Saturday, September 30, 2006

Car Shopping

It's become like a tradition for us to go out every Ramadhan to visit car dealerships pretending like we're buying a car. In last year's Ramadhan car shopping post, someone commented that 40% of cars sold in Oman are sold during Ramadhan. So you see, it would be un-Omani of us not to join our fellow citizens in their march. Except this time, I might actually end up buying a new car, if only I can find one that I like within my budget.

First thing I noticed this year is that the automotive world has changed a lot in the 8 years since I last bought a car. For one thing, car salesmen are no longer the annoying, persistent creatures that they used to be. Nowadays, with the economy booming, cars sell themselves. If the salesman finds you to be taking too much of his time, he doesn't want anything to do with you. He'd rather just move on to the next customer, who'd probably buy the car without all the questions that you're asking. In the past I'd try as hard as I can to resist giving my phone number to a car salesman because they'd annoy you with their phone calls asking if you made up your mind about what car to buy. This year, I've given my number to maybe a dozen salesmen, and none of them has called me. Not one of them. Quite surprisingly, most people buy cars without test driving them. Some dealers don't even keep test drive vehicles, or only offer short 5 minute drives around the block. And the age of the affordable car is over (or maybe that's because our salaries in Oman never increased while the world around us kept moving). There's absolutely nothing out there below 10K unless you buy Korean. Otherwise, almost all Japanese 6 cylinder cars are above 10 grand. The Lexus ES350 which is a glorified Camry goes for over 15K, and the GS300 is now around 20K. Japanese luxury cars like Lexus and Infiniti are now almost toe to toe with BMW on price. They're no longer more affordable.

So what are the options out there these days for someone looking to buy a 6 cylinder family sedan?

The new Toyota Camry has a face only a mother can love. It is one of the ugliest cars ever from the front, but is quite nice inside and back. It only comes in a 4 cylinder at the moment, not that I'd ever buy one. The reviews on Edmund.com

Nissan Altima: Not exactly a good looking car, but nicer than anything Toyota makes. I really like the 3.5 liter V6 for its power but the model's getting changed soon and the one sold here is really thread-bare when it comes to options. The car is available as is. You can't order anything extra like navigation or even a premium sound system. I liked it last year, and I still do this year. But with the new Altima coming out in November in the states with a ton of new features and a brand new shape, it would be pointless getting one now. I didn't wait 8 years to buy a car whose shape will change in a few months.

Toyota Avalon is a shapeless whale of a car. Very powerful, comfortable and quite well equiped. A great car if you don't care what your car looks like. It's a car designed specifically for retired Americans.

Infinti G35: An excellent car with an insanely powerful engine. It's a car that begs to be driven fast, yet is extremely comfortable and comes standard with an amazing sound system but again, navigation is not even an option. A bit outside my price range, and the model is being replaced next month in the US- probably by March next year here.

Subaru Legacy: Strange, I stopped at this showroom only because it's next door to Chevrolet where I wanted to see the new Tahoe but it was out of stock. I ended up loving the new Legacy. It's really nice both inside and out and is available with a 245hp 6 cylinder engine. Unfortunatly they've only brought the 4 cylinder now and the guy at the showroom says it might be 4 months till they get the top of the range model which should be priced around 11K.

Mitsubishi Pajero, nice car but it's been the same shape for eons and the new one was announced just yesterday in the Paris Motor Show which looks almost exactly like the current model. Dunno when it will arrive in Oman, and how much over budget it would be.

I didn't look at any American cars except the GMC Yukon which I really like but costs 17K and with my lead foot would probably suck up 100 rials of fuel a month. The Chevy Lumina might be an option that I should consider.

I still need to visit the VW and Honda showrooms but from the looks of it so far, it might not be the best time to buy a car with some many models about to be changed.

Car update

Two weeks since my stupid car situation and the garage the insurance company sent my car to (Abu Hani) only got around to completing their estimate yesterday. They said it's going to cost RO. 3700 but then revised down to RO. 3200. However, apparently it's not a lump sum estimate, and what that means is that the insurance company has to go through a very detailed list of parts and repairs and approve them one by one. In other words, they might not approve all of it. And since the amount is quite close to the actual current book value of the car, they may choose to decline the repair and just write a cheque for the amount and write-off the car.

It would be ok with me to be paid the book value if I were planning to buy a new car. I could take the money and put it down as a down payment on a new car. Then again, if I had wanted to buy a new car I'd have gone ahead and bought one already instead of driving the same car for the past 8 years.
Why should I end up paying for a new car because some idiot construction company worker decided to reverse his onto my car? His brain decides to shut down for a minute while he's driving a massive piece of heavy equipment and I end up paying car instalments for the next five years?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Crushed.. but we're ok

mofo

This is a Fiat Kobelco wheel loader, commonly simply known as a "shaiwal" here in the gulf. It weighs around 15,000kg. In no sane world should such a massive piece of machinery be allowed to drive on the road, but here in Oman, they are driven from site to site all the time. This particular mofo in the picture above, is owned by the company doing the road expansions by the Sarooj crossover, construction of which is has been causing a massive bottleneck of traffic for the past three weeks.

Friday afternoon, I was driving with my son and the maid from Madinat Qaboos to Qurm for Friday lunch with my inlaws, and this guy was driving in front of me. Despite its slow speed which was causing a long line of cars to tail-gate behind me, I was having fun with my son who was strapped in his car seat in the back telling him to look at this massive machine in front of us. So we drive out of the MQ service road and on towards the traffic lights by Masjid Asma and then take the turn towards the highway, all the time with this wheel loader ahead of us. Then he signals that he wants to turn and we slow down behind him. But he misses his turn and yet continues to slow down and so do we till we're at a complete stop right there on the road.

And then the idiot started to reverse.

It took a second to register, "what?... no way!". But yes, the 15 ton monster was reversing. And it was clear he didn't have enough space to reverse to get to his turn. But he kept coming. So I started honking, and then all the cars behind me started to honk as well. But he kept coming. It was like he couldn't hear us at all. It was like slow motion. What did I do when a massive piece of heavy equipment as big as house was driving right toward my car? I froze, that's what I did. I didn't think to grab my son and run out of the car. I didn't think of possible escape routes. I just froze. Next thing he was over my car's bumper, then on top of the hood. The windshield cracked and my son burst out crying. Just when he was about to drove through it, he finally stopped and drove forward to get off my car. I looked at the back to calm my son. "It's ok.. it's all right.. look we're all fine, al7amd lilah.." Tried to call the police emergency line and you wouldn't believe it, 4 times I got hung up without anyone saying a word till I finally got through. I went out to look for the driver and it turned out to be a guy who didn't speak a word of Arabic, English or Hindi. Screaming at him did no good. And quite amazingly, I didn't do anything to him. I was just so happy that we're ok. So I called home and asked for someone to come take Faisal and his nanny while I stayed and waited for the police.

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The car itself wouldn't move, of course. The radiator has been crushed. The engine itself has been dismounted from its place and pushed to the back. No idea if the gear box has been effected. There's extensive body damage to the entire front. Even the sun roof got pushed open a bit and jammed in its place. I spent all morning yesterday at the police inspection yard because here in Oman you can't fix your car after an accident except after the police inspect it. They determine what the insurance has to pay for fixing and which parts should be fixed and which should be replaced. Then I spent all morning today at the police station waiting to get an accident report, which I didn't get because, get this: they were understaffed because there was a VIP guest who was going to pass so most of them were on convoy duty. Which means I have to spend another morning tomorrow with the police and the insurance company. And that takes care of the last day of my short holiday.

Someone told me that I should consider talking with a lawyer to see whether there's grounds to sue the company over their driver's negligence, the damage done to my car, and the endagerement of our safety. I don't know if you can sue over circumstances like these here in Oman. If anyone knows, please drop me a line.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Internet at work

Does your workplace allow you unfiltered internet access?

Where I work we have a very strict internet access policy where you have to fill a form justifying your need for internet access and get it recommended by your boss and approved by the department head. The security gurus in the IT department then go through the application and decide your level of access before setting you up. Even then the access is regulated by an industrial strenghth filter called WebSense which blocks access to web-based email sites, online shopping sites, entertainment sites, blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums, etc etc. Despite that, and particularly WebSense's slogan "Securing Productivity". I'd be lying if said that I have never wasted time online at work. It's just that instead of wasting time on OmanForum, it's BusinessWeek.com or Google News. It's amazing how when you're left with no options for deviating from work, you'd still find ways out no matter how boring they are.

So I was over at the Emirates Economist blog yesterday and read a very interesting post about this very same topic. A few snippets from articles quoted in his his post:
Jobseekers will think twice about employers who lock down work internet access, a senior Microsoft executive said today.

“These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day,” said Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist.
However,
About one-quarter of employee terminations are due to misuse of workplace Internet privileges, according to a recent survey. In a case that gained attention earlier this year, a New York administrative law judge found Internet use no worse than using the phone or reading a newspaper at work.
And:
Of the 2,700 people quizzed in the unscientific survey, 52 percent said they wasted more time online than any other way. (The survey, by the way, was conducted online, and some responded: "I waste my time filling out surveys like this.")

Hope you're not reading this at work.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm off!

No, not going anywhere.. but I'm finally off from work for the first time in thirteen months. Thirteen months, God dammit!

It' only 14 days, which are going to be cut short to 10, but hey something's better than nothing.