Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Car Photos from Serbia - Mainly Small, Old & Deisel

This post is for my sister Molly, who emailed asking what are the cars like in Serbia? It's Europe so they are far smaller than American cars. A Mini Cooper would fit right in here and even look BIG next to many cars. (Not that there are any Mini Coopers here because they are too fancy. If you have that kind of money, you'll buy something showy and German like the 15 year old Mercedes here.)

The other two brands you almost never see are Honda and Toyota. One of our neighbors is a mechanic and he says people don't buy them because you can't get the parts easily. Toyota's got distributors in Hungary, Belgrade and Switzerland (where a lot of Serb expats live) so that may change. In the meantime, you can understand why I nearly snorted Pepsi out my nose when I saw the Aug 30th CNNMoney.com article "Drive Your Car to Death" which gave the revolutionary advice to Americans that you can actually drive the same car for 15 years. However, the article counseled, you better buy a Honda or a Toyota because they are about the only cars that can stand that kind of extreme pounding.


According to our neighbor the mechanic, the average age of a car in Serbia is 12-15 years. That means at least a solid third are older. They are mostly diesel because diesel is cheaper than gas in Europe. But some people, like another of our neighbors, get creative to save even more money and run on a mixture of oil and diesel. When he drives by I swear it smells so bad it's like his car is farting really badly.

If the EU suddenly relented and allowed Serbs to move about the rest of Europe without hard-to-get visas, almost nobody would go because their cars are not remotely street legal in the rest of Europe. Even that Mercedes pictured above almost certainly wouldn't pass emissions tests. Some people say Serbs should be forced to improve emissions now, because they'll have to sooner or later so why not get it over with before we all die of the stench? Others say, take pity, the average income is fairly low here. People can't afford it yet.

Molly asked if cars here were like cars in Cuba, huge old US models. Nope. Unlike Cuba Yugoslavia (and now Serbia) had its own auto plants. (Remember Yugos? They still make them here, a lot.) Plus, before and after economic sanctions during the '90s, Serbians imported cars from both Western and Eastern Europe. But, most people didn't have big budgets. That means aside from the perhaps 5-10% of Serbs who show off with fancy upscale German models, everyone else bought teeny, tiny, cheap cars. Preferably in bright colors.

Most of these cars never made it to the US marketplace, so they look incredibly foreign to me. Often I can't identify them at all. Cars from Romania, Russia, France, etc. etc. I have never seen a large old American car here. I've also never seen a pick-up truck. Here's a few cars I have seen:

This 15-20 year old Zastova is a Serb-built car based on a design licensed from Fiat in the 1980s. After they licensed it, they never changed it, you can buy this exact model across the decades.

I'm pretty sure this is a Citron from France. There are a lot of them around here, usually far more brightly colored, often in aqua marine or vivid greens.

This is a Yugo hatchback model. The banner across the top of the windshield says this is a Racing Yugo, which made me laugh because you know, it's a Yugo.
This is a Russian Lada SUV which I think is the cutest thing on the planet. It's SO adorable. However my husband says when we buy a car here we will buy a Toyota or Honda because they don't break down for years and with a Lada you are supposedly always having to fiddle with something even if it's brand new.

By the way, due to European prices and Serbian import taxes, imported cars cost INSANE prices. Often double what you'd pay in the US for the same car. OK, well not exactly the same car. In the US it would be have automatic transmission and run on gas.

One last thing: No matter what Serbs are driving, or how old it is, or what time of day or night, or what neighborhood they are driving in, they all drive like BATS OUT OF HELL. People gun it all the time, screeching around corners, barreling past bikes and pedestrians without swerving, hurl the car up on the sidewalk or front lawn, leap out and .... sit down at the cafe for hours absolutely motionless except for lighting cigarettes.

One time downtown a car slowed so I could walk across the highly marked pedestrian crosswalk. I stared in amazement. It had Austrian plates. Of course. Couldn't possibly be a Serb. In the Serb mentality, my husband explains, traffic laws are not really laws so much as they are "suggestions."

The fact is Serbs really enjoy driving. A lot. As soon as most get a bit of extra cash or credit, a car is their immediate purchase. If you want to get rich here someday, be an automotive importer.


Viktor said...

The third car is not a Citroen, but a Renault 4, a classic. It was a very popular car here back in the days.

Dellionity said...

Yeah, but all these cars you've pictured are soooo old...even for us, Serbs :)