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Darwin, Australia

This is the first entry for Mike's Top Gear Challenge and my friends Rob K. and Louisa will know what Top Gear is, but for the novices let me explain that Top Gear is a British TV Show where three British Hosts drive cool cars and have insane challenges that they perform with limited funds and other resources involving vehicles in foriegn lands. For example, one of the hosts converted a caravan (trailer) into a Blimp(!) and on another episode they drove cheap motorcycles from Ho Chi Min City in the South of Vietnam to Halong Bay in the North (over 1,000 Miles) in under 8 days.

So since seeing the show I have wanted a Top Gear Challenge and here it is!

In this country where the average price of a good car is probably 30-40,000 dollars and cheap ones go for 3,000 to 5,000 I must buy a vehicle that can carry myself and all of my bicycle gear from Darwin in the North back home to Melbourne in the South or across the entire continent over 5,000 kilometers for under 1,000 dollars.

My mission began today when I went to a local backpacker hostel and looked at message boards with "Car for Sale" notices. I had been led to believe that many cheap cars would be listed by backpackers desperate to sell before their visas ran out and they had to leave the country so I was very disappointed to see only 4 vehicles listed ranging in price from 3,000 - 7,500 dollars!

This looked like a tougher job than I had been led to believe.

I asked around and heard a rumor of an area out the way I had come in on my bike about 30 k away that the backpackers brought the cars to and waited for prospective buyers. I did not feel like a possible 60 k bike round trip today and someone told me cab fare was 70 dollars to get there so I wasn't very keen on that option unless it was my only possible choice. I racked my brain for another solution and found myself near a News Agent where magazines and newspapers are sold and inside I found a free auto listing magazine.

It only showed dealerships, not private sellers so I thought it might not be very useful, but one place listed called itself "Cheap as Chips Cars" so I thought, "that sounds promising!" The cheapest car in the ad was 3,000 dollars, but I thought I might be able to talk them down or they may have a trade in that was in bad shape they would part with for cheap so I called. The number I reached turned out to be the owner of the place and he was in Melbourne of all places so after I explained my bicycle trip and why I needed a cheap car he gave me a local number to call. The number went to a small dealership only 5 blocks from my hotel, but first I called to see if there was anything promising there. The saleman heard my story and said I should come down- he might have something.

When I got to the lot it was postage stamp size and crammed with cars, mostly in the 3- 5,000 range. I saw a very ugly sedan with no price and a blue station wagon that was filthy and had body damage all down its right side that also had no price. I gave my attention to the wagon because it would be easiest to carry my bike in it. It was as dirty on the inside as the out. It wasn't locked so I let myself into it, but I really did not want to sit in the seat because it was that crummy! I popped the hood and the engine was almost immaculate- new plugwires, new power stearing fluid unit, newish radiator...it looked exactly the opposite of the rest of the car!

By this time Rob the salesman came out and I said hello again. He told me he only had one car that had met my description of the dirtiest trade in on the lot and it was the wagon. The car was a 1996 Mitsubishi Magna Exec Station Wagon with a 4 cylinder fuel injected 2.6 litre engine, power steering, AirCon, and automatic door locks.
The windows are roll down style, which is cool 'cause less to go wrong. Under the dirt it was bascially light blue with big dents and damage streaks on it.

I looked it over, opened the hatch door and checked the spare tire compartment and there amongst crud and dead moths was a full size spare with tread and full of air as well as the complete jack assembly- another good sign.

Rob brought the keys and offered to jockey the other cars around so I could take a test drive as soon as he finished with some other customers who were picking up a car.

I started the old blue wagon up and it started right off, but idled pretty roughly...I gassed it and saw that the tach seemed to work and that the fuel gauge showed "Full"- Score! at the gas prices here a full tank is probably 60-70 dollars! I did a quick check on turn signals and lights and everything I could see seemed good. The other really cool thing about the car was that it had ten months registration still on it which is longer than I will be in the country and a big deal here.

By this time Rob was done and he moved the crummy sedan out of the way and I took to the road behind the wheel of a car in Australia for the first time. Driving on the left side was not difficult because I had been doing it on the bike for a month and over 2800 kilometers, but the mirror placement was weird- I was not prepared for looking to the left to see the rear view mirror and remembering that all the body of the car was to my left side was something I had to think about- not automatic at all!

I drove back to the Holiday Inn and parked across the street in the park and stopped and restarted the engine and it backfired a couple of times. It also seemed like the left front shock was weak maybe....I drove back to the dealership and tried to accelerate quickly and the car responded sluggishly and smelled of gas or something. When I got back I tried backing it up and succesfully got back into the lot. Rob and I talked for a couple of minutes and I decided I would take it and see what happened after he called his boss and came down to 900 dollars to meet my price (Under 1,000). Paid for the car and drove it back to the HI and then I walked to the bank and signed up for insurance for vehicle liability.

The system here is different than the US- when you register the car it also pays for all the liability you need if you injure a person. That is automatic. But it does not cover property damage at all. At the bank the clerk put in all the info about my car and accepted my answers about my driving record and I found out that my full property liability insurance was only $22.80 a month and they could automatically deduct it from my account- sweet! Now as an insured driver I went back to the Holiday Inn and looked at the mess litterally (MSPI) that I got myself into. I pulled some junk out and found about $3.00 in change in the car. To clean it was going to take a shop vac, 1,000 gallons of soap and water and about 6 hours I figured.

But I was a new car owner again for the first time in 4 years! Fun or no Fun only time will tell!

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on September 1, 2012 from Darwin, Australia
from the travel blog: Mike's Top Gear Challenge
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