World's wrecked autos treasured in Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan — They sit in the sun harboring their lost histories, their forgotten dreams, their traces of funerals, graduations and stolen kisses. On dusty windshields, insurance stickers from Travelers and State Farm bear witness to wrecks in “Metro DC,” “Hardin, Texas” and “North Hollywood,” some with bright orange “total loss” decals.
For their former owners, that was it, nothing left but a story to recount of a corner rounded too quickly, a red light run, one too many drinks for the road.
But here on the highway to Iran, thousands of used cars from America and Western Europe begin a second life.
Afghanistan doesn't manufacture its own cars, or much else, so most vehicles sold here are “pre-owned” (and many pre-crashed — but with barely a dent, thanks to deft repair work by local body shops).
Most begin their journey by ship to a new world of unpaved roads, kidnappers and Islamist militants after being auctioned to middlemen by U.S. or European insurers. The vehicles land in Dubai or other ports and are transferred onto other ships bound for Pakistan or — after being resold to circumvent U.S. and European sanctions — Iran.
The final leg of their trip is via transport truck.
American brands don't sell as well as Japanese and are hard to find parts for, said Abdullah, a salesman with Herat's Tamin Ansar Autos who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. “I know one guy who sells Fords,” he said. “He sold them very cheap. They use too much gas.”
Musty interiors reveal vestiges of former lives, from sweat-stained lumbar supports and air-freshener strips to coffee-stained upholstery and shag carpeting.
Dealers in this Muslim country are careful to remove potentially offensive stowaways such as liquor bottles and pork-sandwich wrappers. “No one worries if ‘infidels' drove them, as long as they're cleaned,” said lot owner Abdul Aziz, 35.
Prices range from $15,000 for late-model used Toyotas to $2,500 for aging wrecks. Unlike their American cousins, most northern European cars here aren't accident victims and thus command higher prices.
“I think Germans and Swiss must be better drivers, neater, more law-abiding,” Aziz said as a chicken strutted past. “Americans have that cowboy history.”
Used-car importing became a lucrative business after Taliban rule ended in late 2001. But uncertainty tied to the departure of foreign combat troops in 2014 is now hurting the Afghan economy.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Harmar developer sells 15 hotels in Western Pa., West Virginia
- Wesco cautious, reaffirms guidance
- Fed emphasizes patient approach on rate increases
- FedEx to buy product-return firm Genco in e-commerce push
- Rice Energy spin-off priced below expected range
- Consumer prices drop aside gas cost plunge
- Federated Investors forecasts optimistic scenario for growth in economy, markets
- EDMC accused in GI Bill scheme
- FedEx 2Q profit jumps 23%; revenue up 8% at Moon-based Ground business
- Stock market jumps as Fed pledges patience in rate hikes
- Natural gas groups says increase in Pennsylvania taxes would bring dire results for economy