Hello reader. How are you today? Today is Saturday and it’s raining. It always seems to rain on weekends, but oh well. Today I’m going to talk about my experience with buying a new car. Now, I’m no elitist so I’m not going to hold your little hand and explain to you in five easy steps how to buy a new car in Korea. I’m going to assume that:
1. You’re an English teacher staying in Korea temporarily, and you don’t need/don’t want/can’t afford/see no reason to buy a new car.
2. You have been living in Korea for many years such as myself, and are resourceful, or have Korean family members who can help you.
Do you have your beer ready? Let’s begin! Today I’m drinking MAX from a 330ml bottle. This is the first time that MAX has made an appearance in my house. Usually my wife buys CASS or HITE, and if she’s feeling really exotic, maybe I’ll find some Corona in my refrigerator. MAX sounds like a tampon name to me, but those creative Koreans probably know something I don’t.
So I went to the giant import car marketplace in Seongnam yesterday. (By the way, if you like Dog Soup, Seongnam is the best place to go. Reportedly, you can even choose your dog while it’s still living!) This place is technically near Gangnam, but at the same time, it’s a world away. As you get off the freeway and turn right you can see a giant marketplace that somewhat resembles a junkyard. There is only one way in and one way out.
As we approach, our car is literally swarmed by Korean sales men who are making offers to buy my car, or asking me what kind of car I want to buy. As I roll the windows up, the Korean salesmen are diving all over eachother, throwing their business cards through the window. This place is seriously run down, and it’s also huge.
Each seller has their own tiny little hole in the wall equipped with a fax machine, copy machine, telephone, and chairs. The sellers don’t have their own private spaces to put the cars, so they either lease a spot in one of the large multi-level parking structures, or they park their cars out in what looks like a corn field. The cornfield is filled to maximum capacity with BMWs, Audis, Nissans and Toyotas. The cars just sit there day in and day out, rain or shine, until a buyer comes. No one ever washes them. Sometimes they aren’t even locked.
Prior to going to the import car mega center, I had located a new car on www.passo.co.kr and called the seller. We drove through a narrow alley with salesmen throwing themselves at our car from both sides. Finally we located the seller. She appeared to be the only woman working in the entire place. All other salespeople were Korean men, wearing either sharkskin suits or expensive jeans.
The seller takes us on a tour of a few underground and multi-level parking structures. She tells us that the parking structure’s owner charges 300,000won per month for EACH spot in the structure. Now I know why the salesmen were literally throwing themselves at our car -they need to sell their cars quickly, otherwise they lose money.
My goal was to take my 3 year old Audi, plus a man-purse full of cash and upgrade to something more refined. As much as I support public transportation, I don’t live in Seoul, I live in a suburb. I don’t like taking the subway or the bus. It smells bad, and generally I just don’t like waiting. On hot days, I like sitting in the peace and quite, and air conditioning of my own vehicle. In the winter, I like to stay warm inside my own vehicle. And when it rains, well, when it rains, FUCK taking the bus or sub-way, no one likes arriving to work completely soaked from head to toe.
Now began the easter egg hunt. There are thousands of cars in this place. Some of them are Korean cars, some of them are foreign cars. Some are cheap, and some are expensive. While looking around in a dimly lit basement of one of the parking structures, I located a few gems. One was an almost new 2009 Nissan 370Z. The car was unlocked, so I looked inside. It was automatic transmission, what a shame. Almost every sports car that is imported to Korea is automatic. Koreans mostly can’t drive stick, and mostly don’t want to drive stick because traffic in Korea SUCKS. Also, since no sports car has ever been made in Korea, and most Koreans have never been inside a sports car, they don’t appreciate the difference between manual and automatic transmissions with regards to sports cars.
I also spotted along a back wall three 2010 model Nissan Cubes with Japanese dealer plates and floor covers still intact. Koreans care mostly about the brand name when it comes to foreign cars, so there are lots of 3 series BMW’s and C-class Mercedes hidden in the parking structures that we looked at. I also found a Mercedes SL55 AMG parked out in the cornfield covered in dirt. That cars costs about $200,000 in America, but in Korea, it costs about 25% more! Strangely enough, I also found some Lincoln Continentals and some Ford Crown Victorias. I wonder who buys those? We looked and looked for about two hours at hundreds of cars.
This place is a no-holds-barred Korean male testosterone festival. You constantly hear hoiking and spitting, and the ground is absolutely covered in spittle, so much so that in some places you have to hold the railing while you walk, so as to avoid slipping and falling in spittle. A few salesmen were actually yelling and screaming at their clients. It was quite a spectacle. I was glad we picked the only female sales person in the entire place.
I found what I was looking for. Two models to be precise. One silver and one black. The Korean salesperson constantly told us “Someone is coming to look at the black one” or “someone just called me about the silver one five minutes ago.” It could have been true as foreign cars are quite in demand, and the more rare, the more in demand. Or it could have just been a Korean sales technique to psyche out the buyer and get them to make a quick choice.
In Korea, there is no test driving a car when you buy it. I don’t know the reason because I’m a simple waygookin but basically, you can just sit in it and start the engine. It’s probably due to insurance regulations or something. Anyway, I chose the black one and we went back to the hole in the wall office to do some paperwork.
Back in the office, one salesman was yelling and screaming profanities into the phone, jumping up and down with his face turning red. I’m uncertain who was on the other end of the line, a client, or maybe a bank. Anyway, dude was making a huge spectacle, pounding his fists against the wall and screaming like a child into the phone. Most customers didn’t seem to mind. I sure as hell didn’t care as I had nothing better to do than watch the drama. When the phone call finished his co-workers came over and tried to comfort him. Maybe he lost a customer? Maybe his wife is leaving him? Maybe someone’s loan fell through? Who knows.
Next came the time to discuss how much they were going to buy my old car for. Selling a car in Korea is painless. Absolutely PAINLESS. You take your car to this import car mega-mall, and you just get swarmed with salespeople wanting to buy your car then and there. As we drove around the narrow streets trying to find our seller, Korean salesmen literally ran behind us trying to see where we were going. Once we got to our shop, they started hounding the saleswoman asking her how much she would sell them our car for.
So I bought this car three years ago, I had the original receipt. I put 20,000km on it. I’ll bet you’re thinking that they low-balled me and offered half the value of the car. Actually, they paid me just 1.5mil less than I bought it for three years ago. It was simple and easy. No questions about the service history, no questions about accidents or mechanical problems. The guy just looked it over for 5 minutes and then paid me cash for it!
I won’t bore you with all the paperwork required nor the type of car I bought, but after 3 hours, I drove home in my new car. My wife proudly instructed me that no other females were allowed to ride in the new car. The new car has about 100 more horsepower than the old car, so driving it home in the monsoon rain was fun!
I’m willing to bet that not many foreigners have ever been to that place, but I’m sure a few have. I’d also be willing to bet that even if you don’t speak any Korean, you could still manage to buy a car there because that’s just how desperate the salesmen are! If you are one of those foreign girls who hunts Korean boys, this is a perfect place for you! This is where ever 20-something Korean male goes to work when he can’t finish university. Truly an adventure.
If you’re curious about where to find foreign cars: