Back in New York, we didn’t own a car – there simply was no need. We lived near the A train subway line and thus were able to travel around the city easily without fretting about finding a parking spot.
But living in Israel is different. While Modi’in is centrally located and boasts a high-speed train line, it is a large sprawling city. Realistically speaking, we need a car to get around.
New cars in Israel are very expensive – generally more than double the cost of a car in America. While olim are offered a steep discount on taxes associated with purchasing a new car, it comes with many complicated strings attached. For example, only the oleh who received a tax benefit to purchase the car may drive it.
To even have your children drive the vehicle, you must first seek written approval from the Israel Customs Authority! Failure to comply with the rules can result in being asked to reimburse the government for the discount you received on your car purchase.
Thus, despite the tax break, we determined that for our family, a previously-owned car would be a better investment. My husband would not be commuting as he works from home and I… well, I don’t have a driver’s license. (For my relatives reading this column and shaking their heads at me, don’t worry, I will get one eventually.)
If the general rule of thumb for buying a used car is “caveat emptor,” that warning applies even more so to olim in the used car market. Olim are not familiar with the car brands here as they aren’t widely found in the United States. And while Israel has a blue book equivalent (a list put out monthly by Yitzchak Levy), in reality, the price of a car in the marketplace is often much higher than the price on Levy’s list. Throw into the mix the language barrier and the foreign accent that marks you as a possible frier (naive oleh), and the second-hand car market becomes very daunting.
To avoid the pitfalls, we were told by more experienced olim to speak with “automotive consultants.” These consultants have experience in the automotive industry and their sole job is to find the best used car deals to suit your specific needs.
These consultants will send you various listings for review. If a car seems suitable, the consultant will go and inspect the vehicle, negotiate the price on your behalf, and then assist you through the bureaucratic tape to transfer the car to your name. These consultants are only paid if you purchase a car with their assistance, and the fee is generally fixed.
We spoke with a couple of these automotive consultants, but were unimpressed. Most of the postings we received from them were the same ones we found browsing the Yad2 website (the “Craigslist” of Israel). We therefore decided, that despite the risk, we would search for a car on our own.
What ensued were weeks of agonizing over the details of listings on Yad2. What’s more important – a newer model with more miles or an older model but with fewer miles? Is a car that was previously leased better than one that was privately owned? Is it worth the health risk to travel to check a car if it is located in a coronavirus hotspot?
After weeks of deliberating, we finally found a suitable used car at a car leasing dealership. My husband test-drove the car and then took it for a walk-around inspection by a garage. (Under Israeli law, if you don’t have the car inspected before purchasing it and later find a defect, the buyer can’t seek compensation.)
Satisfied with the feel of the car and with the blessing of the mechanic, my husband negotiated the purchase price. While we probably didn’t get a steal, hours of comparison-shopping on Yad2 made us confident we paid a reasonable price.
A bonus of purchasing a vehicle through a dealership is that the dealership handles most of the bureaucratic requirements for transferring vehicle ownership. I emphasize the word “most” because two months later, we have yet to complete the process.
According to the state’s motor vehicle records, we are the legal owners of our car. However, we have yet to receive anything other than our purchase receipt documenting this fact. We have received a variety of responses from friends on how to complete this process, including the bizarre possibility of paying a fee at a local pharmacy.
In retrospect, I can understand why people hire consultants, as the whole process was a headache. And while most days our car sits idly in its spot, I proudly view its purchase as one of our first real accomplishments as Israelis. Perhaps one day soon, I’ll be able to add earning a driver’s license to that list. In the meantime, I’m sitting back and enjoying the ride.