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Automotive Section February 18, 2008
Zen and the Art of Volga Ownership
By Yasha Levine Browse author Email
Day 1: At the start of the registration process, still full of enthusiasm!

Two months ago, I became the proud owner of my very first Volga, a dark green 1999 "chinovnik" model with tinted windows and 150,000-plus miles on the odometer. But handing over the 50,000 rubles purchase price was the easy part. As I learned, registering a used otechestveny automobile is no simple matter. It requires deft negotiation skills, steely discipline and days of focused effort, not to mention serious automobile repair skills. When all said and done, it took me 60 days to get the job done. I spent one full week waiting in lines at Sberbank kassas, hounding notary publics, shuffling between GAI offices and engaging in shady palm greasing.

At first I questioned myself. I didn't think I had what it took to become a Volga owner. In the end I had what it took. But it wasn't easy. Here are the 35 steps I needed to take in my quest for Zen and the Art of Registering Your Volga Automobile.

STEP 1. Spend a few weeks surfing Find one Volga I like. One thing makes it stand out from the rest: it isn't located an hour's drive from the city.

2. Drive to MKAD at 11PM, test drive the car and agree on a price. Owner throws in a spare unpainted door for no extra charge. Agree to meet in two days to finalize the purchase.

3. Hound the seller for two weeks while he tracks down his car's paperwork.

4. Complete transfer of ownership at a car sales broker out near the MKAD. Watch the broker forge a few signatures. Receive temporary license plates. Buy insurance.

5. Drive home. The roads are icy. I buy four brand new snow tires equipped with metal spikes (required by law).

6. Drive the car for one week.

7. Brakes fail while standing in rush hour traffic on Tverskaya, nearly crash into the car in front of me.

8. While fixing the breaks, discover that the gas tank leaks. Make a decision not to fix it.

9. Drive the car around town. Car cabin fills up with gasoline fumes when the windows are rolled down. No one wants to ride with me.

Day 1: At the start of the registration process, still full of enthusiasm!

Day 5: This small room services 1,500,000 Moscow car owners.

Day 29: Still not registered, the Volga collects muddy snow.

60 Days Later: The lights seem brighter and the traffic seems to move when you finally get your Volga car registration papers.

10. Take the Volga on a weekend getaway to the podmoskovie pension Tropicana Foresta

11. Puncture brand new tire while driving over a pothole at 25 mph.

12. Dashboard gauges, including the speedometer and fuel gauge, fail.

13. Battery dies. Get jump-start. It doesn't help. Replace battery.

14. Spend two afternoons at a local notary public getting documents notarized.

15. Head over to the GAI. Can't find it, get stuck in traffic, arrive after they close.

16. Come back the next day, arrive during lunch break, mill around outside for an hour.

17. Spend three hours in line at the only reception desk handling car registration for all the Muscovites who live within the Garden Ring.

18. A GAI officer points out a "0" which has been omitted from the Volga's 20 digit engine number on one of my notarized documents.

19. New Year's vacation. Abandon Volga in snow bank outside my apartment. Fly to America.

20. Come back to Moscow, replace tire, find out that one of my wheels makes a dangerously wobbly figure 8.

21. Spend evening at a wheel repair shop.

22. Spend the next afternoon at my notarius correcting the omitted "0."

23. Next day, go back to the GAI office. Stand in line, submit documents, wait for an hour, receive documents.

24. Go to a Sberbank. Stand in line to pay the 500-ruble car registration fee.

25. Go to a different GAI office for an auto inspection.

26. A GAI officer points out that I am missing two documents certifying the proper installation of the cars natural gas propane system (which isn't working) and instructs me to disassemble the equipment before coming back to register the car.

27. Spend the next day at a mechanic getting my Volga's highly combustible 65-liter propane tank removed from the trunk.

28. Next day, go back to the GAI auto-inspection station, pass.

29. Go back to the first GAI office that same day. Stand in line for 30 minutes, told I should give officer a bottle of American whiskey to register my car, submit documents, wait for another 30 minutes, receive an official car registration and brand new license plates.

30. Am told I have 30 days to pass a auto-safety inspection (which my beat Volga has no chance of passing without some palm grease).

31. Spend a Saturday night at the mechanic's getting my propane tank put back in and the propane fuel system repaired.

32. Drive an eco-friendly propane-powered car for the first time in my life.

33. Schedule a meeting with a friend of a friend who can "advise" me on how to pass the auto inspection. The acquaintance requires $100 for his advice.

34. Make another trip to the Sberbank to pay the official auto safety inspection fees.

35. Stop by the GAI office, wait in line, submit documents as well as a "receipt" from my adviser, wait, receive a tekh osmotor.

UPDATE: Volga enlightenment is a journey, not a destination! A few hours after this article went to print, my Volga's gearbox stopped working on my way home from The eXile office. After barely making it, I have the car towed to a mechanic, where it is currently being repaired.

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Yasha Levine is an editor at The eXile. You can contact him at
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