Friday, May 29, 2015

People in Hell want ice water...


My cute little Mini when it was still pretty new...

Ever heard that expression?  The first time I heard it was while watching a movie about Patsy Cline.  Or was it Loretta Lynn?  I don't remember.  All I know is that the movie was about a country singer.  I looked it up... it's a quote from the 1985 film, Sweet Dreams, which starred Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline.  It's a good film with some surprisingly funny lines in it.

Anyway, I'm inspired to write about how "people in hell want ice water" today because it's PCS season.  For those not familiar with the military lifestyle, allow me to explain.  PCS means permanent change of station.  Summertime is prime PCS season for military folks around the world.  It's when military families everywhere move to a new place to a new job.  Bill and I have been through it multiple times over the past twelve years.  We did spend several years in the Washington, DC area because he had two jobs in a row there.  But after that, we were constantly moving.  In fact, for the last seven years of his career, we never got the full three year tour in one place.  Three years is about how long the average job runs for a service member.

Now, if you are moving to a place in the United States, a PCS can be a bit of a pain in the ass.  But it can also be a good chance for a road trip.  Almost two years ago, Bill and I moved from North Carolina to Texas and I got to see a part of the country I had never seen before.  It was kind of cool, since most of the rest of our time was spent in the southeastern United States.  But we only lasted a year in Texas before Bill retired and we moved back to Germany.

An international move is a major pain in the ass.  Yes, it's exciting to move abroad, but there are many more steps that have to be accomplished before your move is successful and complete.  The first time we moved to Germany, I had to start the process while Bill was in Iraq.  However, we had plenty of time to prepare and there was a lot of support.  The second time, of course, we moved as civilians.  We got little help from Bill's company, aside from a paltry moving allowance.  It was okay, though, because we'd been here before and knew kind of what the process was.  And we had Facebook to help us.

This morning, I noticed someone posting about how they were looking for a car.  They want a cheap, older, yet still reliable car that seats four.  If you were in the United States shopping for a vehicle, that wouldn't be so hard to find, right?  But when you are in Germany and most people have only shipped the one car the government will pay for, you quickly find out that reliable used cars are a hot commodity.  You may find yourself paying much more for a car here, just because they are in shorter supply and there's a higher demand.  You might not get a car you like, either.

So I get a big chuckle when I see people in the States posting about wanting to buy a cheap but reliable used car in Germany as soon as possible.  It's not that it's impossible to do that, but more that there will likely be stiff competition for the "cheap yet reliable" used cars.      

I must admit, last year when we were planning our move back to Stuttgart, we thought about only shipping one of our two cars.  We have a 2006 Toyota RAV 4 that we bought brand new in March 2006.  It's paid for and reliable and we knew it would work here because we brought it the first time we lived here.  It also still has fairly low miles because for the first year and a half we owned it, it was my car.  I don't drive very much.  I think we have cracked 100,000 miles by now, but for a nine year old vehicle, it's not as long in the tooth as it could be.

The other car we own is a 2009 Mini Cooper S convertible.  We bought it here as we were leaving last time.  It's paid for and wicked fun to drive.  Sadly, it still has low miles because it's my car.  It needs some repairs, which I hope we'll get next week.  Though it's six years old, it's only got about 23,000 miles on it.  I think it needs a new clutch, which it may get next week when we take it in for services (Minis are rather labor intensive cars).

Now, as we were planning our move, Bill and I thought long and hard about which car to bring.  Do we bring the tried and true RAV 4 with its ample seating and reliable track record?  That would be good for hauling around guests and our dogs, but it's more expensive to fuel up and harder to park.  It's also not as much fun to drive.  Or do we bring my less practical but way fun, easy to park, and fuel economical Mini Cooper?  It's not as stress free as the Toyota is and won't accommodate as many  people or as much stuff.  But I can put the top down and enjoy the autobahn during the two or three warmer months we enjoy here.  ;-)

Either way, Bill planned to either lease a car here or buy a cheap one.  We managed to get by alright with one car last time we were here, but it was frequently a pain in the ass for me (and for Bill, too, because he'd have to take off work to shuttle me to the dentist and the eye doc).  We did save some money, though, thanks to only needing to gas up and pay insurance for one car.  The Toyota was very new back then, so repair costs were very minimal.

As we were contemplating what to do, it occurred to me that in our case, paying to ship both cars was a better idea.  First off, both cars are paid for, so if one of them gets dinged, big deal.  They're our cars.  Secondly, the cost to ship the cars door to door from San Antonio to Boeblingen was about $4000.  We would definitely have to ship at least one car, so we'd already be spending a chunk of money.  Thirdly, if we didn't ship a car, we'd have to find a place to store it.  Not shipping a car, going only by a rough guess, might save us a couple thousand bucks... but a couple thousand bucks won't buy a reliable hoopty in these parts.  And we also don't know how long we'll be here.  It could be until next summer or it could be until ten years from now.  As it is, I'm kind of fretting about some of the stuff we have in storage.

So I said, "Bill, let's just send both cars over there."  We did.  They were picked up in San Antonio in late July and we got them in mid September.  It took a bit longer than we expected and the cars arrived a bit dirty.  But the shipping company did let us put about 100 pounds of stuff in each of the cars, which did help us out a bit.  We were only allowed to move 5000 pounds of furniture here.  Good thing we don't have kids!

When it comes time to move again, Bill may decide to buy himself a BMW, which he has been eyeing for awhile.  That may mean our older, yet reliable and low miles RAV4 may be on the lemon lot market.  Or maybe we'll get rid of the Mini...  who knows?  All I can tell you is that finding used cars among military folks in Stuttgart is a bit like the infamous housing hunt.  It can take awhile and end up being expensive and frustrating.  On the other hand, buying our Mini from Cars International outside of Patch Barracks was hassle free.  Dennis, the guy who sold us the car, still works there and even recognized Bill recently after bumping into him.  I was impressed he remembered him after five years!

My advice to people moving here is to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to leave your spare car at home.  It could be that in your situation, it's better not to ship the second car.  Or it could be a much better idea to ship it rather than trying to buy something used in Germany.  It depends.  If you have a fairly decent car that is paid for, you're probably better off shipping it.  If your car has a big lien on it, it may be better to sell or store it.  Also, consider when you're moving... PCS season will bring a lot of people looking for cars, but as people move in, people are also moving out.  If you come after PCS season, the pickings could be slimmer, but you may face less competition.        

As summer approaches, I look forward to more posts that make me think of funny sayings...

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