By on August 4, 2011



Terrance writes:

I will be moving to Poland with my wife and baby son in July. We will need a car, and trying to calculate value is tough for me, knowing very little about the Polish market.

I don’t know how much we intend on driving, but probably the occasional couple hundred mile trip on the weekend. I would like to keep my purchase price below 5,000 dollars and have something that is easy to fix where I can maybe take it to the guy down the street who operates out of his house’s garage, and not be too afraid of the guy not being able to get parts, not having too many special tools, etc.

The other aspect of European cars is the use of natural gas. It looks like “lpg” is big in Poland as many of the cars I checked out on have the natural gas option. Does this add to the complexity of maintenance? Will this provide more value per mile than a diesel engine?

The car has to be relatively safe, and a wagon with the room would fit our style as a growing family. There seem to be a lot of 10+ year old German cars that can be had pretty cheaply ( So far I like the Mercedes and BMW wagons from the early nineties. But something tells me that a 5 year old Honda Jazz would be a much smarter choice even if it might cost more upfront.

Sajeev Answers:

Unfortunately, aside from American land yacht fetishes of a few Polish citizens , my knowledge of that market is next to nothing. But that’s never stopped me before, so why start now?

As an expert in all things cars with a deep sense of cultural sensitivity to all automotive markets, I recommend you import some buy something similar to Panther Love.  Need a wagon?  Find the most common platform on the market and buy that wagon offshoot.  If this was the late 1990s, I’d recommend a Ford Sierra wagon because of its historical success across most of Europe, its built-in mechanical simplicity/durability and its RWD design for some potential fun.

Obviously the Sierra is too old, so look at the Sierra’s modern counterparts: Ford, Opel, Renault, VW, Peugeot sedans that are also wagons.  What’s the most common platform on the streets? What is the easiest to service if mechanical complications lead to communication failure between a Polish mechanic and a frustrated Ex-Pat.

Steve answers:

Poland for all intents and purposes should be like any other country in the EU. Though I understand that there is some rather fast driving of near new cars from Germany to Poland for some reason.

I would simply get the type of vehicle that would be the best match for your budget and needs.


What do you like? Sajeev mentioned a Ford Sierra equivalent and Honda Jazz which have been well received for a long time now. Do you want something offbeat or unavailable in the US? If you ever wanted a Seat, Skoda, Peugeot, Fiat, Opel or Renault this will be your golden opportunity. The Germans also offer a long list of vehicles that are not available in the U.S. market and diesels are simply all over the place.



I would rent a couple of vehicles and just get a feel for the traffic in the area. Then buy what is local. You want to deal with the customs  and licensing folks as little as possible in any country. Unless you want to become a burgeoning exporter to the EU I would just buy a local ride and keep things simple.



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40 Comments on “New or Used: The Polish Connection?...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    At what point did Seat improve and become a bargin quality alternative to VW? That would be the sort of car I would look for.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was Skoda that made the budget VWs, while Seat was sort of a Spanish Pontiac.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yeah on further reflection I may have gotten confused.

      • 0 avatar

        Both Seat and Skoda are rebadged VWs

      • 0 avatar

        Trabant, of course! Or a Fiat 500. If you need something larger, a Tatra 603. Not sure if an Impala can be exported. (just kidding!) There may still be some T-34 tanks thereabouts, too! Oh, phooey – I have no idea of what’s available over there, I’m just wasting electrons, it’s early. Buy whatever fits your needs. Look around for awhile and see what fits your budget. Take lots of trains, though. More fun.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d go with a Skoda Octavia or Superb in TDI guise.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Butterfly

        Skoda Superb for under 5 grand? Hardly.
        Used first gen (or early second gen with high kms for that money) Octavia on the other hand is a good choice (new Octavias are dead ugly btw). Can be had as a roomy wagon with a diesel too. They are fairly reliable and should be cheap to fix in Poland even if you use official dealer service.
        In fact almost everything German is cheap to fix there if you know a decent independent mechanic who won’t rip you off. Old 1980-1990s Mercs, Audis and BMW’s are very popular in Poland and can be fixed in pretty much any roadside shed.

  • avatar
    Ron Orr

    The compressed natural gas might be a good option. Check out the site for station locations. CNG will be about half the price as petrol on an equivalent basis. CNG is also called Erdgas in German but the Poles use CNG. Fiat makes CNG vehicles as well.

  • avatar

    Not sure natural gas would be worth your while for the kind of driving you intend. I am FAR from an expert, but at least in its early years, natural gas made the cars slightly more dangerous in crashes, smelled a tad, resulted in a bit of horsepower reduction, and was believed to shorten the overall life of engines. I lived in PL for a year; my best friend used a Laguna wagon. He LOVED it, was as durable as the germans, considerable less expensive, and not a problem to maintain.

  • avatar

    The risk associated with buying a used Merc, BMW or Audi in Poland is that it will be a rebuilt car. And when I say rebuilt, I don’t mean after a fender bender. I’m talking about two different cars spliced together, cars that were mangled beyond recognition and transported into the country (mainly from Germany) as scrap then rebuilt in someone’s home garage using a variety of parts (often stolen). This is a huge problem in Poland and German brands are the most popular “rebuild” candidates. If you’re buying used over there, stay away from ze Germans unless you know the owner personally.

    • 0 avatar

      The Car splicing has considerably dropped in Poland. People make more money and it’s getting difficult to justify the hours spent in rebuilding a car like that.
      This does still happen further east though, where labor is cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Butterfly

      That’s a very valid point. Poland also was a major destination for the cars ruined by floods (in Germany I think) from few years back. Those cars received minor cosmetic overhauls to conceal the damages and went straight to the second hand market all over Europe.
      Similar thing is going on right now with Japanese flooded and/or irradiated cars that are ending up in eastern Russia.

  • avatar

    My wife and I toured the Czech Republic in a Skoda this summer. We also visited the factory in Mlada Boleslav.
    The Czechs take a lot of pride in in the fact their VW semi-clones are sometimes better (in many ways) than the more expensive VW. I’d buy one just because you’ll never be able to buy one in North America.

  • avatar

    A FSO Polonez, perhaps? I bet all the local shady-tree mechanic can fix that! :)

    Parts availability shouldn’t be a problem either!

    • 0 avatar

      Why not go all the way and get the Maluch (Polski Fiat 126)?

      Seriously, good advice on the thread – get a major manufacturer vehicle that fits your needs.

      I would counsel staying away from Renault, however. We had a Laguna II diesel that was a great car, but since it was a company vehicle, we only had it for 6 months. Friends of ours in Warsaw had both a Laguna wagon and a Megane sedan, and had no end of trouble with them. The service was under warranty, but that doesn’t help if the car’s in the shop and you need to get somewhere.

  • avatar

    I am from Central Europe. People lied a lot.
    Car with 60 000 km can have 200 000 km.
    Don’t buy from bazar !!!
    The best is one owner car. Honda Civic. Toyota Corolla.
    Skoda Octavia 1.6 gas 100 Hp

  • avatar

    “Poland for all intensive purposes should be like any other country in the EU.”

    Although all my favorite purposes are intensive, I think we need to know what his intents and purposes are.

  • avatar

    Hello from Poland’s neighbors in Germany.
    I would strongly recommend looking at VW and it’s other brands because they have a great range of station wagons.
    Skoda would certainly be a great option.
    Wether CNG or Diesel is really a personal preference… Diesel would probably be the safer alternative if you are not sure about the infrastructure around your future dwelling.
    Autogas is fairly common, but just not as common as Diesel.

    Further advice is … stay away from Opel …

    Good alternatives are certainly BMW or Mercedes … Especially big gasoline engine models with inferior fuel mileage and high miles on the odometer can be had for very little money. Also the franch brand Peugeot may be an option. They do make some decent Diesel engines.

  • avatar

    Since 5K$ is not a lot of money in Europe these days, perhaps a good idea will be to buy a several years old Opel Astra Classic estate. They were basically Astra G models which continued to be produced in parallel to the newer Astra H, specifically for the Eastern European market.
    Since they were produced in Poland they will be everywhere and parts plentiful. LPG conversion is also a very good idea as it practically halves the fuel bill and the maintenance costs are lower compared to a modern diesel.
    The car is solid, dependable, spacious enough even with an lpg tank in the boot, extremely conservatively styled – quite dull.
    On the other end of the spectrum you could go and buy an early model Citroen C4 three door for some proper Euro quirkiness.

  • avatar

    Skoda Superb “Twindoor” hatchback-sedan, or the wagon variant

  • avatar

    if the Honda Jazz is big enough for you, perhaps you should consider the Skoda Fabia Combi or Ford Fusion (the Fusion here is a small but tall wagon)

    if not, try the Nissan Primera or Almera, Mitsubishi Space Star, Toyota Yaris Verso or a Honda Civic Aerodeck.

    At your price point, you should avoid the French and Italian brands unless you get a Fiat Panda.

    • 0 avatar
      Mirko Reinhardt

      If you want availability of cheap parts and local garage mechanic fixability, in Europe, do not buy Japanese.
      Also, LPG and natural gas (CNG) are completely different things. Both are available, LPG is popular as an aftermarket conversion, CNG is most of the times a factory built CNG system.

  • avatar

    As a European, I suppose that the Polish market is not that different from other countries without national brand. I would strongly recommend a Skoda Octavia Combi, but I guess the current generation won’t be found under $5k. Otherwise, a Peugeot 406 wagon is a good choice with huge amount of space.
    If you don’t use the car for commuting, a gasoline engine would be just fine, because diesel or LPG comes at a premium that you may not recoup. In case you still want a diesel, around 2000, the Peugeot/Citroën 2.0 HDI and Fiat JTD were the only recommendable diesels, with the VW TDI being too noisy and the rest not enough reliable.
    But if you’re a small and growing family that wants to taste the trends of Europe, have a look at the compact MPVs that are all over the place. A good first generation one can be found in your price range, such as Opel Zafira or Renault Scenic, or the long lasting (and much nicer) Citroën Xsara Picasso. Kids or your back may thank you. None of these cars will give you any headaches for parts…

    As another commenter said, Poland is very well known for trafficking stolen luxury cars from Western Europe. In your price range, I would avoid all luxury plates unless with a complete history.

  • avatar

    Another vote for the Skoda Yeti. British Car magazine like it quite a bit for a cheap vehicle with real utility.

  • avatar

    You want a car that isn’t interesting or valuable enough to be stolen. Then you need to garage it and keep it locked up. An after-market alarm would be a good idea as well.

    The biggest problem with driving in Poland is keeping your car from being stolen.

    I just have to laugh at the guys who just don’t know or consider this reality. Geez. Talk about naive.

    As to brand – buy something no one finds desirable. Anything German will be taken. Anything that looks too sporty or luxurious will be taken. I would recommend an old Volvo wagon. No one is going to steal that.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Great advice, but you failed to take in consideration parts availability and price. If the car chosen has limited parts support or they’re bloody expensive, he’ll be still at risk.

      Back in my country, in the 3rd world, cars usually get stolen to remove a ECU, ignition coil or other parts that are either expensive, unavailable or both. Before leaving, a paint shop told me Silverado owners were trying to find ways to lock the tailgate because they were being stolen in the street with a spare part costing around US$ 2K.

  • avatar

    I’m Polish and I moved to US just about 4 years ago, so my experience with Polish cars market should be still quite fresh…

    You won’t be able to buy anything decent for an equivalent of $5k. Cars in Europe are, relatively to you paychecks, much more expensive than in US.

    Pass on LPG. It’s very hit or miss in terms of reliability. Mostly miss. People live with it because it’s about half the price of regular gas. I had it in one of my cars. Never again.

    As you noticed there is a lot of old german cars (mostly VW and BMW). That’s because:
    1. They are fairly reliable (French cars, all of them, are terrible in terms of reliability)
    2. Can be have for cheap in Germany after accidents (will look, but not drive, almost brand new after “restoration” in private mechanic’s shed. Of course you’ll not find anything about any accident in the papers. What papers? )
    3. Are very common in diesel.

    When you browse you’ll notice that a lot of older cars have milage around 170k km. It’s because most (probably 90%, if not more) of them have milage rolled back (even the electronic ones). They are well over 200k km.

    Wild, wild west.

    If you’re planning to drive a lot diesel is very good choice. It’s cheaper than gas and disel engines have much better milage than gas ones. Especially on the highway. Forget about American’s aversion to diesels. New European diesel engines are fairly reliable and clean, but very expensive to fix ones there is something wrong. For moderate city driving get a gas engine. Keep in mind that in Poland distances to everyday places (grocery store, etc.) are much shorter than in US. In Europe 100 miles trip is a TRIP that you plan ahead. In US people commute as much to work every day.

    Probably anything from VW group (VW, Skoda, Seat, Audi) with TDI would be a good choice for a lot of driving. BMW, Mercedes, Audi will be expensive and probably after accident. Used French cars? Hmm, I would be careful with it. European Ford, Opel are OK.

    If you have an option of shipping your card from US to Poland, I would probably do that. Honda Fit (Jazz in Europe) that you mentioned would be a great choice. Remember, anything that you consider small or sub-compact car in US is a family car in Europe :)

    • 0 avatar

      this generation (2000-2003) of VW TDI is plagued by air flow meters problems and (not only on TDI) falling windows (motor defect), which are costly, repetitive and widely spread. The 1.7 DTI and worse, the 2.0DTI from Opel drink oil, are unreliable and awfully expensive, but gasoline cars are fine. On the other hand some French or Italian models are more than OK, especially as they got their common rail diesel engines right from the first try. Among the ones I mentioned, the Scenic is the only one I would not consider as “generally reliable”. And a quick look at showed that Italian family cars are too few in Poland…

      I reckon that I was surprised by the very high prices at which cars with very high kilometers are advertised… and it’s worse if it’s not the real mileage!

  • avatar

    For that money the Opel Astra G or Ford Focus would be the best choice, other German cars usually overpriced, French or Italian are cheaper but not so reliable.

  • avatar

    Well, I’m from Czech Republic, which is a neighbor to Poland and our car markets are pretty similar, so I have quite an idea about what’s available for this price.

    First, as many people here mentioned, $5k is really not a lot of money when buying a car. Count on getting roughly 10 year old vehicle, unless you go for something really small and/or crappy.

    Probably the best bet, if you plan to drive a lot, would be a first generation Skoda Octavia Combi 1,9 TDI 66kW or 81kW. These old diesel engines are much simpler and cheaper to maintain than the newer ones, and get great mileage – if you’re careful, it’s not that difficult to keep over 50mpg. On the other hand, they’re not exactly the last word in refinement and have terrible turbo lag.
    If you were in Czech Republic, a major reason for NOT buying a Skoda would be it’s popularity with thieves, but I think it won’t be as bad in Poland – certainly the Octavia will get stolen less likely than a Golf or Passat. ¨

    WARNING: DO NOT GET ANYTHING WITH COMMON-RAIL DIESEL! On your budget, never, ever touch modern diesels even with a ten-foot stick. Unless you plan to drive A LOT, and in that case, you’d better spend more than $5000k.

    Modern diesels (Ford’s TDCI, Citroën and Peugeot HDI and so on) are fantastic machnines – powerful, quite refined and getting better mileage than a hybrid, but there are few bits that can, and – after 200.000+ kilometers, which any diesel at this price range will have – will fail. Namely, the turbocharger (although that’s the least of your problems), the fuel injectors (expect paying $500 A PIECE. there are four of them…), the fuel pump (as much as $3000) and two-mass flywheel, which needs to be changed every time the clutch goes, and gets the price of changing the clutch up to $2000.

    On the other hand, if you’re planning to drive a lot and can justify the potential costs (and bigger intial budget), something like 2003+ Mondeo TDCI Wagon will be a wonderful car. Big, comfortable, with the best suspension in this class.

    However, if you don’t plan on driving at least 40 000km/year and don’t want an old TDI, get a gasoline engine. In this case, don’t buy anything VW – their gasoline engines suck, either by being underpowered, unrefined pieces of junk (the cheap ones) or by being crazy expensive to maintain (everything from 1.8T up).

    If you like driving, buy a Ford – a Focus with 1.6 or 1.8 is a great car, can be had as a wagon and it’s pretty good to drive. If it’s too small for you, get a Mondeo 2.0. Or 2.5 V6, which will probably be cheap (no one wants big gas engines over here) and loaded.

    Don’t buy Renaults, unless you want to get a new car and can live with underpowered, underequipped Thalia, which is one of the cheapest cars on the market, while still being big enough for four people. But it will feel like going 20 years back (no power steering and so on).

    Well, while we’re at it, don’t buy anything french. Maybe an old Citroën XM, if you want to experience some Euro quirkiness – if you choose a right one, it won’t be THAT hellish to maintain and it’ll at least be cheap.

    Don’t even think about anything Italian. Unless it’s something little, like Fiat Panda or Punto, it’ll be a nightmare. I’ve heard that some big Fiats (Marea) can be quite reliable, but I would’t want to test it with my own money. On the other hand, Fiat has factories in Poland, so they’ll be probably pretty popular there.

    Opel – if you want to go really big, get an Omega. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, RWD and they also come with BMW 25tds engine, which is quite good.
    Also, an old Astra Classic – I think they’re 1,7 diesels from Isuzu are quite good, too.

    VW – nope. You’re on a budget, you don’t need a fancy interior. Get a Skoda, which is 90% of VW quality.

    Japanese – something common, with gasoline engine, may make a sense. But if your priority is parts and service availability, stay away.

    Koreans – for your budget, not. The good ones are too new.

    Importing your own car – may be a good idea, depending on what you have. May even be sold at a profit later.

    • 0 avatar

      I noticed a ton of French cars in the Czech Republic. Lots of smaller Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault models.
      I’m wondering why? Are they significantly cheaper then other makes? Sadly, even though we drove about 1000 kilos, we didn’t see even one Tatra!

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, French cars are generally a bit cheaper than their German counterparts. Besides, lots of people buy them because of style or other reasones.

        And they don’t even need to be bad – but you’d better know what to buy and what to avoid, so for an American in Poland, it’s just better to remember “don’t touch French”.

  • avatar

    Good perspective ^^, I have always regarded VW as junk here in the states, gas powered especially. The common perception has been that Euro spec’d VW are better made. Is there any truth to that?
    I have an e30 in the states. Wife wants a couple airbags, so I may be leaning to an e36 wagon. I know that’s easy enough to work on with parts galore.
    Lot of people have mentioned thievery… I live in St. Louis, and no time to run stats, but I’m pretty sure having your car stolen here is as likely. Certainly getting killed is much more likely.
    I’ve seen Poles install pretty nifty transmission locks that I might get for extra security.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve never driven an US spec VW, but the EU spec Jetta, which still reflects American tastes much more, suggests that US ones may really be crappier.

      But maybe more important is that we have Renaults, Citroëns, Peugeots, Fiats and Alfas and you don’t. And compared with these things, even the average American Volkswagen surely is reliable, well-made and cheap-to run car.

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