Owning a Vehicle in Singapore

Have you ever wanted to experience the thrill of driving on your own for the very first time, again? Picture it, your best girlfriend in the seat next to you, TLC’s “No Scrubs” blasting through the speakers via a CD player that you have connected to the car by a cassette tape adapter (remember that fantastic work-around?), cruising around in a vehicle that honks when you make a turn. Those were the days…

Before moving to Singapore, I’m fairly certain my exact thoughts on owning a vehicle, let alone driving one, were: Don’t need one/don’t want one/have no intention of driving one. I’m a good driver but I know my limitations and driving in busy cities has always been an intimidation for me. Marcus is usually the one who does the driving through cities or unknown territories. Part of this is because he’s more confident. The other part is I tend to get overly irritated with the drivers around me and as a result my girls have a more “well-rounded” vocabulary.

We knew for a fact we could not bring our vehicles from the United States. Singapore has strict guidelines on the importation of cars: They must be no more than 7 years old and the steering wheel must be on the left. Neither of our cars ticked those boxes by a long-shot. There are also safety and emissions standards that imported vehicles must meet. So, for anyone looking into bringing a vehicle into Singapore there are no less than three different websites you should look at first: OneMotoring, Land Transport Authority, and Singapore Customs.

As with many things involving numbers and/or more than one step in the process, my brain shuts down and as such the various rules, initial costs, and recurring fees with owning a vehicle are about as clear as mud to me. From all that I gather it is expensive to own a car not just in the purchasing of one but also the maintenance, the taxes, the insurance, the fuel, the parking fees (city living), and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) (similar to the U.S. system of tolls) add-up quickly. I think being that Singapore is such a small country it benefits them to make it pricey to own a car. Plus, the mass transit system here is easy, extensive, inexpensive, and nice. It may take you an hour to get to your destination via mass transit but it’s totally doable.

Also, I was always under the assumption that cars cannot exceed a certain age in Singapore but the more I look into it the more I realize that is incorrect. There are stipulations to the age of a vehicle depending on its use however, if it is a private vehicle then there is not an age limit. What does expire is the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which is something you must bid for, lasts for ten years, and can be renewed. This is probably how I got confused about the age of vehicles.

There is also a Vehicle Quote System (VQS) which manages the amount of new cars allowed to be registered in Singapore. This is tied into the bidding of the COE and, my eyes are crossing, I think what happens is you bid for a COE and only if the quota has not been exceeded for that month then you are able to procure a vehicle. It’s not at all confusing and probably a very effective way at keeping traffic to a minimum because people like me would have given up by now.

Finally, if you are an expat, you will have to eventually take the Singapore driver’s license test. Apparently, you can drive on your home country’s driver’s license for one year in Singapore but after that you will have to obtain a Singaporean driver’s license. For some reason I also felt like we were told if you wait for more than six months to purchase a vehicle upon arrival then it gets harder (probably for all of the abovementioned procedures)…but, I was half asleep when we first arrived and I’m not finding verification of that online.

This is all to say that shortly after our arrival in Singapore Marcus found the car of his dreams, one even older than what we left behind, a 2002 Toyota Previa. Picture this (and if you’ve ever seen our previous cars this won’t be hard to do): A sideview mirror so rusty the previous owners attached two secondary mirrors, a shaky start-up with an engine that may or may not stall at a red light which is always a fun game to play, an early 2000s body style (though we have recently discovered the captain’s seats in the middle have foot rests and the sliding door windows roll down), and, most recently, a dead battery (fun fact, nobody owns jumper cables because nobody has a 20-year-old car). It blends in nicely with the Mercedes and Lamborghinis in the parking garage and I’m sure our status as the Beverly Hillbillies has been sealed. Ultimately, the reasons we purchased the vehicle was because it was cheap, buying one sooner would be easier as opposed to later, and, worst comes to worst and she goes belly-up, we can say we tried it and it wasn’t for us and we wouldn’t be out a ton of money.

So far having a car has been nice especially when we want to go places that can take an excessively long time to get to via mass transit or would be excessively expensive to take private transport. The max speed limit is 90 km (55 mph) so nobody is going anywhere fast though there are the motorbikes which breeze between cars and which scares the shit out of me. With the girls going back to school it will be handy to have it in the case of emergency pick-ups (looking at you, youngest child of mine who knocked her head so hard on a concrete block that the nurse had her come home because she was bleeding so profusely).

I have driven a handful of times now though always with a navigator. My girlfriend was the first guinea pig because it was shortly after our move into the new apartment and an Ikea trip was necessary. She met me at the apartment and after a stall out, we were on our way! She was a better navigator than Google Maps as she prepared me to be in certain lanes and helped me look out for buses/motorcycles/other cars/pedestrians/UFOs. There were only a few tense moments as I recall. My biggest mistake that I still deal with is the turn signal lever is on the right and the windshield wiper lever is on the left. I’ve definitely turned on the windshield wipers every time I drive.

Anyway, we made it to Ikea in one piece and now was the second biggest hurdle (the first being making it to our destination alive): Parking a minivan in a parking garage with spaces meant for compact cars. I did it with only a few back ups and pull forwards to adjust. I may or may not have hit a pillar, though the car will never tell you because she’s 20-years-old and knows how to keep a secret.

After our adventure in Ikea, we loaded-up and left the parking garage. Easy enough. We chatted on our way out of the parking garage and both of us heard a noise…was it a flat tire? Was the engine about to crap out (again)? Had I hit something? Was I dragging something? The answer to those last two questions was “yes.” Yes, I was hitting and dragging something. Specifically, I was hitting the corrugated wall outside of the Ikea and dragging the left side-view mirror along it resulting in a ballad that could only be the result of metal on metal.

I think my girlfriend just about died from laughter as it evoked memories of cruising around town in that long ago car, the one whose windshield wiper flew off as the rain started or whose brakes gave out, cruising through a left hand turn all while still jamming to that TLC CD on repeat.

I think this is what is referred to as “Wild-eyed excitement.”

Published by Lauren Tepaske

I am a full-time mom and wife with a penchant for writing a humorous point-of-view of daily life.

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