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Sun 17 Jul 2016

Living in Europe in a Campervan

Buying a Vehicle in the EU

In Germany, like many other EU countries, the number plate on a vehicle indicates its registration and insurance status. German residents register their vehicle to their home address: when they move house, they have to update their registration, and up until 2015 this meant getting new plates. Since that date, I think new plates are only required when you move to a new state. Anyway, this is no good if you don't live in Germany. In that case, you can get special 'export plates' when you purchase the vehicle. These plates allow residents of other countries to buy vehicles in Germany. As with normal residents plates, you must have insurance before you can register a vehilce this way. Export plates normally valid for three months, in which case you do not need road tax. You can get export plates which are valid for up to a year, as long as you can show you have insurance for that period, and you are then required to pay German road tax.

Registering in the UK

When importing into the UK, you will have to pay import duty of 10% of the purchase price, and if the car is new (less than 6 months old or it has less than 6000 km on the clock) you will also have to pay VAT (if you already paid VAT on purchase, you would then be entitled to claim that back from the country where you made the purchase).

Checklist for Buying a Second Hand Campervan

MIRO - Mass in Running Order is the unladen weight of the campervan ie the weight as it left the factory including furniture but not occupants
MTPLM - Maximum Technically Permissable Laden Mass is the maximum the van can weigh with all your items inside it, including occupants
Payload - MTPLM minus MIRO is the maximum permissible payload ie the carrying capcity of the van - you need to make sure this is above what you expect to take with you
Documentation - an owner who has looked after their camper is more likely to keep the service documents. Check for owners manual and warranty documents, service receipts and invoices, log book, Tax and MOT Certificate, VRM documentation. Check what repairs have been done recently. If a new exhaust or cam belt has been recently fitted, you shouldn't have to worry about those for a while.
Tyres - Motorhome tyres are at greater risk of blow outs due to infrequent usage. If a campervan is left standing for a while, the rubber in the tyres can degrade. Check tyre walls for cracks, in addition to checking how much tread remains. When checking the tread, look for unusual wear patterns - having the wheels realigned is a simple job but still something to barter with.
Fluid checks - oil, water, fuel and ensure there are no leaks.
Sealants - these can be costly to replace.
Dampness and moisture - the bane of older campervans, moisture damage can be very difficult to repair. The damp smell is the obvious giveaway, but will be easily disguised by airing the vehicle and/or use of air freshener. Other signs include bumps on panels, mould, springy floors, discolouration and foot mats around the door.
Interior - check the condition of carpets, cupboards, handles and upholstery. Cushions should not be too soft if they also serve as a sleeping surface. Check that beds can be assembled easily and are solid and secure when in place. If either of the front seats are swivelling "captain's chairs", examine the mechanism and that they work without too much play. Pay attention to extra features added by a previous owner - are they covering up something?
Bodywork - look for dents, scratches and patched up paintwork. Most older vans will have rust somewhere unfortunately. Look under the arches and in the joins of the bodywork, around all the doors and hinges, and the edges of the floor inside - lift carpet if possible. Look particularly for shoddy repairs where rust is going to quickly return. Inspect everywhere for less obvious rust and paint bubbles, holes and places where filler has been used.
Cabin - sealant on the windows, doors and joints needs to be re-done dependant on the type of sealant used. Oil based sealant needs replacing after 5 years, acrylic after 10, and silicone after 20. Find out when this was last done. Check that opening doors and windows are still well sealed.
Equipment - bring a gas cylinder and 12v battery so you can check the operation of the hob, grill and oven. Check additional sockets and lights, the heating system, inspect battery leads and connectors for damage. Ideally plug the van into a mains supply and use a test plug to verify that the sockets have been wired correctly. Ensure the water pump will deliver water to all taps including shower. Check the condition of any mastic seals in the washroom especially any surrounding the shower tray. Inspect the water tanks - normally there will be two, one for fresh water and the other for 'grey' (ie waste water from the sink and shower). How easy is it to empty the grey tank, and fill up the fresh tank? Similar for the toilet if fitted.
Mechanical leaks - inspect for leaks around the transmission (particularly if it's an automatic - do not buy if you suspect a leaking automatic transmission), brake components and radiator
Chassis and running gear - repairs to the chassis and suspension can be expensive so be sure to inspect these areas thoroughly. Look for signs of corrosion, don't be afraid to press parts with your hand or a stick looking for anything that crumbles. Newly-painted patches and fresh underseal are often indicators of past problem areas. Look to see if grease nipples appear to have been neglected. If you intend to tow a trailer, make sure the hitch mechanism moves freely and the rubber gaiter is not split.
Engine - Inspect the engine bay for signs of any leaks. Look for cracks in rubber hoses, and rust on metal pipes. Check the radiator, particularly at the bottom where decay usually sets in first. Remove the oil cap and look inside for any signs of white residue, which is often indicative of a blown head gasket (bad). Start the engine listen for any unusual noises. Look for any excessive amounts of white or black smoke coming from the exhaust, both are bad signs (white can indicate an oil leak into the fuel, black a water leak). Check the level of water in the reservoir before the test drive, then check it again after - if the level has dropped at all, that would be a very bad sign. When test driving, find a carpark or other large area where you can turn the vehicle with the steering wheel at full lock, listening out for any kind of knocking sounds.
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