10 things about: Hafiz Ariffin, a classic car dealer

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 — To most Malaysians, cars are a necessary evil. You get a loan to buy one and proceed to slave the next five to nine years just to repay it. At the end of it all, you start over.

To one man though, cars are like humans. They appreciate in value over time, especially European cars.

Hafiz Ariffin spends about six hours every day driving all over town, and sometimes even as far north as Perlis, parts of Kelantan, Ipoh and all the way south to Johor to look for abandoned European cars that he can buy.

Once the car is bought, it is towed back to his shop in Shah Alam to be examined more thoroughly to determine whether it is worth fixing up. If it is, he will send it to one of his 10 panel workshops. The “new” car is then put up for sale on Mudah.my, an online classified ads website.

The father of two young children has a law degree from the International Islamic University Malaysia (UIA) just to appease his father but immediately after getting that piece of paper, he followed his dream.

It started off with him being an auto parts dealer, then he opened his own workshop in 2009. But staffing problems at the workshop made him close it in 2012, and that’s when he made his car flipping business official with Eurotechnika Auto Consultants Sdn Bhd.

He started flipping cars when he had his workshop and at one point, he had 20 cars on his hands but his wife, who is a financial analyst at an oil and gas company, pressured him into selling them. It was heartbreaking, he said.

There are two BMWs — a 2011 3 series and 1994 5 series — and a 25-year-old Mercedes-Benz 300CE (his favourite) in his current collection.

The 26-year-old said his interest in cars began when he was in Form 4 and started spending a lot of time at a workshop run by an old Chinese man in Klang, where he used to live. The man was a specialist in European cars.

And then, during his last year in university, he bought a 22-year-old car for RM1,000 and after fixing it up, sold it for RM3,000.
In his own words:

For those who can’t really afford a new car, they can always get a classic car and drive it in style. The best part is once you no longer like it, you can always sell it off. Easy, very easy.

I sell nine units in a month, I sell parts, I provide services, I provide consultancy. I can suggest the right car for daily usage, either for balik kampung trips or a daily commute car, and then I can handle all the maintenance work. I just bill my clients at a very reasonable rate. It will be on par with Toyota for the maintenance. Even a major repair wouldn’t be expensive.

My everyday routine is to have a good drive around town. I go to the housing areas; I go to the parking lots and see if there are cars. I salvage the cars and make them run again. Sometimes, the car is not that bad. It’s just that the owner didn’t know what was wrong with it. I check the body condition; if it is good and it’s accident free, then I’ll take the car. The rest I sort out on my own.

There were times when I bought a car and I found it too expensive to fix up. So I just cut it in half and sold it as parts. It’s a good business also. You buy a car at RM3,000, you chop it in half and take out the gearbox, that is RM3,000 (Audi). There is your ROI (return on investment). BMW has the cheapest gearbox. Audi has the most expensive.

Classic cars are 25 years and above and a modern classic is 15 years and above. Modern classic cars are very reliable. They have all the modern features, drive like a modern car and have a classic look. I have my favourite cars. I only drive a few of them. I’ve always liked the Mercedes-Benz 300CE. It is the old E class with two doors. First because it is my favourite car; second, it has my favourite number. The car number is 188. I don’t know why but for some reason, it brings me luck, it’s very auspicious. It is my 35th car.

I’ve had 50 cars over the years; I have driven 30 Volvos from the oldest to the latest XE 90. I get bored easily. Since I’m a car dealer, I just sell them off. I don’t sell cars that are broken. There is no such thing. My common practice is when I sell my car, it must be the most beloved car. Then when I sell it off, I weep.

It’s a good feeling that you can help people to get a car at the right cost because in Malaysia, we don’t have much disposable income. If you shop well, you can get a good three-year-old BMW like new for half the price. When you buy a used car, you never rush into a decision. Make sure the previous owner is rich so that you know the car was serviced properly.

I do not have the heart to overcharge people, if not I will be very rich by now. I don’t have to stay in this small office. The reason why I have a small office is also because when you can keep your operation cost low, you can deliver lower cost to your end user. So that way I can be in business for say another 15 to 20 years to come and can stay longer in the industry because there are a lot of players. Without overcharging, you can still make a good living actually.

Collectors sell their cars for at least RM30,000. Most of my cars are well under RM20,000 except for new cars. For under RM20,000 you can actually get a very good car. You can get a 1997 BMW or 1997 Mercedes-Benz and both will perform like new cars even by modern standards.

The most misunderstood things about cars is people think that European cars are expensive to maintain. Secondly, they think old cars are expensive to maintain. Those two are the most common misconceptions about cars.

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