Sunday, November 12, 2017

Buying a Car in Greece ~ Hi Ho Silver and Away!

Sitting and sipping at our favorite hotel rooftop bar in downtown Athens, the accents of the foursome next to us were unmistakably American.  A few more sips, a bit more sunset and a conversation commenced:

“What brings you to Athens?” we asked. 

“We are taking a cruise from here,” they answered, “How about you? Are you taking a cruise?”

“No, we are here to buy a car,” our response caused a collective intake of breath at their table.

“We live here,” we added, trying to put the answer in perspective. (Another audible intake from the foursome.)

View of the Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel's rooftop restaurant/bar
Admittedly, ours wasn’t  the routine response from a couple of Yanks sitting at a bar in Greece. But we are finding that our life isn’t quite as ‘routine’ as it once was.  In fact, shopping for a car when living in the rural Peloponnese of Greece is far from routine. 

A Bit of Backstory

Teeny, tiny rental cars work well on teeny, tiny roads

We’ve been part-time ex pats for almost three years. During that time we’ve rented a variety of cars. Timing our stays with ‘off season’ tourism we've had some great rates. Sometimes as low as 15-euros a day for a tiny car to navigate tiny roads.

You dread this but it happens and you must pass each other
But over the course of a three month stay -- as is allowed in Schengen Countries -- that begins to add up even with the best of deals. And renting an automatic so that The Scribe could share driving duties with The Scout  was cost prohibitive.

PicMonkey Collage
The road to The Stone House on the Hill is getting worse, not better
We were ready to tackle the car purchase a year ago but just before we returned to our Stone House on the Hill, the area was hit by whats known as ‘the 100 year storm’.  The road to our house was trashed. There’s been no sign of repairs and the road continues to deteriorate.Tiny low-slung cars were no longer an option for our tiny  obstacle-course road.

We needed a tiny SUV.

We hit a reality roadblock last autumn when we learned: we could buy a home in Greece on a tourist visa but we couldn't buy a car.  We needed a resident permit before car dealers would talk to us. You regulars here know that we spent months on our ‘road-trip to residency’ , beginning it instead of the car search last September and ending it last June. Then we returned to the States.

Some of you've been with us long enough to remember that the car pictured below had come with the house when we purchased it but when it came time to register it in our names, it couldn’t be done. We sold it when its annual registration came around.
"Our" Diahatsu came as part of the house purchase

One Year Later. . . Autumn 2017

Back on the hunt again and armed with our residency permits, we decided a used Toyota RAV 4 or a Suzuki Vitara would do the trick both in performance and price - and both models came with automatic transmissions. In addition to the purchase price and registration costs, Greece imposes an annual ‘road tax’ based on engine size and an additional ‘luxury tax’ on cars less than 10 years old. Gasoline prices are about $7 a gallon here. (Why used? The price of a new RAV ranges from 34,000 – 42,000 euros, that’s $39,434 – $48,712 – more than we planned to spend!).

It wasn’t long before we realized. . .

We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Roads in our area lead to delightful mountain villages
Unlike in the United States where you can find both new and used cars at a dealer, like Toyota; in Greece dealers sell new cars and used cars are sold from a multitude of used car lots.

There’s one major on-line used car site to which we were referred time and time again. So it became our search engine as it offered ads in both Greek and English. However we did have some translating of the translations to do:

“Living room: beige with skin” finally made sense: the car’s interior is beige with leather seats. Simple, right?

Some like this one left us wondering:  “Special prices for unemployed triplets large.” (We didn’t pursue that one!)

Then came the matter of fuel options:  diesel, gasoline AND propane; sometimes a combination of gas and propane were offered. Propane is commonly used to run autos in Greece. Whoa! We are talking a tank like that which holds fuel for the barbeque in the States. And you drive around with it in the back of your car! I read up on their fuel efficiency, safety and mileage BUT I couldn’t wrap my head around a high pressure tank of propane taking up space in the back of the car. (Before you ask: electric powered cars are not an option in rural Greece.)

So our requirements now included: gas or diesel fuel and an automatic transmission. We hoped one might be found among the 34 used RAV’s available throughout Greece on our trusty used-car website. There were fewer Vitaras.

While we were told Greeks don't drive automatics someone certainly is because several times in the course of the last few months, we'd 'find' a car, call and be told it was already sold. Or it was not yet on the lot. Or no one spoke English at the company and we didn't know if they had a car or not . . .this wasn’t going to be simple.

Image result for maps of greece and islands
34 Toyota RAVs were available throughout Greece - a pretty big stretch for a search

Greece’s recent economic downslide has impacted car sales. We were told the numbers of annual new car sales have dropped to 80,000 from the 300,000 annually prior to 2008. But this drop in sales seems to have impacted all of Europe where business articles reported sales of 12.6 million cars in 2015 was two-thirds of sales in 2007. Car sharing, the economy and young people losing interest in cars were all cited as contributing factors to a decline in new car sales.

Bottom line: fewer new cars sold, fewer used cars available.

Third Time is a Charm

Focusing on Athens and its suburbs, we had two unsuccessful ventures (both 'adventures' but I will spare you the unpleasant details) to look at cars. Bottom line: we couldn’t even find the lots – and yes, we were using GPS!  Driving in Athens isn’t for sissies and finding a car lot was insanity at its finest moment. On both occasions we snarled and snapped at each other until we figured out how to get ourselves back to the freeway and returned to The Mani – in our rental car.

Mr. Nikos and The Scout discuss cars at his sales lot in Glyfada
Two weeks ago we used a different approach. We turned in the rental car at the Athens Airport, took the airport express bus into town and after a night of enjoying Athens as tourists, we  set out at 9 a.m. Monday in a taxi for a used car lot in the suburb of Glyfada (knowns as 'Athens Riviera'). Even the taxi driver, using GPS, took us to a vacant building on his first try. Eventually we arrived at the lot. A salesman named Nikos spoke English and assured us that the car we wanted to see was still for sale and in the back of the lot sat. . .

Hi Ho Silver and Away!
. . .a 2011 automatic Toyota RAV4 with sunroof, heated leather seats and so many whiz-bang features that it seemed like brand-new in comparison to the 2005 Camry we drove in the United States.

It took two days to complete the registration and obtain the license plates and purchase car insurance. During that time staff members took turns driving us between the sales lot, the insurance office, and the Toyota dealership (where the car underwent a pre-sale check). They even dropped us off and picked us up from the tourist area of Glyfada so we could sightsee instead of sitting at the dealership while waiting for the car inspection to be completed.

It took two full days, but at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, we were heading back to The Mani in our car. Mission accomplished!

Hi Ho Silver and Away. . .

The car’s silver color prompted my christening it, Hi Ho Silver. Inspired by a television show back in our childhoods that featured a ‘Lone Ranger' and his horse, Silver, (a fiery steed with the speed of light). The Lone Ranger would leap into the saddle and command, 'Hi Ho Silver and away!' (A phrase I plan on using each time we set off on a road trip to explore Greece and neighboring countries!)

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  Thanks for joining us on yet another adventure in ex pat life in Greece.   Hey, if any of you have an owners manual – in English – for a 2011 Toyota RAV4 laying around and want to send it to us, we’ll reimburse you for the postage!
Until we are together again, safe travels to you and yours. . . Hi Ho Silver and Away!!

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


  1. This was quite the adventure! Enjoy your excursions with Hi Ho Silver.

    1. We hope to have many adventures in it Donna. And speaking of adventures, sounds like your new housesitting adventure will be great!! Good luck to you~

  2. I see how you become emotionally attached to your cars. What an adventure, just to find a car! And it already has a name! You can find owner manuels on ebay and amazon and other sites, prices can be a little stiff sometimes but they are out there. And then add shipping. Can you get Amazon Prime (free shipping) in Greece?

    1. You can be an Amazon Prime customer here but shipping to and from Greece is never free. It is breathtaking. And having a manual on line is great when you are somewhere that you could access it - but we need the old paperback version that can be pulled out in hill towns and back roads (and I have a friend ordering one for me next week. . .we'll pick it up in January).

  3. You will be very happy with your RAV 4! I've had one since 2007 and love it!

    1. Thanks Doreen. Everyone to a person who has a RAV raves about it. Think we will do the same!

  4. You can't drive a manual transmission? Whhhaaatt???
    Cousin Shelley

    1. No and I certainly wouldn't on these narrow, hair-pin turn roads where you may encounter a herd of goats or a dump truck passing a bus as you round the corner. Even Joel has says driving is much easier with the automatic here (and I never thought he'd say that!)

  5. You know I had never thought about the price of gas in dollars. That is a lot!! I'm glad you were finally able to find a car and what a beauty it is. Enjoy your Lone Ranger car on your adventures. I also remember the show!

    1. We were happy it came in silver as we've noticed the primary color choices here are black (which feels hot and dreary to me), white and silver. Guess it was meant to be. . .and yes, gas prices here are a bit breathtaking! Thanks for the visit~

  6. What an interesting story. I do hope you enjoy many adventures away in Hi Ho Silver!

    1. Thanks Carole! If we like it as much as others who rave about their RAVs do, I think we'll have done well!

  7. Oh the joys of expat living, just when you think you have it sorted, life throws you another wobbly. having said that bet you love Hi Ho Silver all the more because of the adventure to get here - happy travels!
    Wren x

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment! I guess Hi Ho brought us an adventure when we went in search of him. . .thanks for pointing that out! xxx

  8. Phew!! What a rigmarole!! SO happy you finally have a car. :-)

    1. Yes! House, permit and car. . .let the good times begin!

  9. HaHa! I know that snarling and snapping between driver and navigator when you're driving in a foreign country! (We take turns driving which makes each of us a little kinder & gentler.) Lucky for us, we both know how to drive a manual because automatic transmission cars are outrageously expensive here in Portugal. So glad you had luck on your 3rd try at finding a car and that it will be the three of you, The Lone Ranger, Tonto and 'Hi Ho Silver away' in the Mani!

    1. Surprisingly the automatics weren't more expensive here but they were like looking for a needle in a haystack! Yes, it is nice to have that checked off the to do list, which leaves us pretty much without any pressing 'to do's' any longer!

  10. I never imagined that purchasing a car abroad could be so daunting! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  11. WOW...what an ordeal just to buy a car. So glad you are now car owners.
    Now I am wondering if your road will be repaired.....

  12. A bit of a rocky ride finding your car, but it will be worth it now that you can explore all that fabulous Greek countryside!

  13. my goodness, I had no idea it would be such a process to buy a car in Greece. Interesting to hear that less young people are buying cars these days. I guess the amount of traffic on the roads is a problem and the cost of fuel? Whereas in Australia we have huge distances to travel and everyone has a car. Have fun "hi ho Silver"!

  14. Toyotas rock! Great purchase! Thanks for the insight on how things work in Greece. The part of being able to buy a house but not a car sounds crazy. Maybe dealers should ask for a change in law since their business are being affected (in some way). #TPThursday


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