Sunday, October 08, 2006
Oh yes, the moment of truth has indeed arrived, for Doug has at long last found himself some wheels!! Ok, so I've had it for like 2 weeks now, so I guess this is a tad overdue, but I was waiting until I could snap a few pics and the weather lately hasn't exactly been condusive. I've been told it wasn't a typhoon but merely a "low pressure front", and to that I say pshaw. The rain and winds were frickin plenty strong and lasted for a few days. Mr. Sun came out today though, so all is good in Mr. Dargie's neighborhood now. And in case you're wondering, yes my car is exactly what I wanted and yes it is everything I expected it to be. It is quite easily the fastest car I've ever owned... which sort of goes to waste as I'll explain shortly. Here's a picture of the new Party Wagon - not to be confused with the not-so-recently deceased Party Wagen, the cash cow that met its untimely demise last year after racking up nearly five bajillion miles, getting hit thrice in the space of a year, then smacking into a wall (sorry 'bout that one George). So hey, I took a picture with my K-tie (cell phone), which actually has better resolution than my digital camera (3mega-pixels vs. 2). The interior's actually even nicer than the exterior with race-like Recaro seats all around, a momo steering wheel and a very solid feeling clutch/short-shifter. Double-din stereo that handles tapes, cds, and MDs - and now iPods. ;P Oh, and last but most certainly not least, there's a full exhaust and intake on it with a nice blow-off valve, so it makes cool swishy noises when I shift hard. I love that! Stock my car's rated at 250HP, so with the stuff on it I'm guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of the 270s. It's fast enough basically.
So ok, let me give you a little shakedown on all the crap you have to deal with to get a car around here - I'll present the good and the bad as well as I can. First off the good news: used cars are dirt cheap in Japan. I picked up my precioussssss for the low, low sum of 200,000Y (1,680USD currently). That's for a '98 WRX with 110,000 miles on the odo that runs perfectly fine and has no major exterior blemishes. The bad news? After all was said and done it cost a total of 417,000Y to get it on the road! There're taxes and fees for every stupid little thing - sales tax, registration fee (50,000Y!!), inspection fees, special car taxes, manditory national insurance (which isn't enough since you have to get extra insurance anyway), you name it. Still though, when you consider that I just sold a '00 RS (not even a turbo) back home for 11,000USD, a pricetag of $3,500ish for that car boggles the mind... or maybe I'm just easily boggled.
Alright, so I'll start at the beginning. Asking around online I found out that auctions are supposed to be the cheapest way to pick up cars in Japan, so this guy introduced me to someone he knew. Long story short, I wound up going down to Tokyo to check out what I was told was the biggest car auction in the world - something like 10-13,000 cars go out of that place a week. I took the overnight bus (5 hours from Sendai) and was supposed to meet up with my man on the scene to go to the auction. I was totally expecting to take the train, then this guy rolls up in a brand frickin new Z3! Sweet! So we drive out there, and I'll tell you it was any car guy's fantasy land - you name it, they probably had one for sale. I saw countless GT-Rs of course (I saw a hakosuka... Davis eat your heart out!), a few Ferraris and Lambos, even an old pimpin 60's Impala and a few nice old Bugs. They were all sitting in this ginormous parking lot, and you could go out and start the engine and inspect them all if you wanted. Lots of fun! I dunno, maybe dealer auctions are like that in the States as well, but I wouldn't know.
So yeah, the day I went, out of the 10,000 cars there only 5 met my criterion, and given my restrictively low budget I didn't get one that day. The guy I met was really cool though, and we went back to his office in Tokyo and checked out things online. He even gave me his password and all so I could browse the national auction inventory from home by myself. So that was last month sometime, and within a week we found something that worked and he picked it up at the price I mentioned above... here's where it starts to get a little hairy.
You see, in Japan when you buy a car there are a bunch of things you have to worry about. First off, there's the parking thing. If you live in a city or urban area like many do then you'll probably wind up having to shell out upwards of a few hundred doll-hairs to secure yourself a spot. Luckily I don't have that problem as my parking is free (go boonies!!), but you still have to prove you have parking in order to get the car registered. I had to go to the local po-po station and get some forms on which you have to provide dimensions and info on the car itself, then the parking lot layout which you have to draw by hand. Bleh. After that, I took it to my landlady, who in turn had to take it to the real estate company to get it stamped for approval. After I got that back I had to go back to the po-pos and give it back, along with money of course, to get a little sticker to put on the car. All that took a little over a week to sort out.
Then I got to take a trip to Japan's version of the DMV. I had to turn in the previous owner's plates after getting them pried off with the jaws of life thanks to some rust, and get new ones of my own. Thank God the auction guy drove the car up and helped me out with all that cause it looked about as bad and anal as the paperwork back home for stuff but in Japanese - apparently no one actually does that stuff themselves around here though. They have this little seal they put over your rear plate after the guy comes out to inspect it, and you have to get your plates changed every two years when you renew the shaken.
What's shaken (pronounced "shah-ken", not like the past tense of "shake") you ask? Well it's this safety/equipment inspection you have to go through every 2 years, or every year if your car's more than 10 years old I think. A new car's shaken lasts 3 years. It's prohibitively expensive, which is why used cars are so damn cheap out here. It makes them depreciate much faster. With many cheap old cars, a car might only be worth as much as the shaken that's on it - mine is still good for a little over a year in case you're wondering. So just how expensive is it? Well if you have a K-car (lawnmower-like engine and proportional speed, weighs less than 600kg I think) then you might get away with only paying like 50,000-70,000 or so, but for my gas guzzler I hear I should expect about twice that range. Oh, and there's an annual car tax as well I hear, like in Virginia. I don't like Virginia.
A couple other random tidbits I shall give you about driving in Japan - yes, it is weird (and yet really cool) to drive on the other side of the road while sitting on the other side of the car and shifting with my other hand. Also, the speed limits around here are rediculous - imagine all the numbers being the same as the US, but replace the mph with a kph. The highest local speed limit I've seen is 50kph, and the highways are set at something like 80-90kph. Luckily for me no one actually does the speed limit - you'll see people going anywheres from 20-40kph over the posted limit. I still haven't even cracked 100kph (~60mph), although I have cracked 6000rpm. ;P
Ah yes, and then there's gas. I got my "high ock man-tan" (full tank of hi octane, Initial D style) for the exhorbant sum of 8,000Y, so don't you guys go trying to complain to me about gas back home. Japanese high test is really clean though... I've heard high octane is something like 10 octane points higher, putting it at around 112 octane or so. Oh, and I have yet to pump my own gas since most of the stations around here are full service. With a smile even! It's like Jersey, but without the smell and I can turn left to my heart's content. ;P
I've been driving all over the place and it's a blast - gotta find new tires and a track or something quick though. I wonder if they have autocross in Japan... oh, and half the reason for me to get this specific car is for snowtime adventures to snowboard land, with a small stop along the way to doughnut central, or axis-spin city depending on how saucy I'm feeling. We're on the same parallel as Maryland, so I hear it snows plenty and the closest ski resort is a mere hour's drive away. Oh, but apparently they don't believe in plowing the streets so things might get a little hairy around here... especially since my town's like a big hill jutting out of the ocean. I do hear that it's usually a tad milder here due to shore effect. Still, woo AWD and snow tires!