Have car. Will travel.

IMG_0017This week we bought ourselves some wheels.  A very nice 2003 V70 Volvo wagon.  Sadly WAY nicer and newer than the Volvo wagon we get around in at home.  Actually we may never want to leave this car behind!

When we first started planning our trip we weighed up all our different transport options and overwhelmingly purchasing our own car or camper made the most sense. Buying a vehicle in a foreign country isn’t going to be everyone’s thing and it certainly helps that Wally knows a thing or two about cars but it really was a relatively painless process and for an extended trip like ours, makes traveling long distances quite economical.

A lot of people have questioned our decision to go with a car & caravan combo, which we have to admit is a bit outside the standard touring-around-Europe box but we think will work so much better for our situation.  As we’re going to staying with friends and WWOOFing in most places we really need the caravan to carry our belongings and to be a temporary home for a few nights here and there and for a week or two when we’re on a farm that doesn’t have accommodation for all of us.  It’s much easier (and cheaper) to find a caravan that fits five people than a camper.  I also find the idea of being able to leave the van parked up and just take the car shopping or sightseeing is much more appealing than dragging our entire home along with us.

Before we left Adelaide we saw an ad on Gum Tree for a great looking car that got ticks in all the boxes.  After a bit of emailing backwards and forwards we decided we’d ask the seller if he could hold the car for us for a couple of days.  We didn’t expect him to say yes, but I think the novelty of having some crazies flying in from Australia to look at his car was rather appealing and he was happy to take the ad down until the weekend and turned down our offer to pay a deposit.  Knowing where we were going to look at a car made it easier to make some advanced plans on where we would go after arriving at Heathrow.  It was a big call but we had to start somewhere.

Other than some arseing around getting to the guys house the car was brilliant and the deal was done and dusted less than 12 hours after us arriving in the country!  At home we would have considered ourselves extremely lucky to have bought a car so quickly and easily, having it happen at the beginning of a big trip felt even more fortuitous.

But actually getting our new four wheeled beast to the point we could legally drive it was slightly more complicated and involved significantly more stress hormones and sleepless nights than buying it in the first place.

If you plan to buy a car in the UK and drive it in Europe, here’s some things you may wish to consider.

Do your research before you leave home

If you have weeks or months to purchase a car you can leave your research until you arrive but for us we really needed to find a car right away, so we did our research before we left.  The kind of things we (well let’s be honest, it was Wally!) researched were towing capacity, fuel economy, availability, resale value, engine size, cabin size and price.  We looked at various used car sites and also checked things out on Gumtree so we had an idea if there were suitable cars becoming available.  It was really just by fluke that the car that best suited our needs was the same as the one we have at home.

Obviously you can’t really look too closely at specific cars that are for sale until right at the last minute or until you arrive, so it’s worth factoring about ten days into your schedule in case you have to move around or get to a regional area – we kept our itinerary completely open for the first week with the plan that we would look at what was available when we got there and travel to that place.  We also built some contingency into our budget in case we had to get a car from a car yard if nothing came up privately.

Arrange to borrow your friends postcode (actually their whole address will be helpful). 

Buying a car is the easy part, the paperwork is a bit of a minefield. As part of the registration transfer you will need to provide the seller with a UK residential address. This will be used to send all your paperwork, including your vehicle registration certificate and VAT to (plus any speeding fines or tolls). As we will be away for a long period we used the address of friends who can open our mail and let us know if anything arrived in the post for us.

Not necessarily related to cars but as an aside, if you need to make a payment on anything and provide a UK residential address it will be automatically assumed this is your credit card billing address also.  If your residential address and credit card billing address don’t match up your credit card will be declined.  My advice is to get in the habit of telling the person on the phone you have different residential and billing addresses straight up, which will avoid having to give all your details over again at the end of the call when the payment won’t go through!


Unlike in Australia there is no CTP (compulsory third party insurance) included in your vehicle registration so it is your responsibility to have your vehicle covered by third party or comprehensive insurance.  Before you can get your car on the road you need to pay Tax (or what we call rego. you can do this easily online) but before you can get the thing taxed you need to have insured your vehicle.

From our research we thought this would be as simple as ringing an insurance company, giving them our details and paying the cash.  The RACQ even perpetrated this myth by telling us we could get discounted insurance with the AA. Apparently not. It is almost inevitable a standard insurance company will tell you that without UK resident status and a UK driving license you are ineligible to take out any kind of insurance policy.  If you stay up until 3am trawling through online forums, you will get the same information plus a whole lot of rhetoric about what a douche bag you are to think you can waltz into someones country buy a car and think you can (gasp) insure it.

I’m pleased to tell you it’s all bollocks.  You CAN get insurance.  If you hold an Australian, New Zealand, South African or Canadian driving license you can insure your car through Down Under Insurance.  I’m sure if you’re not from the ‘Colonies’ there are other alternatives it would be worth checking out.  I called on a Saturday morning, after being awake most of the night convinced our trip was over before it even started and spoke to an extremely helpful lady who processed our policy on the spot. The policy cost us about double what we were expecting and gave our budget a real battering but at that point I didn’t really care – so long as we were able to get on the road.  We had the choice of comprehensive or third party insurance and either policy automatically provided us with the “Green Card” required to drive in Europe.

Baby car seats

If you need to use a child restraint or car seat be sure to check the vehicle you plan to purchase has a top bolt, like our standard Australian car seat blots installed and/or has ISO fix points in the seats. Don’t make the assumption (like we did) that every car will come with car seat provisions.  It doesn’t.  We asked every question but this.  It’s worth asking the question.

If you plan to bring a car seat with you from Australia you need to check it can be used with ISO fix points and not just a top bolt. It is very uncommon to find a car with a top bolt in the UK anymore and unlike in Australia you can’t simply purchase one at an auto centre or baby goods store and fit it yourself, it has to be fitted by the vehicle manufacturer.

Number plates

Cars registered in the UK come with two different number plate options. Either domestic plates which have just the registration number or international plates which have the registration number plus a blue portion with the EU symbol and GB (Great Britain) to one side. If you have domestic plates you are required to put an oval ‘international code’ sticker on the back of your car (an oval sticker with the letters GB on it). They can be purchased from auto stores as a sticker or magnet.

If you are purchasing a caravan (or pulling a trailer) you are not required to register it separately but you do need to have a number plate printed, the same as your car. The same rules apply regarding the international code sticker. We had a set of plates printed at Halfords, whilst we waited. You need to provide your portion of the registration transfer form the previous owner of your vehicle would have given you, or the registration papers, plus photo ID.

As our car had domestic plates we decided to get a full set of international plates for the car and use the domestic plates on the caravan along with a sticker. When we arrived in Dover to get on the ferry we discovered our number plate had fallen off the caravan, so we’re glad we made the decision to get a new pair not just a single one made up, so we had a spare!

Budget to kit yourself out for legal European driving

Something we weren’t prepared for, our research didn’t bring up and we didn’t budget for was the fact it’s illegal to drive in many countries in Europe without a whole lot of legislated safety devices. Thankfully our friends jokingly asked if we had our high visabilty vest and safety triangle at the ready the day before we left for the ferry – without the heads up we wouldn’t have thought to ask.

Pre-packaged kits containing everything you need (plus more) can be bought from auto stores plus they had a list of what the requirements are for each country so you can purchase items individually. Some of the things we are required to travel with, other than a high vis vest and safety triangle are: breathalyzer sticks (or a full breathalyzer unit), a first aid kit, spare bulbs and Eurolights (which are stickers you put on your headlights to redirect the light away from on coming traffic). I highly recommend you purchase two sets of Eurolights, just in case you happen to put them on slightly wrong (which we may or may not know from experience!).

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