21 February 2007

Swiss Car Sales

NOTE: Informational Posting for others who are new to Switzerland or considering a move here...

One of the most "foreign experiences" we have had to date has been the process of buying a car in Switzerland. Fortunately it is an extremely easy and smooth process.

In the United States you cannot step foot on a car sales lot without being approached by a salesperson within a minute of your arrival. From the moment the salesperson greets you, it is a hard sell. So much so that the last time we purchased a car in the US, we went to the lots when they were closed just to look at the cars and see the sticker prices without hearing the sales pitch.

In Switzerland the sales process is very low-key. In most cases we were not approached at all. The sales staff did not want to "intrude upon our privacy." At most, we may have had someone ask "Do you have any questions?" But there was never a sales pitch. If we had questions, we knew where to find the staff and ask them. Our questions were answered in full and very honestly. Both the positives and negatives were explained to us.

Once you decide to purchase a car, there are virtually no negotiations. The price is based upon the list price and any options the car has. And frankly, the price listed is a fair price. Not the elevated price you see in the US where it is expected you will bargain it down. We had been warned by friends and acquaintances that negotiations do not happen, but decided to try anyway. It never hurts to ask.

The best we were able to do is have them exchange the rubber floor mats for the carpet floor mats without adding the price difference to our total. Apparently there is a small amount of room for negotiation when purchasing a regular used car, but not as much as you would find in the United States.

The car we purchased was a demonstration car. A few people have asked us what this means because most car dealerships in the United States do not have these. The exceptions to this are some higher end cars with many possible options or cars that are extremely popular and have a waiting list. But it is still relatively rare.

In Switzerland you cannot go to a dealership and have a selection of several new cars available to drive home that day. The car lots are much smaller and they do not have the space for the inventory. Instead, you drive a demonstration car. Once you have decided which car you want, you select the specific options you would like and order it. You generally receive your car within 1-2 months. The demonstration cars are sold as used cars at the end of the year when the next year's models are available. So our new car is a 2006 demonstration car in perfect condition with few kilometers on it.

Yesterday we went to pick up the car. This gave the dealership time to take care of all the details. We first contacted our insurance company to tell them we needed car insurance and what level of coverage we wanted. The insurance company then contacted the car salesman directly and arranged the specifics.

In addition, Switzerland is still very much a cash-based society. Most people pay with either cash or debit cards in their daily purchases. Checks and credit cards are not accepted in many stores and businesses. A fact we discovered only after standing in a long line our first weekend here to replace the computer equipment that wouldn't work on 220 voltage.

Checks and credit cards are never accepted when purchasing a car. Even if you arrange financing, which many people do because the interest rates are so low here, you still need a substantial down payment. The salesman told us that most Swiss bring in cash. However, we arranged to do an electronic transfer of funds because walking around with a large sum of cash just didn't seem safe.

When we arrived yesterday, the car salesman gave us our insurance papers, our registration papers, our highway tax permit and everything else we need. The license plates were already installed on the car. There is no need for us to do all the legwork and stand in a long line at the Swiss equivalent of a Dept of Motor Vehicles. Or trying to figure out all the paperwork in German. Very nice!

And finally, we were given a tour of our new car that included more details than I have ever received before. All the way down to how to use the windshield wipers, set the radio buttons and where to check the oil. We are actually not certain if this is standard for everyone or if we got an extra tutorial because they weren't able to get the manual in English before we arrived to pick it up. (The English manual will be sent to us in a couple of weeks.)

One last note: a US driver's license is acceptable for one year from date of entry. By the end of year we will need to arrange for Swiss driver's license. We can do this simply by showing them our US licenses and residence permit plus providing two passport-sized photos. If we don't do it by the time the year is up, we have to do the written and road test. In German, French or Italian. Now that's a scary thought!

We can keep our US driver's license, but a sticker stating "Not Valid in Switzerland" will be added to it.


CanadianSwiss said...

Congratulations! I'm glad it all went very smoothly. By the way, they always do the car tour unless you're a regular there and, for example, exchange your car for a newer model of the same make. Then only the "novelties" will be explained.

Have fun with the new car.

The Big Finn said...

Good summary.

The only things I would add are that I had to actually request the return of my U.S. license, otherwise the MFK would not have automatically returned it to me. Also, they actually laminated my U.S. license and then added the "Not Valid In Switzerland" sticker on the laminated part.
I just cut off the laminate, and removed my Illinois drivers license from the inside so that I could continue using it in the U.S.

Sara said...

apparently it varies over the country, in Geneva i just had to show my US license to them so they could make a copy, they gave it back to me on the spot without any sticker (though they did caution me that i would not be able to use it in Switzerland)

The Big Finn said...

Also, I'm not sure if your insurance company automatically gives you one of these or not (ours doesn't...it has to be requested), but make sure you get the green international insurance certificate if you plan on driving the car outside of Switzerland. You need to keep that in your car.

Global Librarian said...

Yep. We got the international certificate. It was in the packet at the dealership. And we know it is supposed to be in our car at all times.

We are still a little confused about the tires, though. We have all-season tires on the car. We've received mixed information about whether we are required to have winter tires from Nov 1 - March 31.

Andreas said...

Winter tires are not mandatory (imposed by law), but if you have an accident in below freezing temps, the insurance company will successfully argue that you failed to take "proper precautions pertaining to driving conditions" (actual wording in road law) and stiff you for the comp. Police doesn't fine you for summer tires if you're not involved in an accident. (Igloo-driving, that is, windows not scraped 360 degrees around, just a sight slit, IS a finable offence)
In Germany on the other hand, that "failed to take... " bit can get you a fine from the Polizei, if they see you e.g. slipping, even if not involved in an accident.

There are voices demanding that the Swiss adopt the German approach...

Anonymous said...

Your car tutorial is Toyota standard :) (well maybe) they gave me the full rundown with both of my Toyota purchases - and yes they told me how to use the wipers as well. See how wonderful Toyotas actually are??????? :)