When H left New Zealand, he had instruction to buy a car in Lebanon when he got settled. There was one main reason why we thought buying was better was hiring, the total cost for a year to hire would be about the same, but if we BOUGHT a car, it would mean we had some return on the investment at the end of the year. A car was necessary to allow me a bit of freedom while H was up the hill, and it allowed me to do the shopping because the supermarkets are out of stroller range. With two small people in tow, you quickly discover things like the shopping aren't that straight forward anymore.
Given that I would be driving the car on dodgy lebanese roads with dodgy lebanese drivers, predominantly alone, there were two simple criteria; we didn't really care what it looked like, but the car must be SAFE, and it must be RELIABLE.
The reason I've hesitated about blogging about this is because the car was sold to us by a Kiwi who was leaving Lebanon as we arrived. And it is a heap of junk. It is worth significantly less than we paid for it (verified by independent sources), and we feel totally ripped off.
The car that was sold to us is a 1989 Jeep Cherokee. There has been a bit of email traffic between the seller, her husband and H asking some quite pointed questions… but her husband swears that he was honest in his dealings with us, and that he sold us a car that was in good condition. His words, verbatim "this car has looked after us well and it should look after you".
However. Given the two criteria that I mentioned above (safe and reliable) which were made clear on purchase, and the state of the car that we now own, I am less than convinced. H certainly would not have purchased the car had the seller made clear the extent of the problems the car has - problems that must have been present - there are too many of them and they are not the sort to suddenly 'appear' for them not to have been known about. It's possible the sellers husband didn't know much about cars. Or was oblivious. You would have to have been vacantly oblivious though.
But I'll let you make the judgement yourself… below is a list of the 'issues' we discovered in a very short period after purchase:
- The oil and transmission leak and need constant refilling
- There is a leak in the rear window when it rains
(both these problems were declared when we bought it - although the window was to have been fixed)
- The breaks are unsafe (they were 'completely replaced' two weeks before we bought it apparently. This may be true but they are still spongy and slow to react)
- The aircon had to be re-gassed
- There is a slow air-leak in one tyre which needs to be re-inflated every couple of weeks.
- The is a suspicious smell of petrol inside the car when its been sitting for a day or two
- The battery had a problem with constantly being flat which necessitated its replacement two weeks after we bought it. When this didn't fix the problem, two further visits to the mechanic turned up nothing - until I attacked the engine with electrical tape and wrapped every exposed cable or piece of metal that looked like it might have contact with the battery. It's holding a charge now… don't know how long that will last though.
- Replaced a fuse which had corroded past usefulness, so that the windscreen wipers and sprayer would work
- The cooling system leaks water through the dash into the passenger footwell
- There is a serious problem with the engine overheating when it is idling - this includes moving through slow traffic, which you encounter a lot of in Beirut… which brings me to the amusing tale of our Big Adventure this weekend.
The first time we had the problem with overheating was when we left the motor running after it had been jump-started (for the 6th time in a row) one morning when we were taking a trip to Saida. On this occasion it was one of those scary scenes where there is steam pouring out of your engine - which becomes a large dense cloud when you open the hood. At the time, we had no idea what was wrong, and it wasn't until the problem happened a couple more times that we made the connection with the idling motor.
This weekend, we decided to risk it and take the car to Beirut, with a side trip to Byblos. We had a brilliant time. Mostly. The car made it all the way to Beirut - but when we hit the snarl of saturday traffic past the airport the gimbals started climbing and we had to make an abrupt departure from the motorway to let off some steam. While the hour it took to get watered and moving again made us late for the lunch date we had - at the Hard Rock Cafe no less - it was now apparent that getting home was going to be a bit of a mission. Taking all this into account, we decided that while we were there anyway we might as well get our shopping done (my husband now owns a pink shirt - and he looks HOT in it!) and continue on to Byblos the next day. It was worth it. Byblos is a tourist attraction because it has a very real claim to being the oldest continuously occupied town in the world. It is beautiful, and also has a bit to do with the bible (the name might have given that away).
The trip home was fine until we got off the coast road and hit Beirut traffic again. While we were pulled over in the car-park of a poker-machine joint, right on the side of the motorway, a mechanic named Tony (not kidding) pulled up on a scooter. Turns out this dude turns a dollar zooming in and out of traffic fixing broken cars.
And this is about the point the adventure really began. Tony, builders crack and all, took to the engine using a screwdriver and a couple of pairs of pliers and removed: two bits of hose, a pipe, replaced a component and removed the heat regulator. I should probably add this was over the course of two hours and two separate stops involving copious amounts of steam and many bottles of water. We had run out of cash after paying him $70 cobbled together from the last of our reserve the first time we stopped, so after the second time, when it became apparent it was going to cost us significantly more than that, H disappeared on the back of the scooter with Tony to find an ATM, and the kids and I were left on the side of the motorway just north of Beirut at about 8pm in a car that didn't go, watching all the other cars zoom past and counting the seat-belts being worn in them (grand total: two. None by children).
At that point I noticed H had forgotten his cellphone, which was sitting in the centre console. To be honest, I wasn't convinced I'd see him again alive. So it was a relief when he did turn up about half an hour later - having crossed the six lanes of traffic over the motorway on foot (apparently easier than trying to turn the scooter around, having approached from the other direction). It cost us US $200, the cap of the expansion tank - which Tony lost during stop #1, about 20 litres of water - and the repairs were expedient at best. I'm still not entirely sure if we got ripped off, but I think getting home that night, rather than the next day, was probably worth it.
So there you have the saga of the Lemon car. Let that be a lesson to you all. The irony is that overall I've found the Lebanese to be incredibly honest and forthright in their manner. Seems a shame that we would get dealt a dodgy hand by our fellow countrymen - and have had to come half way across the world to have it happen.
And NOW I'm waiting up, writing blogs while my husband drinks whiskey at the pub, because he forgot his keys when he went out tonight. Sometimes life really does give you lemons.
p.s: My lemonade is that he's still here TO go out. That part of our Lebanese adventure continues to continue...