Stress in Sydney

October 26, 2007 Andy 0 Comments

It seems so long ago and quite irrelevant now but our week in Sydney before moving onto New Zealand still deserves a mention. We arrived back in Sydney a day before Dan and Holly who’d returned to the UK for 3 weeks. Once again they graciously put us up / put up with us for over a week while we tried to sell Matilda, our trusty camper van.

Although she’d treated us well for some 11,000 km, you may recall she gave us problems leading up and during our time in Melbourne. I’d managed to fix that but she was still not running perfectly. We were planning on selling the van in the Kings Cross Backpackers Car Market, a novel idea, whereby travellers advertise and (if all goes well) sell their vehicles. The sellers pay for the privilege of parking their car / van in the multi story car park and wait for the punters to come along.

Punters get to see a selection of vehicles with recent safety reports and get advice from staff while sellers get a selection of interested buyers, often fresh off the plane willing to pick something up as quickly as possible.

When buying we’d seen some pretty rubbish vans in the car market so ended up buying elsewhere. We ended up paying over our original budget to get something with resale value. That meant good condition, good features, a long Rego (registration document renewable annually) in the state we wished to sell it in.

I took the van off to get the necessary safety report ready to advertise her in the market. Simple enough? Not so. The vehicle failed the safety test. Not only did it fail but it was deemed unfit to drive due to defective brakes. Also at fault was a cracked windscreen, insecure bull bars and a gearbox oil leak.

Add to that the problems of a misfire when cold and we had a large hunk of junk that we had to sell sharpish. Without a garage and my tools it was unrealistic to attempt to repair this all myself so Matilda was taken off to different mechanics to have the different faults looked at. The brakes were repaired ($400), the windscreen was replaced ($260) and the misfire was suspected to be caused by different things by different mechanics. A faulty fuel pump, ignition faults, a clogged carburetor and burnt valves were all sighted as the cause. I gave the van an ignition service (well needed as the plug leads were cracking up) and an overdue oil change ($150) which improved the performance problems but did not eradicate them.

On recommendation from Andrew at Total Car Care, the guy who fixed the brakes and general top bloke (he was more than happy to discuss with me what he thought what might be at fault, loan me tools and dispose of my oil and filters), I took the van along to a carburetter expert who spent some time on it. He immediately discovered that the inlet manifold was leaking despite my efforts to fix this at Michael’s and he informed me that this particular model was renowned for the fault. He did however, manage to get it running much better by stripping, cleaning and rebuilding the carburettor fixing several broken components as he went. This got the van running well enough to sell. Not perfect but no worse than anything else of its age.

On top of all that we wanted it clean. Advice repeated all over states that by spending some time and effort on cleaning up your vehicle will add value to it. That meant lots of cleaning and polishing, both inside and out. It took ages, (more than three days washing, rubbing and polishing) but the results were fantastic. It came up so much better and although we didn’t know it at the time it stood out in the market as a result. Nobody else there had put the effort it with some really grotty vehicles about and it truly added value..

Look at that shine!

With all that done all we needed to do was take it along to the market at wait, but not before I managed to run out of fuel, get an air lock in the fuel lines and drain both batteries trying to start it again. A call to the NRMA had someone out to me in twenty minutes who was able to get Matilda running again.

Now if you’ve made it this far you can tell that I didn’t have many chances to relax and get away from the van. One such opportunity however happened early on when Michael, Antoon and Willem, who had started their road trip, stopped off in Sydney. I was exhausted and wasn’t really in the mood to go into town but felt obliged given how close the guys were and having not seen Willem since, James’ wedding over a year ago. I did however make it into town, and boy was I glad I did. I had a great night out with three thoroughly nice ex work colleagues.

I chatted with Antoon about several common points of interest, the biggest of which had to be photography. He loved working on the van too so I might even make a mechanic out of him. Willem is a big traveller. I remember having had good talks with him in Madrid and receiving loads of recommendations for trekking in that region. It was great to see him again and really pleasing to receive so much interest and enthusiasm from him about our current trip. Michael, I hardly knew in Madrid. He left less than six months after I arrived and with over 120 new faces I had very little contact with him. I was surprised at how laid back and friendly he is. I really should have figured as some of my ex colleagues who I hold in high esteem have similar opinions of Michael, and possibly more telling, some characters who I found impossible to get on with Michael was of the same opinion. It was a real pleasure to get to know him better and get to spend time with them in Sydney. We even managed to watch Wales loose the Rugby, much to the disgust of Gareth who was watching it live on the other side of the world. Much like the previous Saturday in Melbourne we left them to it at around 1am.

To the Market

Having payed our fees and sorted out the paper work we parked Matilda in the car park next to another pop top van. This was originally listed for $5500, but they had lowered the price to $4900. Upon seeing ours they dropped it further to $3900.

The backpackers car market it a pretty interesting place. Full of travellers trying to flog on their wagons it can be very sociable. It can also be very boring and stressful for some. Imagine sitting in an underground car park for a week watching all the cars around you sell while no one shows interest in your vehicle. The place has character. Looking around the walls all sorts of notes and graffiti have been scribbled by bored, unhappy and happy sellers. It made for entertaining reading. Another unwritten rule was that upon completing the sale of your vehicle you buy beers for the rest of the sellers. Quite a cool arrangement.

Apart from the night out mentioned above, sitting in the car market was my first real opportunity to relax. I had nothing more to fix or do on the van, just sit back and wait. After a mere 30 minutes things were actually looking promising. Having seen the others on offer we set the price at $5500. Gleaming in the, er, fluorescent strip lights, pop top, stove and fridge all on show. Nothing else there was so well equip ed. The member of staff on duty also conferred that our asking price was fair.

Expecting to be in the market for quite some time I started a 1200 page Tom Clancy novel wondering weather I’d finish the book before the van was sold. In fact, I didn’t even make it to page 100 before the new owners took it off our hands!

On day 1, within 30 minutes, we had two vaguely interested groups. Two Swiss girls were very interested but had no money. It was somewhere between Switzerland and Australia… Three young English lads were interested but it was a bit above their budget and they didn’t fancy cramming all three of them into the double bed.

On day 2 after placing ads in many of the backpacker accommodation in town some English girls called up and came to have a look. They liked what they saw and asked if they could bring someone knowledgeable along to take a look. The English lads from Day 1 returned to buy our Israeli neighbours’ Mazda pop top for $3400.

Day 3, the English girls test drove it and offered us $5000. Espe was not having it after all of the effort and money we had put into repairing it. Later in the day a Russian / Canadian couple offered $4500 cash which he claimed he had “in his pocket right here right now” (they were to call back later with a more serious offer, unfortunately for them too late) and then along came an English couple. Showing initial interest and indecisiveness (I had a good feeling about them). They returned within an hour to test drive Matilda. After some negotiation we settled on $5400 on the proviso that I had the gearbox oil leak fixed ($250). Having agreed on this on a Friday afternoon it was actually Monday morning before I could get the work done and hand over the keys. Doing so was an immense relief.

We advertised Matilda for much more than we paid for her, and actually got only $100 less than our asking price. I feel it was a fair price after all the hours and money we’d put into it as she was a much better van than when we bought her. Hopefully she will give her new owners a quality home for their own adventure.

We were actually very lucky, being able to almost cover the cost of our repairs in the sale. A very rare thing in these circles. I had to feel sorry for a Belgian chap in the car market who had been there 12 days and possibly still is there. Trying to sell a tired old Mitsubishi with a bad oil leak. He had paid for 25 hours labour for head gasket replacement at the cost of $1600 (more than the cost of our rental for NZ) and will have to sell the van for way less than what he paid for it. Like I said, I think we were lucky but the research and hunting for a good deal from the beginning along with the efforts to get it in as good a condition as possible to sell it paid off, although both were stressful times. Not keyboard smashing stressful, but knowing that the sale of the van was our only source of money for the remainder of the trip you might enable you to appreciate why.

Was it worth the stress? Definitely. We could have hired a van instead but if we had we would have been close to $3000 worse off and we would probably be back home by now.

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