Welcome to the online diary of the “London Ziegs,” as they journal their experiences relocating from the balmy climes of sunny Orlando, Florida to the more chaotically cosmopolitan environment of London, UK!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cars Ahoy

It doesn't look like an alien spacecraft, does it?

Still, you'd think it must be from the reception it receives from U.K. auto insurers.

Like America, there are dozens of companies more than happy to sell you a car insurance policy. And all of them have curiously-similar online quote request websites, where they walk you through page after page of questions about yourself, your driving history, your spouse / other drivers, etc...and then at the very end, they ask for the make & model of the car. And then they uniformly barf, because apparently there is no such vehicle as a "Ford Freestar" registered anywhere in the known universe. "Are you sure it's not a FreeStyle?" one agent helpfully suggested.

It was enough to make me re-check the title and make sure I hadn't misremembered the name. But no, there it is in black and white. While there are all manner of foreign cars visible tooling around greater London (including a fair number of Ford minivans), apparently most of them belong to families with an established "Mutual Recognition Certificate" establishing UK equivalence. Once you step outside of the "pre-approved catalogue", you might as well be trying to license a moon-lander; and insurance companies, as you may have heard, do not like to take on unassessed risks! Therefore, "sorry, we're not able to offer a policy on that vehicle type at the present time..."

Does this just mean that I've been trying run-of-the-mill domestic policies, and need to enlarge my horizons a bit to cover imports? Not really -- I got rebuffed from Adrian Flux, an "import specialist" that claims to specialize in covering outmarket American cars!

Anyway, we finally got a usable quote from Swinton, and will hopefully get a competitive bid tomorrow from Hyperformance. I can't say that reviews of either company really fill me with confidence, but I don't seem to have a lot of options here. (Apparently our choices will widen somewhat after we exchange our US driver's licenses for full UK permits; I knew we had a year to do that, so hadn't fast-tracked it earlier, a possible mistake.)

To backtrack a bit, we got a letter in the mail this weekend that our van was due to be delivered at the dock in Southampton next Monday (Jan 19), so I (admittedly belatedly) started trying to figure out what I needed to do to pick it up and make it road-worthy. We'd been told (and visually seen) that many people import left-handed drive vehicles to the UK from America, France, Germany, etc, so didn't expect this to be a huge hassle.

However, as is ever the case in such things, there are a number of potential Catch-22's in the process, so sequence is everything. It appears that this is the basic process we will need to undertake:

(1) order an "import pack" from the DVLA

(2) get insurance before the vehicle arrives; two sources recommended CallConnection, a free service in which you explain your situation, and they recommend insurers who meet your needs

(3) using the forms and information contained in the import pack, assemble the following application:
  • a completed V55/5 form (something like this)
  • your insurance certificate, obtained in step #2
  • proof of identity, e.g. passport
  • proof of residency, e.g. UK phone or utility bill
  • cheque for £55 payable to DVLA Swansea
  • US car title
  • shipping invoice, e.g. from 2wglobal.com
  • (a Certificate of Conformity would go here, but Freestars don't have one)
  • (a Mutual Recognition Certificate would go here...)
  • a completed C104A from HM Revenue & Customs (Excise)
  • a MOT (Ministry of Transport) certificate, which in our case will need to be an SVA (Single Vehicle Approval), performed by VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency).
That last bullet will be the interesting one. VOSA only has a dozen sites around England, but one is pretty close, while another is right there in Southampton (near the docks, one would assume). I wrote to VOSA to see what would be involved in getting the vehicle from the dock to the Southampton facility, if we need an appointment, etc.

Note that the DVLA has a turnaround time of 7-10 days to process a registration application and send you a tax disc, so we probably won't get to actually drive our van until sometime next month. That somewhat begs the question as to how we're supposed to get it from the docks, to the inspection, to our home; it's possible that hiring a lorry or a tow-truck may be involved :-( Alternately, we could probably rent storage for it down in Southampton for the duration, so I need to see what that might cost.

Finally, even after your tax disc arrives, you don't get your official registration certificate for another few weeks; I'm assuming that you're able to drive without having the official registration in-hand, but that's another thing we'll have to look into :-(

Towards the day when we finally do get to sit in the driver's seat, I picked up a copy of this on the way to work, and it seems very nicely done:

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