. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rusty, Filthy Auto? U.S. Driver Aboard

Several years ago, Moscow was the only place in the Soviet Union where you could easily see foreign cars on the streets. Foreign diplomats were the owners of these cars, and the parking areas in front of embassies were the place to go to learn something about car production outside Russia.

I have a friend from St. Petersburg, a great motorist and a lover of all foreign cars, and every time he visited Moscow he would make sure he spent some time outside the U.S. Embassy -- just to look around and say he saw a Mercedes or a Chevrolet.

With the collapse of communism, the situation has changed dramatically. Embassy parking lots are no longer very interesting, and the jeeps, luxury sedans and sports cars you see behind the fortress-like walls of Russia's new commercial banks are much more "cool." New Russian bandits, many of them barely out of high school, sometimes have more expensive cars than the most highly ranked diplomats.

Within this changing situation, what do average Russian drivers think about foreign motorists on our roads? Everybody knows that cars with a license plate with the numbers for America -- 004-- are drivers who don't care about their cars at all. You frequently see these cars covered with dirt or rust or sporting bumps and bruises left unrepaired after minor accidents. Americans also occasionally drive very funny-looking vehicles, like Chevy trucks that were originally intended for use by the U.S. military.

The French and German embassies are famous in Moscow as the owners of the most elegant cars. I have the impression that French and German diplomats are simply forbidden from using old and dirty cars.

German cars, like BMWs, are very popular here with New Russians, but French cars like Renaults and Peugeots are not nearly as well-known. My first encounter with many of them was when they were driven on the streets of Moscow by French diplomats.

The Japanese Embassy seems to prefer to use Japanese cars, and these vehicles are well-known because their drivers are so polite. I have never seen a car from the Japanese Embassy breaking traffic rules.

In general, foreigners appear to be disciplined, well-behaved drivers. If you see a car with red diplomatic license plates weaving through the lanes at breakneck speeds, you can bet there is a Russian driver at the wheel.

If you have questions for Kolya Kachurin about driving in Moscow, please call 257-3201 and ask for the Wheels editor.