And The Shit Hit The Fan


Everything has been going along smoothly, maybe too smoothly. You know how, even if you’re an optimist at heart, you still have this little ache in the back of your neck. You feel it when you get back in bed after an early morning visit to the bathroom. You’re trying to get back to sleep but there’s this mild throbbing that just won’t let you relax completely. You try to change the subject but somehow your thoughts keep drifting back to this destructive thought that something’s going to jump out of the bushes and sink its’ teeth into your backside.

And then it happens. Suddenly. No warning. And it’s worse than you could have imagined.

Let me back up a few steps. Lydia and I are going to drive our Mini Clubman to Mexico. It’s a leased car, but in this country that’s just another form of ownership. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to tie up cash in a depreciating asset, at least not if you’re like us and don’t put many miles on a car. We can get into a lease for $1000, make the monthly payments and get a new car in three years. Never  coming out pocket for repairs, or now, with “lease-end insurance,” ever worrying about scratches, dings or even worn tires. So we leased our Clubman two years ago and have been very happy campers.

Then, this past November we got an email from our local Mini dealer saying they’re looking for used Minis. We thought maybe we should see if they’d like to take us out of our Clubman lease a year early so we could lease a new Countryman – the new one is bigger, built on the same platform as the BWM X1. I’m 6’4” and getting in and out of the lower-to-the-ground Clubman is kind of like prying myself of a futon. The Countryman, being significantly higher, lets me just swing my legs and stand up. And, as it turns out, it’s just as fun to drive as the Clubman. So wouldn’t it be great – albeit unlikely – if we could make our trip on the bigger car?

Long story short, our local dealer liked the idea of selling a two-year-old car with only 12,000 miles. So they found us a special deal on a Countryman that had been driven for a while by a BMW employee but never titled. This was necessary because they had to find a way to pay off the last year of our Clubman lease without breaking the monthly payment bank. We got the Countryman on the first of December and really love it.

But now it starts to get interesting. Remember, we’re driving to Mexico and one of the things we knew was the Mexican government requires that you have a title to any car you’re bringing into their country. If you don’t have a title, which we don’t with a leased car, then you have to have a notarized letter from the leaseholder – BWM Finance, in our case – that gives you permission to have the car in Mexico for the specific dates of your trip. While this bureaucratic requirement always made me a little nervous, we were told by everyone from sales managers to people with BWM finance that this was a formality and they did it all the time. And even though we were on a tight timetable all the paperwork could be handled without a problem.

So once our new account was opened with BMW finance I called to start the process of getting this letter.

“NOT SO FAST,” I was told by a person on the phone. “How long did you say you would be in Mexico?”

“3 months,” I replied.

“But sir,” she said politely, “aren’t you aware that you can’t take your car out of the country for more than 30 days? It’s actually a clause in your lease.”

“Huh?” I replied smartly, feeling myself beginning to melt into a puddle of helplessness. “No one has said anything about a 30-day limit,” I countered. “We have all of our reservations. We’ve paid for all of them. We’re taking our dog…” You get the picture.

At the end of that conversation, which happened just over two weeks from our departure date, the only consolation she gave me was that we could apply for two additional 30-day letters once we were in Mexico. The only problem with this, as Lydia soon found out, was that we would have to return to the Texas border with each new letter. That would be like driving from Miami to Boston every month of our stay.

The next day we brought out the big guns. Lydia called BWM. As expected, she got more than I did. The guy she spoke with told her to go ahead and apply for the letter as exceptions were sometimes made. And we had a good story, and boy Lydia’s good at telling it.

The form we had to submit said that a decision would be made in 24 to 48 hours and that the letter would be sent back to us within 72 hours. We provided our son’s FedEx account number so they could overnight us the letter. Not a sigh of relief exactly, but certainly a ray of hope.

Now, you may recall that we rented our house in order to make this trip. Our renters arrive on the 6th of January and we shove off on the 7th. 72 hours plus delivery time, the Christmas and New Years holidays, puts us at T-MINUS 4 DAYS. Needless to say, we are extremely nervous.

On Friday, the 28th, Lydia calls BMW and is told that the letter has been drafted and is sitting on the manager’s desk. But she has left for the day. On Monday morning she calls again and is told that the letter is still there, but the manager is about to leave for lunch. We will be notified by the end of the day. At about 3pm, December 31st, we are in the bank making last-minute plans, and Lydia gets a call from BWM. THE MANAGER WILL ONLY APPROVE 30 DAYS. Oh My God!

We head home. I call the sales manager of the MINI dealership to see if he can help. Meanwhile, Lydia gets a call from the woman at BMW she has been talking to, not the manager. The sales manager is very concerned and will try to help. The woman at BMW offers hope. Since we’re going to be writing about our trip every day and are doing so as a business, they might make an exception. She asks Lydia to send her our itinerary, web address, etc.

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, New Years Day, we are waiting. We have no idea if we’ll be approved and won’t know until tomorrow, we hope. If we are approved, the letter will arrive on the last possible day. We have NO PLAN B. People, trying to be helpful, have made suggestions, but, as far as we can tell, not being able to take our car would be a catastrophe with no real chance for recovery. 

Watch this space…

Sorry to leave everyone hanging. Wot the approval at the end of last week and have so busy since I haven’t had time to update this posting. Right now we’re in Beaumont, Texas on our way to the infamous SOUTHERN BORDER. More in a new post.

Mike Pontius