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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lemons for All Tastes At Automobile Bazaar

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Until last Friday, I'd never been to a car market. They operate in much the same way as the bazaar in downtown Baku, but instead of "Bananas, devushka!" or "Tomatoes, devushka!" or even "Small piece of rubber in black or gray, not entirely new but it'll do the job, available singly or in boxes of 500!" it's "Volga, Niva and Lada, devushka!"

The Sumgayit car market on the Apsheron Peninsula, an hour's drive from Baku, has the widest selection of used cars in the country, Tahir, a seasoned Baku driver, reliably informed us. We'd brought him with us to help choose a car.

"We'd like a Niva," we told him. "Nothing fancy. Just something that'll get us to the bazaar and back at weekends."

"Yes, yes," he said. "Follow me."

On a patch of scrub the size of a football pitch, dozens of cars stood in neat rows. They didn't look second-hand, they looked brand new.

"Don't be fooled," Tahir said. "They use vinegar to clean the windows and washing powder to scrub up the tires. And all the cars have been resprayed."

"Surely we'll be able to tell how much a car's worth by the mileage," I said.

"Oh no," said Tahir. "The odometers have all been changed so it looks as though they've only done a few thousand kilometers."

We wandered between glistening Zhigulis, Moskviches and Nivas.

"What about this one?" I asked.

"Too old," Tahir said.

"Or this one?" I asked.

"Too slow," he said. "And just look at the interior!"

Eventually we found a car Tahir liked. "We'll take it to my garage once you've bought it and see what they say," he said.

We handed our money to the Niva's previous owner, a plump Azeri with no hair and a large gold ring on his finger. He grinned and wished us happy travels.

At the garage the mechanic shook his head. "It'll need some work," he said. The next day he gave us a list of what he'd fitted -- carburetor, brake pads, tires, fan belt, exhaust, windscreen, seat belts -- and a large bill.

"That's about the standard," Tahir said. "But what you really ought to do is put in a lino floor, new seat covers and curtains."

He showed us his new Lada, which has red velvet seats, a purple plastic floor and crimson blinds with tassels on all the back windows.

So far we've declined Tahir's offer to take us to the car interiors market. I'm not sure our car will get us there. One of the wing mirrors has fallen off and the clutch is a bit dicey.

Never mind. It's a nice walk to the bazaar, and anyway, those small rubber things they sell aren't all that heavy. Even if you buy a box of 500.

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.