Here she is, the Clio Limited
Here she is, the Clio Limited

The car driving adventures of an American in the Algarve

I grew up near Detroit, The Motor City. Home of Henry Ford, birthplace of the assembly line. Most of the people I knew had family working in the automotive industry. Cars were a passion, a fixation, a statement. My first car was a rusted out, ancient VW Beetle. I was poor, but I had wheels! 

Over a long career path, the car brands got better. I went through the flashy sports car stage and, as my career thrived, I hit the road in the luxury brands – BMW, Lexus, Land Rover.

And then I came to Portugal. One of the first things you notice as an American is the lack of gigantic pick-up trucks on the road. In the USA, a lot of guys drive big, burly, insanely expensive pick-ups like the Silverado or the Ram. Testosterone on wheels.

I decided to rent until I bought a car. A year and a half later, I was still renting. In the USA, you walk into a car dealership, you’ve seen all the TV commercials, and have a car in mind that fits your image just perfectly. It’s easy. You put down a relatively small amount and you pay car payments. Or, if you don’t drive too many miles, you lease.

A Lexus hard-top convertible, a favorite I owned in the USA
A Lexus hard-top convertible, a favorite I owned in the USA

Here, I was shocked when a car dealer told me he couldn’t do a loan for me because I was a foreigner with a two-year visa. I called a leasing company. Same problem. Wow. Time to re-think the kind of car I would drive here. And then there was all that other “stuff” like the inspection and all the things that must be in the car at all times. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

I switched rental cars every month at Faro airport. Why every month? Because my credit card supposedly covered the insurance, but only for 30 days at a time. I discovered that was a real hassle when there was damage. It was easier and much cheaper for me to have it fixed before I returned it.

I replaced a windshield and had a car painted. In the long run, it was still less than paying the rental car company insurance rates. On the bright side, after so many rentals, I knew which cars didn’t suit me. Like the Fiat Panda that could barely make it up an ant hill. Or the very nice Peugeot that had the most uncomfortable seats.

My online research led me to, a site just loaded with used cars for sale. Many of the cars were in Lisbon. It just so happened that we had a weekend planned there, so I prepared a list of eight cars to check out. I was confident I would finally be driving home in my own car. First stop, a place called MM Car. They had a great deal on the perfect car. I entered their address in my GPS and drove up to … an empty lot.

The Dodge Ram TRX - testosterone on wheels
The Dodge Ram TRX – testosterone on wheels

Moving on to the second car, it was at a Toyota dealership. Oops, sold. The next two places didn’t have the cars that were listed, the fifth place had two cars I thought could work, but they were closed. The next place was tiny, the car was there, but the price was €2,000 more than listed on Stand Virtual. I asked the salesman why and he said it was competitive on the website, so he had to mark it down. He offered to match the price. That seemed too shady for me.

I was so discouraged at this point that I just wanted to get to the hotel and forget about cars. We had a fabulous weekend in Lisbon watching professional tennis. The hotel was absolutely lovely, and we found a new Italian restaurant that was beyond delicious. It made up for the horrible car shopping experience.

Coming home to the Algarve, I was worried. We only had three more weeks left on what I hoped was the last rental car, and rental prices would be skyrocketing with the impending tourist season. I got back online and this time, instead of used cars, I researched the used car dealers themselves.

I read reviews, looked at their websites, and chose four dealers with good reputations that had been in business for a long time. We were starting in Faro and working our way back to Lagos. Stop one in Faro was very different from the disaster in Lisbon. The dealership, Cars and Cars, has been in business for 20 years. They had about 100 pristine cars on display. The office was permanent, clean and professional.

With my boyfriend Glenn and Bernardo, our salesman at Cars and Cars in Faro.
With my boyfriend Glenn and Bernardo, our salesman at Cars and Cars in Faro.

After wandering for a while and seeing a couple of cars that looked good, we were approached by a salesman, Bernardo. He was also the guy who would handle the 18-month guarantee on any car we bought there. Bernardo was knowledgeable, fun, and not pushy. In other words, not your typical used car salesman.

We picked a car and, in the few days it took to get it ready and transfer the funds from my American account, my boyfriend saw another car on their website that had just been added. We called Bernardo, he said to come in and drive it, and, within an hour, we switched to a Clio Limited.

Their prep included two new tires, a new antenna, an oil change, fluids topped off, engine checked, and new floor mats. We love it. It can get up a hill, no problem, the seats are comfy enough for a road trip, and the charcoal grey color is elegant. I never thought I would get this excited over a used Renault, but I’m happier than I was the day I bought my first Lexus. Portugal changes a person, even a person from the Motor City.

By Glenda Cole
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Glenda Cole is a retired American executive loving her storybook life in the Algarve. She’s recently started writing and vlogging for International Living Magazine and she will be speaking at their annual conference in Denver, Colorado this fall. You can sign up for their free email postcards at