IN the rest of the world, the most popular car (by sales) is the Toyota Corolla. In Cambodia, however, the Camry is the model that everyone wants.
Neither sexy nor glamorous, the Camry is a pure, practical workhorse that has come to define a whole class of Cambodian society, the Camry Class.
While Tico drivers and Corolla drivers are saying out loud that they are non-aspirational men, Camry drivers are saying, ‘Ok. I'm here. Deal with me because I'm a serious person'."
Corolla drivers are actually the ones to watch out for on the road.
Tico drivers know that they're going to be ignored and that they're in constant danger of being mistaken for a microwave oven with wheels, but Corolla drivers feel that they're in a real car and ought to be taken seriously - but they're not, because, well, they're just in a Corolla.
This drives them nuts, and that's why they accelerate wildly or crawl along the road at walking speed, and then make a turn inches from the front of a speeding truck.
But Camry drivers know that they've arrived, that they're in the majority group, because they have the right car.
All Camry drivers ever dream about is a newer model Camry. Models change about every three years, so there is always the opportunity to upgrade, but the concept remains the same.
Camry drivers also have the advantage of anonymity. As a driver of the most common car on the road, your movements can't be traced unless people go to the trouble of learning your licence plate number. If you're being stalked by someone who's gone to that much trouble, give up. They're going to find you, whatever you do.
The camry is a ... workhorse that has
come to define a ... class of cambodian society.
Stronger and more spacious than a Corolla, the Camry is better at tackling and surviving the Cambodian road conditions. Size counts on the roads throughout Asia. There's no doubt that a bigger car is also a safer car in an accident.
Mechanics love them, spare parts are easy to find and when you want to upgrade, the Camry is easy to sell. In fact, when a driver takes the beast in for a service, the mechanic invariably asks if he can buy it.
So, you're tempted to start looking for the Camry of your dreams?
To get an idea of which years fit your budget, go to Street 108 anywhere between the river and the new Canadia Bank Tower, find a Camry that looks like your kind of car and just stand there until the salesman comes up to you with a price.
All the cars there are for sale, but they're just being sold on commission by salesmen who do little more than keep them clean.
The area is notorious as a place to unload lemons, but you can get an idea of the market by pricing anything that looks interesting to you.
When you've actually decided you want to buy, start to look in the newspaper ads, on websites and in the other areas of the city where cars are sold. Basically, anywhere you see a group of cars parked off the street, you're looking at a used-car showroom.
Ask your friendly tuk-tuk or moto driver. He spends all day on the streets, has lots of connections and will get a small commission from the seller. Better still, offer him a commission yourself so he will help you bargain.
Car dealers don't have huge margins, so never expect a car with a serious asking price of, say, US$3,500 to come below US$3,000. However, like mechanics, used car salesmen the world over are always prone to trying one on.
If you're going to buy a car, a basic knowledge of what a well-maintained engine sounds like is useful.
Also look for signs of bodywork repairs such as mismatched or different-aged lights and spray paint on places it shouldn't be - on wires, for example. Look inside the boot and under the bonnet for these signs of crash repairs.
A shiny, recently cleaned engine can also be suspicious. It means that signs of oil leaks have been cleaned off.
Don't expect the odometer to give you much clue as to the use the car's had. They're systematically wound back to zero when cars are exported. A much better clue as to how much wear and tear a car has had is the condition of the carpets, particularly in the back seats. People put covers on the seats, which keep them young and fresh-looking ,but plastic carpet covers never really stop the kind of deterioration that comes from abuse and neglect.
On the other hand, let's face it, if you're buying a 20-year-old car that's had at least two or maybe more lives, you have to be an optimist. So, hedge your bets by buying a Camry.
The pleasure really starts once you are the proud owner of a Camry like the rest of us, and you can get out there and experience the many joys of driving in Phnom Penh.
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