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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Go About Getting Your Set of Wheels

MTAs recently as several years ago, the only choice was to drive a Russian model like this Lada. But times have changed in a big way.
Tired of the metro's teeming masses? Does the idea of hailing a gypsy cab in Moscow's stiff winter sound unappealing? If the answer is yes, it might be time for your own set of wheels.

To the uninitiated, the process of acquiring and registering a car in Moscow can seem as tangled as a traffic jam on Leningradsky Prospekt.

"It was a huge pain in the neck," says Dublin native Sean Muldowney, who purchased a car soon after arriving in town but couldn't drive it for several weeks because it was not registered correctly. "Make sure you have all your paperwork in order before you do anything."

The first step is obtaining a Russian driver's license.

If you have a foreign license, you can simply have it translated and notarized. After you pass a written test -- in Russian -- your license will be valid for the length of your stay. If you don't have a license, you will need to bring your passport, visa and a certificate of health, along with a fee of $110, to the GIBDD, or traffic police, where you will be scheduled for both a written and a driving test.

Once your license is in order, it's time to select a car.

As recently as several years ago, the only choice was to drive a Russian model. "Anybody who wanted a Mercedes had to order it from outside Russia, then order parts if it broke down," says Alexei Kim, owner of AKKS, an auto parts dealership on Donskoi Proyezd.

But times have changed, and in a big way. According to figures compiled by RosBusinessConsulting and United Financial Group, foreign auto sales outstripped domestic figures for the first time in 2002. Russians imported roughly 29,000 cars last year, a 37 percent increase from 2001.

Although foreign cars are generally more costly and have a higher rate of fuel consumption, they are roomier and more reliable than Russian models. And they command respect on Moscow's traffic-choked streets.

"There are a lot fewer people trying to cut in front of you, and a lot less people stopping you from cutting in front of them," says Paulo Bon Jesus of Brazil, who owns a BMW.

New car dealerships are spread all over town, as are used car bazaars, chief among them being the market in Lyubertsy, in Moscow's southern outskirts. Thousands of private listings can be found in magazines such as Iz Ruk v Ruki and Avtomobili i Tseni. But if you set up a meeting with an individual, be sure about the car before you hand over payment; experts warn that buyers are easy targets in these situations.

The next stop is the insurance office.

Until this year, most fender benders were settled on the spot between drivers. According to a new law, however, all cars purchased after July 1 must have third-party insurance before they are registered and issued license plates. Government-mandated auto insurance covers up to $3,870 worth of damage. Coverage starts at $130 per year and increases according to the horsepower of the vehicle.

Your car-buying adventure concludes where it began, at the GIBDD office, where you register your car and receive a license plate. Although the lines are long, license plates are usually issued the same day.

If this all sounds like too much hassle, there is another option. You can lease a car from an individual. This is done by obtaining a power of attorney, or doverennost, which is a notarized letter wherein the owner grants driving rights to another party.

There are two kinds of doverennost, short and long-term, and many used cars change hands under the extended version. Under this agreement, the lessee has the right to make changes to the car and even to sell it. It is important to obtain a notarized document stating that money changed hands over the doverennost, since the lessor retains the right to repossess the vehicle at any time.

On Moscow's clogged streets, parking is, of course, another major issue. Thieves and vandals -- and not to mention the harsh winter -- chase many cars indoors. Pod-like garages, known as rakushki, rent for roughly 100 rubles per day, and can cost up to $5,000 to build. Full-service garages, complete with security and repair shops, start at $100 per month.

With all these steps behind you, the real challenge can begin -- driving in a city with 3 million other drivers, many of whom swerve onto the sidewalks to avoid a traffic jam.

"Many drivers here don't care about a little damage to their cars because the parts are so cheap to replace," says Ernest Tsigankov, director of the Center for Driving Mastery. "But just relax, drive defensively and be especially careful during the winter months."

The GIBDD office for foreigners is located at 2 6th Radialnaya Ulitsa.