accident in January 2005.
â€œWhat about the test,â€ I murmured in shock.
The testers were probably in cahoots with the used car dealer, he told me. â€œCombinot.â€
THE PEOPLE at the used car lot were surprised to see me again so soon. I have a few questions, I explained, sitting down with the boss. Is there any chance the kilometrage is incorrect? No, replied the boss. Anyway, hadnâ€™t I tested the car? That should tell me.
The test was worthless, I said loudly.
The boss suggested I close his office door. I said I preferred to keep it open. I accused him of working with the testing center.
The boss turned the air conditioner on high. Yes, he acknowledged, he did work with the testing center.
Itâ€™s lucky I have friends in the industry, I told him. I presented the detailed information I had acquired. It depends on how you define an accident, the boss said when I got to that part.
â€œHow do you define an accident,â€ I asked.
â€œNobody died,â€ he replied.
I demanded compensation for the cost of the test and my time. After further argument, the boss wrote me a check for NIS 400.
I left the used car lot feeling spent, but with no money lost and experience gained.
I might not be fully Israeli, I told myself, but at least Iâ€™m not a friar!
I cashed the check the following morning and took my informant a box of chocolates.
As for a car, Iâ€™m still looking.