For Car Buyers, Stickers Add Extra Pizzazz

Several years ago, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldier Miev Nara bought a pre-owned Lexus luxury SUV for $42,000 and immediately added a $4 upgrade: blue stickers under the door handles.

“The stickers avoid wearing out the paint, and also it looks more attractive,” Mr. Nara said on Monday outside a Monivong Boulevard auto supply shop. “Without the stickers, if you look from far away, you only see one color. But if you add the stickers, there are two.”

cam photo cars channa
An SUV on a street in Phnom Penh sports blue stickers underneath its door handles. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The fresh-from-the-factory aesthetic has become popular in recent years as more Cambodians are able to afford cars, even if very few of those vehicles are actually new.

Unofficial dealers illegally imported 40,000 used cars last year, thereby avoiding taxes and customs duties, according to the Cambodia Automotive Industry Federation—10 times the amount of vehicles imported through legal channels.

The federation says these vehicles are often castoffs from countries where their mechanical problems, flood damage, or other defects are not welcome. But that has not stopped Cambodian used car buyers from protecting—or flaunting—their purchases.

Some of those adornments, such as “Lexus” etched into the doors, or a laminated VIP sign in the dashboard, loudly advertise status. Others, like Mr. Nara’s dashboard cover decorated with a bald eagle and “Deb’s Lexus” written in cursive, may protect and personalize a purchase.

The door handle adhesives can accomplish all of the above, even if the trend seems inexplicable to some industry insiders.

“I’ve never seen it in any other country, and to be honest it’s always baffled me a little too,” said Andy Jones, manager of Ford’s aftersales department. “It’s not a product we offer here, and I’ve never heard anyone asking for it—customers are getting them from local shops themselves.”

At Mao Liheang car supply shop, a 25-year-old shop attendant who referred to herself only as Tey said the $2 additions had been a hot item for years.

“They love their car so much,” she said, gesturing to an aging passenger van adorned with the blue stripes. “So they add the blue stickers to avoid scratches” from nails or rings.

Other buyers “just want to show people that this is their new car,” she said—although she added that the cars for which owners get the stickers are never actually new.

“Only the second hand customers use it,” she said. “The real new cars like that never use it because it doesn’t look good. It looks clean already.”

Soeun Sopheap, a police officer and driver for a senior Interior Ministry official, said his boss’s Mitsubishi SUV was past the age of being able to bear the blue stickers with dignity.

“This car is getting old already,” he said while waiting on Street 214. “It always travels to the provinces.”

[email protected][email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News