31 May 2016

Our Mercedes Vito

We didn't anticipate that getting our own vehicle to drive would be so difficult.
Our time in Germany could be epitomised by the domino effect.
One thing didn't happen and therefore the next couldn't either.  Or conversely one thing happened which meant something else needed to.
Initially we were looking for an 'oldtimer' motorhome - something more than 30 years old that didn't have to comply with the emissions standards and therefore we could drive anywhere we wanted without restriction.  There were only 2 of these that were for sale - one needed body work straight away and didn't already have the 'oldtimer' registration; and the other wasn't well set out at all nor did we get a good feeling about the private vendor.  The reality was also that we didn't have the money or expertise to throw at something that potentially would need maintenance faster than a newer vehicle.
Then we started to look at newer motorhomes and only found about 6 (in Germany) in our price bracket so we increased our budget a bit and went to inspect one.  Sadly this was over-sold and under-delivered and didn't have the appropriate allowance to drive through the ever-increasing list of towns that demand a Euro 4 emissions standard or above.  Advice we'd received from other motorhomers was that you wouldn't want to be taking a motorhome into the big towns anyway - you park it on the outskirts and take alternative transport in.  That's okay for those who have a scooter they carry on their rear tailgate for two but didn't solve our mobility issues. Many of the motorhomes able to squeeze 7 in for sleeping only had 6 seatbelts for traveling too; and retro-fitting these is not as easy or legal as one would like to hope either.
So we turned our attention to buying a 7-seater vehicle that could tow a caravan.  This seemed to open our options up a little bit more at least as far as being able to go where we wanted, when we wanted together.  I didn't and still don't like the idea of un-hitching the caravan and leaving it at an overnight camping spot but have to hope with a few security devices we have no problems as there doesn't seem to be any other way.
Atlas found a vehicle that fitted our requirements, visited it, put a down-payment on it and the next week we were picking it up to be deposited at the mechanics yard until we got registration.
The websites that are the place to look for new and used vehicles, including motorhomes and caravans are mobile.de and e-bay.de/ebay-kleinanzeigen.de.  (Mobile.de is incidentally owned by e-bay). 
You will find both commercial and private vendors using these sites.  One thing to note is that private sellers are under no obligation to provide you with any guarantee that the vehicle will keep running.  Dealers on the other hand usually are bound to offer 24 months after sales service for a limited range of issues - some which you have to prove existed when you brought it!
The usual way to go about registering a vehicle is for one to be registered at a permanent address (more than 90 days) which requires a rental agreement or a signed form from a landlord.  We hadn't been able to get this.  
We had goverment officials suggesting that we either register at a hotel which you are not supposed to be able to do, avoiding letting them know that you had no intention of staying long-term; or at a friends address avoiding telling other government officials in that town that we had no intention of staying; register the vehicle and then unregistering ourselves the next day.  The few people that we'd relayed this to were not comfortable with it or were unsure if their contracts allowed them to technically sub-let, even though it is a fairly prolific things for Germans to do, it does carry with it a fine of EUR50,000 if you knowingly do it for someone who has no intention of staying at that address.  
Then another official suggested we register as homeless, but get this...you can't register as homeless without first being registered so you can unregister - so that wouldn't have worked.  
Yet another government employee put us on to a slightly dubious accommodation facility where they issued the necessary paperwork for registration for people known to be there less than 90 days but they were full.  Yes, we did actually explore this option.
One of the last options was to register at a real homeless shelter for a week or so to get the paperwork to say we were at this address and take it from there.
So it seemed that no-one in the whole of the European Economic Community could register a car without a fixed place of abode at some point.
None of these option seemed right to us.  The bottom line was that we wanted to do what was right and honest.  We honestly didn't have anywhere to call home and we weren't allowed to be in Germany for more than 90 days.
The other part of the process of registering a car is obtaining at least the mandatory insurance (Halbpflicht = third party).
As we have always tried to be responsible for our use of vehicles on the road, having third party only insurance didn't seem quite right to us, so we intially requested a broker look at full comprehensive insurance.  Then we saw the price!  INSURANCE IS HELLISHLY EXPENSIVE in Germany and it doesn't seem fair either.  Compared to New Zealand the first policy we were quoted was 400% more expensive. 400%. Wow.
As you might have guessed, we were told you have to be registered to an address to be able to be insured too so this first quote wasn't even for us as the policy holders, it was under a German resident's name, and listed us as drivers only.  This appears to be accepted as perfectly legal with parents doing it for children etc.  The children in that instance benefit from the no claims bonus of their parent.  In our situation our car would have been seen as the German resident's 2nd vehicle and started at a measly 2 years no claims bonus discount to that end. 
None of our clean driving history would count towards the premium - the policy holder's does if at all.  You still are of no fixed abode so the only advantage that I see for insurance companies is that the responsibility for your whereabouts then falls on the policy holder.  You sign a direct debit form so the cost of the insurance is automatically deducted into the holder's account.  You are the same person (as one who might themselves want to hold a policy yourself); so in my mind this system still defies logic.
Then it gets complicated.  Sometimes you are still allowed to register your vehicle (or at least the one you paid for) in your name with the insurance in someone else's name and sometimes not.  If the later then you may feel the need to draw up a letter of ownership that acknowledges that you own the vehicle although the insurance and registration is in someone else's name.  Only the person with their name on the registration papers can sell the vehicle though so that adds another complication if like us you intend to own it for a fixed period of time and sell it thereafter.
So we decided that the only way to again, be honest, responsible and hopefully save ourselves some money (by being able to apply our no claims history) was to look for an insurance company that would work with us directly.  You have no idea how many we tried.  Local ones, national ones, UK ones, US ones, NZ ones, ex-pat ones etc.  Then we contacted the online insurer that the vendor of the vehicle used, and started the process of clarifying their policy.  They were fine with knowing that we were only at the address we used temporarily (not officially registered there) and were more focussed on it being in the same area as where the vehicle was to be registered.  They agreed to apply 10 years of our total no claims history to their policy.  We increased the forecast kilometres three-fold and they still came in at about half the price of the first one through the broker.
We had the insurance but still no permanent residency so seemed little further ahead to driving the vehicle we owned.
As I wasn't getting anywhere dealing with people or they were evading my questions I turned my focus to see where in the law it says you have to be registered as a person to register a vehicle.
The most pertinent one of around 5 or 6 inter-related pieces of legislation was the Fahrzeug Zulassungsverordnung (FZO) which I read several times from beginning to end, convincing myself that I had found a possible alternative (FZO 46.2.2) but not being sure, as I was no expert in German law let alone German language.  Oh, and you never, never, never tell a German official in any way shape or form that they don't know how to do their job!!!  EVER!  Just like you can not expect them to know anything about any related department or law as "it's not my job"!  
Anyway, a kind soul in a high ranking military position started to phone various registration offices for us to sound them out; and like us were told one thing by one person and another by another, being swept up a bit in bureaucracy themselves.  Then the day came that we were both convinced that there ought to be a way forward and I should go in for the third time to the car registration office and try my luck.
The short story was that it worked.  The slightly more useful discourse was that we had to speak to the boss, and instead of applying the specific law I found chose to apply a law meant for gypsies (Landfahrer) or those without a permanent residence outside of their mobile home (ohne festen Wohnsitz).  He was the only one in the entire registration office that knew about this possibility.  The only additional document we needed was an authority to appoint a person as an agent for service (Erklärung zum Empfangsberechtigten) that appears as the official address in the national vehicle register.  This person agrees to forward you any mail you receive regarding the registration, taxation or fines for your vehicle in a timely manner.  We already had that form filled out, much to the utter surprise of the gentleman, as this was part of the solution I was hoping to apply.  
For the record the forms you need to register a vehicle in Germany are:
* Ownership papers part 1 & 2 (Fahrzeugpapiere Teil 1&2)
* (Electronic) insurance policy code (eVB)
* Direct debit authority for tax (SEPA für Steuer)
* Passport (Reisepasse)
* Current warrant of fitness and emissions test (HU / AU)
and the most important document in this case is the appointment of an agent for service ("Erklärung zum Empfangsberechtigten" form). 
You will also need a set of license plates to have the official registration stickers placed on.  You can either have these pressed at any of the private plate pressing companies located near each government registration office or online prior to your visit. We already had ours.
Two weeks after our first frustrating attempt to register our vehicle we walked out with our official license plates etc to drive our own car.  It did not sink in for a while.  Someone said 'yes' and finally made it possible for us.  We had paid for the car, we had insured the car, and we had registered that car all without needing to be resident.  Who would have thought?!  

If this post helps you or someone you know register a vehicle more easily (as a non-resident), we'd love to hear from you - it would make our trials worth it.

11 August 2015

You write a blog post, it gets read, then it disappears into the depths of your website archives.
We'd like to think that over time our writings have delivered more and more helpful information to our readers, and there are posts worth featuring.
So here are a few links to the topics we've written about thus far:


General information about driving in New Zealand including driver's licenses and safety.



What decisions there are to make when buying or building a mobile home.


A majority of our posts in this category, expanded and illustrated, now feature in our e-book:



While neither of us are professionals, occassionally there is a photo we take worth sharing.



Ideas and issues that nationals may take for granted like medical care, what to do with rubbish, when shops are open, and our culture.



Random acts of kindness for the budget-conscience.  This is where you will also find our 12 monthly posts on what we were able to do for others in our community and beyond.

Inspired to do a RAOK?  Check out our current fund-raiser:

28 July 2015

The carrot cake mum made us as a celebration


This past week we've been in Auckland, in part so that both Atlas and I could study and undergo our class 2 driver license assessments.  We reasoned that if we are to stay on in Europe and travel around a little, after our initial 3 months in Germany, it makes sense to do so in a motorhome as it gives us transport and accommodation in one and greater flexibility.  As with here in NZ, the motorhomes that are large enough for us in Germany require more than a class one (light vehicle) license.  

Here's a summary (pdf download) of who may drive what in Germany if you are normally resident outside the European Union.


It was a bit of a splurge seeing as perhaps we could get away with only one of us able to drive a heavy vehicle, but we were heeding the sage advice of families who have gone before us who said it's best both adults qualify in case one or other is not well, tired or otherwise.  The drive up was a case and point - Atlas was only able to drive a couple of hours before he had back pain so I took over for the other 5.


Our instructor was more interested in making sure we had reached a high level of competency practically than the other companies we canvassed.  Unfortunately there was no discount for having already passed the 2L but that was more than made up for in the time he spent on the practical driving skills which were included in the course fee; and the one component that I really wanted to know I had fully mastered.


I wasn't looking forward to driving in Auckland at all, in fact I have only driven a car there once and had to navigate the southern motorway where a rice truck had met its fate, stalling traffic and increasing the natural disposition locals have for road rage.  Still I went in with an open mind and it turned out to be the least of my concerns.

Nothing could have prepared me for an old-model stick-shift Hino truck.  NOTHING!

After my first 1-hour lesson the stress was so much I shed a tear while swapping the drivers seat for the passenger's - so Atlas could take his turn in the hot seat.

There was no way in heaven or hell that I could see myself passing the final assessment.  I felt like a dunce.


How could people sitting other courses having done absolutely no practical truck driving and go straight to sitting their practical assessment?  That totally floors me.


Dad tried to remind me that getting your 2F is really an 'invitation to learn', just like when you get your full class 1 vehicle license you don't know all that you need to at that point either.  He even took me for a ride in his Iveco but it was so different it just didn't compare or instill me with a confidence boost for the next day.


For the second session at least the cab was familiar but boy was I pushed.  Instead of just crawling around narrow suburban streets full of parked cars I was hurled onto one of Auckland's busy streets - Dominion Road, and then onto the Southern motorway.  Thankfully we had missed the morning rush-hour traffic.  After that we drove all around the back of Mangere and Papatoetoe through road works, reversing, rain, industrial zones, more roundabouts, traffic lights and rural zones, taking the truck up to 6th gear and down again repeatedly and rapidly.  I liked the motorway and reversing best.


In some ways our instructor was a hard task master barking orders, raising his voice, and freely meeting out chastisement but on the other hand I began to appreciate that if I listened and did what he said I would be okay and rise to the challenge.   

Who would have thought that in one day I would progress from snail's pace in suburbia to moving on the motorway?  That's something I though was going to take me weeks. 


Getting my class 2 license was like a tug of war.  On the one hand I wanted the freedom that being able to drive a HT vehicle gave our family (and I didn't want to be the one that held us back from our dreams) but on the other I didn't really want to push myself that far outside of my comfort zone.  Having passed, I am under no illusion that I can get in any cab and drive but at least now I am more willing to the opportunity.  I could if I needed to.  I do want to practise more so that I gain confidence and skills in handling a variety of different vehicles, and am not quite sure how that might happen before we leave as there is still so much to be done otherwise and we don't know anyone specifically who has a class 2 vehicle.

Actually driving overseas will be another matter again though.  I am thinking we need to plan quite a few short trips in the first couple of weeks, off the beaten track so Atlas and I get used to: any vehicle we may beg, borrow or buy; and driving on the right hand side of the road too.


For those looking at preparing for their Class 2 license here are a few tips that I hope will help you:

  • drive as many other vehicles than your own in the weeks leading up to the training: both automatic and manual
  • drive a vehicle or two that sit higher on the road so you get used to the different panorama
  • really look at your own vehicle and it's condition - familiarise yourself with all the areas that require maintenance and take care of them: tyres, water, oil, windscreen wipers, etc.  
  • read the NZTA guides to Fatigue / Logbooks and general Heavy Transport driving.  These are a good overview to the basics which are covered in the Unit Standards albeit more pedantically. 
  • if you have the opportunity to ride-along with a friend or colleague take it or if passing a parked truck peek in the window at the layout of the cab.  Both will help you feel more comfortable sitting in the driver's seat.
  • it might even be a good discipline to start a log book with date, odometer start and finish readings, & reason for trip; and then add a start and finish location too to get you in the frame of mind of recording everything for your logbook component.
  • get at least your medical check before you start your course.  Trying to have this done at a GP that might be able to take you on day 1 of your course will most likely mean paying a lot extra.
  • although ultimately have your learner's license prior.  There is just so much detailed information that you need to process over the 2 - 4 days of your course that it's best not to have to cram for the theory test too.