Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Endless Car Chase

Well, another chapter in the long car saga has ended at last. After having decided on exactly which car I wanted, I put down my 2,000 shekel deposit and waited for my Mazda 3 to complete its journey through the perilous straights of Tiran.

In preparation for the new arrival, I began the process of researching costs a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, my cousin Rafi was a car insurance salesman, so he set me up with one of his "buddies" in the industry, and English speaker. After calling several times and having some difficulty understanding what he was talking about over the phone, I hiked the two miles from my yeshiva to his office to meet the guy face to face. He offered me a good deal and a shidduch, but it turns out I can't get my insurance set up until I have the registration number for the vehicle, and I can't get the registration number until I've got the car. But the next day, a call came through. My Mazda had successfully made aliyah to the tiny Jewish homeland, so it was off to the dealership.

Now, personally, I'm very comfortable with simple spoken Hebrew. I can sign a lease, buy a desk, or negotiate a cel phone contract without a problem. But when I'm spending tens of thousands of shekels, I wanted some Hebrew backup. I managed to get an hour of Rafi's time and hitch a ride with him over to the dealership. But after about five minutes, it was clear that I was not going to be able to get the car right off the bat. I had two options: take out a loan or pay up front.

Unlike normal Israelis, new immigrants are not allowed to borrow against the car as collateral. The problem is that, because we receive the car with discounted taxes, we are forbidden from selling it to anyone or even letting someone else drive the car. This is to prevent immigrants from using their rights to buy a car at a step discount, then allowing a normal Israeli to drive it and pocketing the change. The problem this causes immigrants is that, if we default on the loans, the bank can't take the car back and resell it either. Therefore, immigrants need to have loans guaranteed by someone else. I wasn't comfortable asking Rafi, or anyone else, to co-sign on such an enormous loan, so I had to go with plan B: paying for the thing outright. Sadly, I left the Mazda dealership with nothing accomplished.

To bring huge sums of money into the country isn't easy either. I called my bank to set up a wire transfer, only to learn that, because I have a personal and not a business account, I have to come into the branch itself to make the transfer, which is extremely difficult as the closest branch of my bank is about 10,000 miles away. And I don't have a car to drive there either.

So I had to try a different option. Wednesday morning, hiking the mile and a half from my yeshiva to "Cheerfuly Changed," the foreign currency exchanger company, I had to work out a deal. With bank transfers an impossibility, we figured out that I could write myself a check, cash it there, and have it deposited in my Israeli account. They take a 1% commission on checks instead of the 0.5% commission on money transfers, which really adds up when you're transferring tens of thousands of dollars, but I was completely out of options, and I'm not waiting until my next trip to the old country to set up a money transfer. Meanwhile, while I'm filling out the paperwork, vacuuming out the last dollar from my savings, the guys behind the counter were looking at me like I'm loaded. The manager has to call his supervisor to get authorization, and conducts a spot examination.
"Yeah, he's an engineer and wants to buy himself some wheels. Where do you work?"
"I work at a company in the United States and live here."
"He telecommutes.... How old are you?"
"Twenty eight"
"Uh huh... uh huh... are you married?"
"Are you looking?"
"Write your phone number on the front of the check for me please."

And with that, the transfer from America to Israel was complete. But I don't want to actually write the massive check from my Israeli account to Mazda's account until I can confirm that the money is safely in my account. Unfortunately, due to a bank glitch, all passwords to check one's account status via the internet have been lost. So, it's off to the bank, another two mile hike, hauling my backpack full of paperwork and holy books, until I arrive at my bank to reset my password.

Unfortunately, my new password won't work for another two days. Given that I reset my password on Wednesday, it is supposed to be working first thing tomorrow (Friday) morning, at which point I should be able to check my account. If, that is, the password actually works when they say it will. Of course, the dealership closes at noon tomorrow, and I have a shidduch at 10 AM, so I may not be able to buy it until Sunday anyway. But it's getting so close I can feel it, baby!

1 comment:

Emah S said...

hey, so why couldn't you just ask the bank while you were there if the money had arrived? AND, why can't you call them to ask them??

I guess if you've waited this long though.........what's another shabbat without a car, right? (joke, ha ha)