‘Nothing prepared me for the eccentricities of Spanish driving etiquette’

In her latest column, Heath Savage, an Australian who swapped the Sydney suburbs for a restoration project in rural Galicia, describes the trials and tribulations of driving in Spain.

'Nothing prepared me for the eccentricities of Spanish driving etiquette'
Photo: anyaberkut/Depositphotos

In Sydney I had fallen out of love with driving. I was never timid behind the wheel (I learned to drive in California in a car the size of a small house), but gridlocked roads, aggressive driving culture and expensive, elusive, parking turned me off.

One of my roles as a community services manager entailed coordinating development strategies across four centres, about 45 minutes from each other in the west of the city. Four centres that covered over a hundred suburbs, as well as the Blue Mountains! So, I spent a lot of time in my car, or looking for somewhere to park it.

Adjusting to driving on  the right held no terror, I was simply thrilled to find that there is very little traffic where we now live, though the flocks of sheep and goats are a novelty. When we tootle around in the little red Peugeot 108 we swapped for our gas-guzzling SUV, negotiating aforementioned flocks, potholes, dozing dogs, and the odd jabali, I am once again enjoying myself behind the wheel.

An international permit was necessary before I acquired my Spanish license. Easy-peasy. Acquiring the car was a little more complicated. Decent pre-loved cars cost far more in Spain than they do in Australia.  So, we opted for a new car, on a fairly tight budget, as most of our money was earmarked for renovations and sustaining us until we could earn.

Due to a dodgy knee that I acquired in a violent encounter with a French hooker ( I played rugby when I lived in Belgium, wash your mind out with soap this instant and go and stand in the corner!)  I prefer to drive auto transmission. This meant a bit of a wait. The wait extended when EU emissions legislation dictated a recall of the model I ordered, meaning we couldn't collect our car for almost six months.

The dealer gave us some goodies for being nice ladies and waiting patiently. Peugot kindly gave us a 2019 model instead of the 2018. I drove home from Monforte in our spiffy red coche ( which we named Pabla) feeling like a teenager who just passed her test.

We had driven around with many friends, so knew our way around a bit. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the, shall we diplomatically call them “eccentricities?”, of Spanish driving etiquette.

Using the inside lane on roundabouts appears to be taboo. Indicators? Optional.

Parking diagonally across two spaces/disabled spaces/pedestrian  crossings appears to be mandatory, as does driving home p***** after lunch!   I was stopped once, and the bemused officer of the Guardia asked me to blow again into the breathalyzer, convinced that, at 4pm, NOBODY could possibly blow 00! 

Abandoning one's vehicle in an eccentric spot, for an indefinite period seems to be fine as long as the hazard lights are on. My personal favourite is the “emergency” stop in the middle of the road, to chat to someone in an oncoming car.

The laid-back demeanour of local people, on or off the road, is something I have come to treasure.

They seldom fuss or hurry, until they find themselves driving  behind another vehicle; when it becomes imperative they get up close and personal, and eventually pass, preferably on a blind bend.

We are adjusting, day by day, kilometre by kilometre, on the winding country roads of Galicia that take us home.



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Why you should think twice about buying a car in Spain, even if it’s second hand

A combination of supply and demand problems caused by the pandemic and a lack of microchips is making cars much harder to come by in Spain. Here's why you should perhaps consider holding off on buying that vehicle you had in mind for now.

Why you should think twice about buying a car in Spain, even if it's second hand

Getting your hands on a car – new, second hand, or even rental – is becoming much harder and more expensive in Spain.

The car industry has been hit by a perfect storm of conditions that have made new cars harder to come by and, as a result, caused prices to rapidly increase. 

According to Spain’s main consumer organisation, Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (OCU), the microchip crisis affecting the entire globe, combined with an overall increase in the price of materials needed for car manufacturing and increased carbon emissions legislation has created a shortage of new cars in the country.

New cars

With less cars being manufactured, prices of new cars have gone up: a recent OCU report reports that new car prices have increased by 35 percent, higher even than Spain’s record breaking inflation levels in recent months. 

READ ALSO: Rate of inflation in Spain reaches highest level in 37 years

It is a shortage of microchips and semiconductors – a global problem – that has caused car production in Spain to plummet. In the first eight months of 2021, for example, production fell by 25.3 percent compared to 2019.

This is not a uniquely Spanish problem, however. The entire world is experiencing a shortage of semiconductor microchips, something essential to car manufacturing as each car needs between 200 to 400 microchips.

France’s car exports, for example, have fallen by 23.3 percent, Germany’s by 27 percent, and the UK’s by 27.5 percent.

Simply put, with less cars being produced and specialist and raw materials now more expensive, the costs are being passed onto consumers the world over.

Equally, these industry-specific problems were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.The average wait for a car to be delivered in Spain is now around four months, double what it was before the pandemic, and depending on the make and model you buy, it can be as long as a year.

Car dealerships across Spain were forced to sell cars during the pandemic to stay afloat, and now, when consumers want to purchase new cars, they don’t have enough to sell and can’t buy enough to keep up with demand due to the materials shortages that have kneecapped production.

Second-hand cars

With the scarcity and increased prices in the new car market, the effect is also being felt in the second-hand car market too. With many in Spain emerging from the pandemic facing precarious financial situations, then compounded by spiralling inflation in recent months, one would assume many would go for a cheaper, second hand option.

Yet, even second-hand prices are out of control. In Spain, the price of used cars have risen by 17 percent on average so far in 2022.

Cars 15 years old or more are 36 percent more expensive than they were in the first half of last year. The average price of a 15 year old car is now €3,950 but in 2021 was just €2,900 – a whopping increase of 36 percent.

As production has decreased overall, purchases of used models up to three years old have declined by 38.3 percent. Purchases of cars over 15 years old, on the other hand, have surged by 10.4 percent.

If you’re looking to buy a second-hand car in Spain, keep in mind that the reduced production and scarcity of new models is causing second-hand prices to shoot up.

Rental cars

These problems in car manufacturing have even passed down to car rentals and are affecting holidaymakers in Spain.

Visitors to Spain who want to hire a car will have a hard time trying to get hold of one this summer, unless they book well in advance and are willing to fork out a lot of money.

Over the past two years, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a shortage in rental cars in Spain. However, during peak holiday times such as Easter, the issue has been brought to the forefront.

It’s now common in Spain to see car rental companies hanging up signs saying “no hay coches” or no cars, similar to the no vacancy signs seen in bed & breakfasts and hotels.

READ ALSO: Why you now need to book a rental car in advance in Spain

While all of Spain is currently experiencing car rental shortages, the problem is particularly affecting areas of Spain with high numbers of tourists such as the Costa del Sol, the Balearic Islands and the Canaries.

According to the employers’ associations of the Balearic Islands, Aevab and Baleval, there are 50,000 fewer rental cars across the islands than before the pandemic.

In the Canary Islands, there is a similar problem. Occupancy rates close to 90 percent have overwhelmed car rental companies. The Association of Canary Vehicle Rental Companies (Aecav) says that they too have a scarcity 50,000 vehicles, but to meet current demand, they estimate they would need at least 65,000.

According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), fewer than 20 million foreign tourists visited Spain in 2020 and revenues in the sector plummeted by more than 75 percent. While numbers did rise in 2021, the country still only welcomed 31.1 million foreign visitors last year, well below pre-pandemic levels and far short of the government’s target.

Many Spanish car rental companies have admitted that the fleet they offer is down to half after selling off vehicles in the pandemic due to the lack of demand.

End in sight?

With the microchip shortage expected to last until at least 2023, possibly even until 2024, it seems that the best course of action if you’re looking to buy a new or used car in Spain is to wait, let the market resettle, and wait for prices to start going down again.

If you’re hoping to rent a car when holidaying in Spain, be sure to book well in advance.