Cultural Learnings Of… Car Buying In Estonia

June 23, 2008



My priority in the last week has been to get myself a car here in Estonia, while its very good for my health to be riding around everywhere on my bike, it kinda sucks in the rain not to mention the winter months. Ive been cycling around to all the car dealerships in Tallinn and it has been a very eye opening cultural experience for me.

In Australia, I take it as a universal constant that car dealers have a certain personality. Outgoing, talkative, wanting to do a deal, kind of pushy but hopefully not too much. When you walk into a car yard, you expect the guy to come and greet you and ask if he can help you in anyway. Hes then going to do his best to sell you that car you were looking at because hes weighed up your personality and then tries to sell you the features you might like the most, for example a young lady walks in, hes going to sell the style and the ease of driving or a young man walks in and when you go for a test drive, hes going to give it that extra bit of gas to show its got some grunt.

this was my first car, a Holden Gemini. Small, rear wheeled drive, it was a great little car to learn to drive on and went pretty good down the dirt too. Shown here after the motor had blown up, anything of value had been removed and it was going to the junk yard.

Now, to me, all of this is a fundamental constant of the universe, its absolutly what happens in car dealerships, there can be no other way. It sounds funny but Ive never had to evaluate this before.

Then enter an Estonian car yard. Noone comes to talk to you. Suddenly you are free to wonder around at your will because the guy will never come and talk to you. no way. This freaked me out at first. Dont you people want to sell me a car? The closest I had was "Hello" (in estonian) and after a week of car shopping, this freaked me out. Holy shit, he said hello to me! Please, take my money!

So if you want a car, you find one which looks nice then you go into the little office in the corner and ask the guy to show you around. Getting the guys attention is hard sometimes, it seems that I am interrupting very serious games of solitare going on here. I understand that very important email just came in from your girlfriend, so why bother with pesky customers?  This doesnt also just happen in the el-dodge car yards out the back of Lasnamäe, oh no, walk into any big dealership and you will have to ask around to speak to someone. Do you have 1,000,000 EEK burning a hole in your pocket and you absolutly have to get that new mercedes? You are still going to have to fight for his attention! I swear to god this happens, everyone has such a story to tell. I dont know why, to me its selling 101, the most basic first lesson. It was suggested to me "maybe these guys are doing so good already they dont need to". Maybe you dont need more money? Dont you understand anything about selling? I have money, I want to give it to you, do everything you can to help me on this one fellas.

my second car, BFW00P, so named because of a) a TISM song b) really BF WOOP and c) it is a BF model mazda 323.  A fantastic car that along with a little work on the way (new exhaust, motor, suspension, body welding, not much really) went great and was good fun. With such plates, it was easy to spot me around town and in the end the car still ran and I gave it to my mechanic Anthony since he had cared for it for so long. As fate would have it, someone backed into the car later so in the end, this one went to the junk yard too. I had only one request of Anthony, that if he wrecked the car then could be please keep the plates. One day Ill return home and put BFW00P on a nice new BMW. for the moment however, Anthony put them onto his work ute instead.

So where was I? Oh yes Estonian car dealers!

Heres the next thing. In Australia we expect some haggling. We expect to like the car and then turn to the dealer and say "mate, are you some kind of comedian because this price is a joke" and then the "game" begins. How far can you get him? What extras can he include? We know the original price is inflated because he expects this game to be played with us.

Not so in Estonia. As is typical, all cars get put on one central site (more or less) called www.auto24.ee and you can see them all online. Prices arnt inflated, pretty much what you see is what you get, maybe you knock off 5%, maybe you get rego thrown in but thats it. Paying sticker price for a car is a weird idea for me but as was pointed out by Meelika, maybe when all the cars are available online in one place such as www.auto24.ee market forces already push the price of the car down. When old mate dealer sees his 5 series isnt selling he can easily see its because he is charging too much and adjust the price down. An interesting idea, which give the cultural background, kind of makes sense.

here we have the infamous, suspensionless bane of traffic enforcement officials throughout Europe, EUROTANK. Dieter, Adam and I bought this boat in Sweden with 300K on the clock for 5 grand and sailed it down to Estonia and all across Europe for the year. Two tyres burst on me because I didnt know tyres has a "speed rating" but beside some minor things which were nothing for the mighty mechanical stylings of Dieter, she went great for a year without a service, even with a hole in the exhaust at the end,  until the clutch finally gave way in north Austria. Realising noone was ever going to register this car again, let alone a German mechanic, it got sent to the junk yard too. Shown here on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the greatest race track in the world and a fitting end to a dear old friend

However, in defence of Estonian car dealers, I didn find two guys who seemed cool and warmed to me in the end. I was warned that for my first time I shouldnt buy private and I should find atleast a decent dealer because there are some horror stories going around so it kind of limits my choice. Also I have found everyone had advice for me as to where else in Europe I should buy the car because its cheaper "go to germany!" or "go to denmark!". Ive had almost every country suggested and I am sure if I went there, they would suggest somewhere else. Right now however, I need a car this week, im renting one for the weekend to get me through midsummers

So I have 2 cars lined up

1999 Black Volvo V70

1999 Silver BMW Sedan

Ive had both these cars inspected by their respective factor dealers and the Volvo checks out almost perfectly and the BMW has a few things needing to be done, maybe up to 1500AUD worth. The BMW is sex on 4 wheels for sure but at this price range, I am at the bottom end of the range and it might take a few more eeks to stretch to a better one.  The Volvo is typical safe Sweden, big reliable and will carry all my bikes and crap inside. The BMW is the dream car but maybe I need to wait a year and focus on a slightly newer one? But it is a 5 series however… old mate selling the BMW doesnt speak much English however, he speaks german to me and I mostly understand because i sprechen ze sehr gut Deutsche . Or I could get the Volvo and put these guys on it. Rollin! I dont need to decide until Wednesday. What will car number 4 be? Suggestions on the guestbook please!

Louis Zezeran

Louis Zezeran

Louis Zezeran is an Australian Stand Up comedian and comedy promoter based in Tallinn, Estonia.

He was the co-founder of Comedy Estonia, Comedy Finland and Comedy Latvia. Louis writes, does gigs and performs at private events through the Baltics and Finland
Louis Zezeran

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