Getting a VW serviced in Iran is dodgy

VW Golf in Tehran

By the time we hit Iran, our car was feeling a bit sad. Since the engine change in Serbia we’d travelled over 10,000 kilometres and it was time for an oil change. One of the tires was also wearing out faster than the others, the brakes were squeaking, and whenever we drove over potholes (constantly, in this part of the world) something up front made horrible clanking and rattling sounds. It was time for Jagger to get a check-up.

Tehran was the best place to do it because we could have my family recommend a mechanic instead of shooting blind. My uncle took Mook and Jagger to his local dude. The mechanics popped the hood and stood in awe; they had never seen an original VW engine before.

Most Iranians drive domestic cars, which are modelled on vehicles by international automakers, but are considered by locals to be Pieces of Shit. On a quick drive through any Iranian city you’ll notice there is a very limited variety of cars on the streets, and most of them are at least 20 years old. Occasionally you’ll see cars from foreign automakers, usually Peugeot, Renault or Kia. Very, very occasionally, you’ll see foreign luxury cars like BMW or Lexus that have been privately imported, and you know those people are rich motherfuckers because they paid more than 100% the value of the car in import tariffs and taxes.

The mechanics marvelled at how compact and well-designed the engine was, and at how much room there was under the hood for them to work. They happily changed the oil for about USD $30 (expensive? cheap?), but couldn’t diagnose any other problems because they’d never even seen one before. “Don’t give them the chance to play around with it, who knows what they might screw up,” was my uncle’s advice.

Next were the brakes. My uncle drove around the area, stopping at every garage and asking if they knew anything about VW cars. So much for knowing a reliable mechanic. While he was out at one stop, a guy ran up to him exclaiming that he wanted to buy our car. Apparently VW Golf bodies are really desirable to young Tehranis who build custom cars. My cousin later guessed that we could probably sell Jagger for $4,000 or $5,000 if we wanted to, and laughed that we could just hire taxis for the rest of our journey. Not after we paid Iranian import duties….

My uncle found a mechanic to look at the brakes. The brake pads needed changing, that was obvious, but they didn’t have the right VW parts and would have to call around town to see if anyone knew where to get some. The breaks still had probably about 2000 kilometres on them, the mechanics said, but with a drive to Esfahan on the cards that would probably barely get us to the border of Iran and Turkmenistan—still not VW territory.

A few days later, they went back to the garage. Jagger got his tires rotated but the mechanics couldn’t find the right shape of brake pad for a VW. So my uncle and the mechanics got on their phones, and after a furious round of calling they found a hit. Mook drove them to an auto district in the south of Tehran and to the shop of a guy who actually makes brake pads. With no VW parts around, it was the only alternative.

Over the course of four hours the mechanics toiled, removing the excess padding from Jagger’s existing brake plates, attaching new ones, trimming them, and fusing the plates and pads in the oven.

VW Golf in Tehran

VW Golf in Tehran

The entire time Jagger is parked in the street, and there was a flow of people coming up to check out the car. My uncle loved the attention, as he pointed at Mook and explained to everyone how this German and this German car had ended up in Tehran. My uncle also got to play mechanic’s assistant—loads of Iranian men are hobby mechanics—while Mook was supplied with a constant supply of cigarettes and a pomegranate.

The brake seem to work fine (at least, so far, though they started to squeak yesterday…) and cost around 140,000 tomans ($45), which must be a great deal on custom-made brake pads. (Right?!)

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  1. Frank Soullier

    I absolutely love reading your stories. It’s fun to read a point of view of someone you know rather than watching GlobeTrekker or Bourdain. Although I do enjoy those shows. Oil change including a new filter is usually $20-$30 USD. Brake pads are a good price USD just to purchase. For the time spent forming and fitting it would have cost quite a bit in the US. Good Deal! Although the pads would have been in stock somewhere in every large metropolitan city. Don’t know a whole lot about VW. Keep the stories coming.

    • Semi

      Thanks Frank 😀 Really happy to hear you’re enjoying the blog. I wonder if the break pads weren’t more expensive and my uncle paid the guy without Mook noticing, but from what he saw they only cost about $45. Iran makes it very difficult to import foreign cars so there are almost zero parts for them, but everywhere else we’ve been it seems reasonably easy to find parts for European, Japanese and (sometimes) American cars.

      Here in Uzbekistan Chrysler is really popular because–surprise, surprise–they outsource the production here.

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