Introducing Keanu... My first car in London, the good, the bad and the unexpected

posted on: Monday, 1 July 2019

Last year, after sixteen years of calling London "home," I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get my drivers license in the UK. Now, keeping in mind I'd been driving in the USA since I was 15, this all seemed a bit ridiculous. Why wait so long? All my friends back at home thought I was crazy, living carless in the UK. But, in all honesty, I'd always found ways around needing a car. I had public transport, and uber for everything else. So why need a car? Well, the older I got, the more people I met who were constantly telling me that a car in the city would give me a freedom that I never realised I needed. The more I heard, the more I convinced myself I needed to at least give it a shot. So, in October of 2018, I passed all my tests and was handed a license to drive...on the other side of the road. 

For all of you that keep hearing about how scary the UK driver's test is, let me tell you it isn't nearly as scary as the entire country builds it up to be. I passed all my tests on the first try and lost so many nights' sleep over it all that it now seems absolutely ridiculous. However, when my license arrived I had a whole new reason to panic. I sat on my sofa and blankly stared at the wall realising I didn't have the first idea about what was required over here to purchase and own a car. Of course I'd grown up in the USA, where things are completely different when it comes to car ownership. So I was found myself once again in the land of the unknown. But, let me backtrack here a bit.

Years ago, I went with my ex-boyfriend to lease his first car from BMW. I went with him again two years later when he decided to upgrade. Both visits left me feeling entirely terrified of car dealerships. The endless paperwork, the rather snooty attitude from the dealers and fear of having signed your life away as you drove your car off the lot made me think I'd never ever want to lease a car. That was that. Now, back to 2018 we go. 

So, I'm sitting on the couch, thinking "what do I do next," and I take to Instagram stories to announce I have a license, now I just need to figure out all this business with buying and owning a car as a clueless American calling London home. About ten minutes later I got an email from a friend who said, "have you heard about ZenAuto?" She was working with them at the time and said it might be a good idea for us to meet as this seemed like an answer to my problem and something I might want to share with FFG readers. I'll be honest, dear reader, and say that at this point I was looking for a sign that this might all be possible. The sign came sooner than expected.

I sat down with the team from ZenAuto and I told them, from the get go, that I wasn't into the idea of leasing cars. And here's where they cracked a smile and took that statement as a challenge. They knew what they were about to tell me would change my opinion entirely and blow my mind with what they could offer. And I'm just gonna come out and say that they did. 

What they told me did blow my mind and made me immediately ask - how can we work together so that I can tell everyone I know about this service? Well, that leads me to where we are today- me working with ZenAuto and telling you about this service, because I truly believe it is for every single person that has ever sat on their couch and thought, "I want to own a car in London, but I have no idea what I need for a car, what I need in order to make that dream a reality with assistance in actually owning the car itself and who I can trust to make it all happen." I'm about to blow your mind, guaranteed. I know this as I've told a few girlfriends, over brunch, about this whole experience, and they've asked for a web address almost immediately to check into the whole process themselves. 

So let's start from scratch, from the very beginning. I knew I wanted a car in London. ZenAuto had offered to help me find that car, to lease, and I was guaranteed I was having the exact experience that every ZenAuto client has. So this is how it went, and I'll break it down in question answer form for you:

Me: I don't know what car I want in London.

Zen: There are three ways to choose which car is right for you via the website, or you can call and talk to one of the team at ZenAuto. The three ways to search online are - type of car (convertible, SUV etc), make & model, or monthly budget. 

Me: I need to call and talk this through from scratch (although I have to admit I had way too much fun building my dream vehicles online for a few hours).

And that's what I did. I called and held my hands up and said I don't know what I want. I just know I need help parallel parking (so I'll need a car with parking assistance), I want the car to be easy to drive around the streets of London, but also tough enough to handle a country retreat. I also wanted it to be big enough to fit an Ikea chair and bookcase in the trunk, but also wanted it to be the perfect fit for a road trip with friends. I might have also added that I was tall and had back problems, so something not too low to the ground, but with heated seats would be helpful. 

I kid you not, I said all these things. Almost instantly, ZenAuto had three cars that fit my specifications perfectly. From there, we narrowed it down to Keanu (name explained below). Yup, that beautiful babe of mine, the Mini Countryman John Cooper Sport, was my perfect car match. If you are a bit more confident about what you want, you can go on and build your dream vehicle, ready for leasing, within minutes. Let's just remember I needed someone to hold my hand through all of this. Thank you, ZenAuto, for being my car matchmaker. But, that match lead onto question answer session number two: 

Me: I have the car picked out and teed up to go. Now, what do I need on top of the car? Insurance? Roadside Assistance? What's the deal with MOT? And more importantly, what happens while I'm the owner of this beautiful vehicle? What if something happens to the car and I'm on the side of the road with no clue?

Zen: (They started pretty much telling me to take a deep breath and that it would all be ok.... I mean are these people therapists in their spare time?! Love them!). First of all, at ZenAuto, we are there for you throughout the entire leasing period, from the moment we deliver it to your front door to the moment we collect it. If a light comes on in your car and you have no idea what it means, you can call us and we'll help you figure it out.  Road Tax and break down cover are included as standard with your leasing agreement, but there are affordable packages you can buy that take care of the hassle of owning the car. 

Me: Please sign me up for the all-in package. I'm gonna need all the help I can get. 

At this point, I have to tell you that it all felt a little too easy and I was feeling all too silly about building up this whole experience up in my head. But, the more people I've chatted to, the more I've discovered that the whole leasing experience and ownership of an actual car is usually quite a daunting task. When I tell people about my experience with ZenAuto, there is genuinely a tinge of regret in the responding voices. It turns out this dream experience is actually a dream. There's nothing else like it out there. 

So yes, that's why I was super chuffed to be able to work with ZenAuto to spread the good word about a company that's delightful to work with, takes the guesswork out of this whole process and is just all around a pleasant experience to have from start to finish. 

For those of you thinking you have to be Mr or Mrs Moneybags to own a car in London, think again. At ZenAuto you can lease a car with as little as a £250 initial payment. You just choose the length of lease that's right for you, 24 or 48 months, with payments that stay the same throughout your lease, then hand the keys back at the end of your agreement. Easy peasy right? 

For me, it's been one month now that Keanu (the Mini Countryman) and I have been together. All of my friends and family that said this would be a life changing experience, you are absolutely correct. I cannot tell you how much I wish I had done this years ago. But, everything happens for a reason. And it seems this reason all happened in waiting for ZenAuto to come into my life. I'm pretty sure I would still be sitting on my sofa, having a panic attack over it all had such a company not been brought to my attention. So, I'm pleased as punch to announce I'll be working with them this year, sharing more about my experience, how you can get involved and answering any and all questions you may have about the whole process. This is just the start. Get ready for insane road trips, a few in depth looks at Keanu and why he's the perfect city car and, naturally, a heck of a lot of pictures with me and my new boy toy racer... still talking about Keanu!


For now, I'll leave you and just say, please feel free to email me if you have any questions at all. You guys know I always answer. Or, if you feel confident enough to dive right in, head over to the ZenAuto site now and start designing your dream car.

Now, just before I go, for those of you that are wondering why I named the car Keanu, here's why. The Mini Cooperman John Cooper edition has surfing details all over it (watch instagram stories later this week for more on that). It immediately made me think of Point Break, starring Keanu. Then the car itself is a rich black in colour, which made me again think of Keanu, this time in the Matrix. So, it seemed like the perfect fit. My Keanu, in car form.

Full disclosure (in case there are any lingering doubts): I am working in collaboration with ZenAuto on this post and all future posts about my beautiful Keanu.