Decision made; we found the vehicle of our dreams; paid the deposit; specified a few extras that we wanted the dealer to install before we collected her…
All that remains is to get her home.
When you buy a twenty-four-and-a-half tonne truck on a whim, there are a few technicalities to sort out. Our particular puzzle involves importing a Belgian army vehicle, which has never been road registered, from a company based in The Netherlands, into the U.K.. We are in Italy – and Mark’s lorry licence expired last September.
We had a couple of hoops to jump through!
Hoop No. 1 – Insurance To Get The Beast Home
- High Street Insurers – We tried all known high street insurance companies. NONE will insure a vehicle with a 9.6 litre engine. Most will insure only up to 7 litres; one would cover up to 9 litres but was adamant that it would not squeeze up to 9.6.
- Assurantiekantoor Alessi – A Dutch company, would insure us on the chassis VIN number, but not in the country of registration (your home country). They will definitely be a useful contact going forward, since they will insure in some far-flung countries not covered by many insurers. They will also continue cover if your MOT runs out abroad, so long as a local garage inspects the vehicle for road-worthiness and provides a receipt for the works carried out. On our travels so far, we have been forced to repatriate Big Blue annually for her MOT, which is a pain. On this policy, we would need to get U.K. insurance to return to the U.K.. It is legal to drive a vehicle with no MOT directly to a testing station, so we would be fine if we could organise an MOT appointment to coincide with repatriation. Unfortunately, given the vehicle type, no test centre capable of certifying a lorry had an MOT appointment available for at least three months. We emailed the police to see if we can drive with no plates to a test centre and are awaiting a reply. So, this would solve part of our problem, but still wouldn’t get The Beast all the way home.
- Adrian Flux – the Maestri of insurance for unusual or modified vehicles. The good news was that they would insure us. The bad news was that on arrival in the U.K., we would have no plates and no MOT, so we were not road legal unless driving to a test centre – which left us with the same problem as above.
- The Dealer Could Ship The Beast to The UK – on a flat-bed truck at a cost of approximately £900. This solved part of the problem, but only got The Beast to Purfleet. The best quote we got for onward shipping from Purfleet to Bournemouth was approximately £600. The worst around £1500. We still had no MOT and plates.
- Temporary Dutch Plates from R.D.W. – The Dutch equivalent of D.V.L.A was very helpful, especially when our Dutch friend, Casper, called on our behalf! €191.50 would get us temporary plates, which include insurance for a couple of weeks. The hitch with this was that the vehicle had to be tested before the plates were issued. Her being Belgian, not Dutch, did not seem to be a problem. The issue was that we were on a tight timeline; we had to fit in collecting the truck between a succession of guests coming out to join us in Italy! We were concerned that if she failed the test, we would simply find ourselves in the same position except that precious time would have elapsed.
- Temporary Austrian Plates Sourced by the Dealer – For €550 plus VAT, the dealer said that they could source temporary Austrian plates, which include insurance for three weeks. We believe that this has solved all our problems, unless there is another curve ball… This is the option that we are currently running with.
Hoop No. 2 – Mark’s Lorry Licence
We let Mark’s L.G.V. licence lapse last September because, “What’s the point. We won’t need that again!”
Fools! We should have guessed that within six months, we would own a truck.
Contact with the D.V.L.A. confirmed that, since the U.K. was effectively still part of the E.U., Mark could have his medical in Italy. This saved him a flight home.
Of course, it was not straightforward. My friend Ellie went to the Post Office and brought us two copies each of the relevant forms D2 and D4 when she came to visit us in Monte Rosa. Mark took a trip to the local Doctor, who adheres strictly to Standard Italian Opening Hours. This means that he appears at the local surgery on the first and third Wednesday of the month, but not after a full moon, only when the fancy takes him, and so long as Mercury is rising. You can’t make an appointment.
The consultation was kindly translated by a French Canadian patient, married to an Italian, who fortuitously happened to be in the surgery at the time. The Doctor is lovely, but looks like a tramp. He wears a dirty shirt, peppered with cigarette burns. However, unlike when our friend Caroline visited him to have a splinter removed from under her fingernail, the Doctor did not sing to Mark to calm him.
Ellie kindly took home the completed forms with her and posted them to D.V.L.A. in the U.K.. At least, this removed Air Mail and the capricious Italian postal system from the equation.
When Mark phoned the D.V.L.A. to check progress, he was told that the form had been returned to our address in England because there was a problem with the eye test. Mark’s brother posted the form back out to us in Italy and we deciphered that the problem was that in Italy, eyesight is measured out of 10. It’s the decimal system, see? In the U.K. apparently only the Snellen scale, measured out of 6 is acceptable to D.V.L.A..
We praised Ellie’s foresight in bringing us two copies of the forms and took a trip down the mountain to an optician, employing the ‘drive around until you find one that is open’ method. The Italian optician also filled in the form out of 10, but was persuaded by Mark’s Italian patois and a photocopy of the Snellen scale to re-do it out of 6. We posted it back, this time via the capricious Italian postal system and Mark duly phoned the D.V.L.A. after a respectable interval to check progress. They told him that they had received the form, everything was in order and that he could drive an L.G.V. without the physical licence.
That is a good job, since the physical licence is currently in the post to us, and has been missing in action for a couple of weeks. At least he is legal to drive The Beast if the licence doesn’t arrive; let’s just hope he doesn’t get stopped…
Hoop No. 3 – Layover Insurance in the U.K.
Once The Beast is parked up with my friend Wayne, who is doing the conversion, she will not be driven. She needs to be insured for fire, theft and malicious damage – especially as she will become more valuable as the conversion progresses.
- Footman James – They do specialise in flash cars, so it came as no surprise that they would not cover The Beast, unless she was kept in a LOCKED BUILDING. C’mon, we’d need an aircraft hangar!
- Adrian Flux – Quoted £380 for eight months.
- 2Gether – never got back to us.
Hoop No. 4 – The Thatcham Immobiliser
As a condition of the insurance, The Beast needs a Thatcham Immobiliser fitted. This would seem straightforward, until you start ringing approved Thatcham Immobiliser fitters and telling them that you’re near Bournemouth and it’s a 24-Volt system.
“I only do 12-Volt mate. I turned up at a 24-Volt once and couldn’t do it.”
“Yes, I am a Thatcham Approved fitter. No, I don’t fit Thatcham systems.”
“CHRISTCHURCH?!” “Nah, mate. It’s a bit too far.” That was from a Thatcham fitter based in Portsmouth, fifty miles away, who advertised a nationwide service.
At least ten fitters whom we contacted didn’t even reply. Thankfully, we eventually found a fitter in Bournemouth, who seems confident that six-and-a-half miles is an acceptable distance to travel and that 24-Volt is not a problem. We shall see!
Some More Hoops – Bringing A Vehicle Into the U.K. From Abroad
- N.O.V.A. – an online Notification of Vehicle Arrival must be completed within two weeks of arrival.
- V.A.T. – Since the U.K. is still effectively governed by E.U. rules during the Transition Period and The Beast was purchased in the E.U., we don’t have to pay additional V.A.T. to import her. From 2021, this might be different. However, one person at H.M.R.C. remained adamant that we would have to pay V.A.T. twice. DO YOUR RESEARCH – since you cannot rely on being given the correct information from official bodies!
- Registration – We must register The Beast and get a log book from D.V.L.A. using the V55/5 form. It is more expensive, since she is an ex-army vehicle with no log book or registration documents. Like Paddington Bear, she arrived only with a letter from the Belgian army. Registration and change of use is a minefield that has the potential to go horribly wrong if you’re not careful. We have been very grateful for the advice from Patricia and Neil Hay on how to go about this properly – they advised that best route is to register her initially as a truck then go through change of use to a motor home. It was a surprise to us to find that of all the official bodies that we contacted, the D.V.L.A. supplied the most consistent, efficient and correct information – and were friendly and helpful too!
- S.O.R.N. – Statutory Off Road Notification to confirm that she is off the road, otherwise we will be liable for road tax and insurance.
- Conformity – A very complicated, multi-page form that must be filled in with the technical specification of the vehicle. The great news is that IF your vehicle is >3.5 T AND >25 years old, YOU DON’T NEED ONE! Older vehicles definitely have some advantages. Although we had a few arguments about this with V.O.S.A., who should have known their facts – another ill-informed official body. They insisted that we DID need to do this and incited a panic that involved calling Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden, to see if they could provide a technical spec for one of their thirty-year-old lorries… V.O.S.A. was WRONG and we DON’T need it – but Volvo in Gothenburg have sent it anyway. How fab is that?!
So, we believe that we have jumped through all of the hoops and got our ducks in a row. This summary can’t possibly convey all the dead ends, unreturned calls and mis-information that we have had to contend with. However, we will know if it all works out when Mark goes to Rotterdam to collect The Beast at the beginning of March.
Unexpected Curve Ball Hoop No. 5 – Coronavirus
All of a sudden, northern Italy has become the European hotspot for Coronavirus. We feel quite safe at 1800m up a mountain in the Aosta Valley, however, Italian trains are being refused entry at the Austrian border, the train station in Milan is closed and the famous Venice masked carnival finished early. Several cities in Veneto and Lombardy are in lock down.
Mark’s plan is to travel to Rotterdam by train to collect The Beast next week, so we’ll see what happens!
Despite all of this, I am pleased to say that the excitement of owning The Beast has always overridden the problems – and we haven’t ever reached the stage of, “Let’s just give up on the whole thing.” It has crossed our minds that we have not chosen an easy life. I am sure that as the project progresses, there could be occasions where we get closer to thinking about jacking it all in. Nevertheless, I am sure that the promise of the adventures that she will bring and our almost insane obsession with “There’s always a solution!” will see us through.
Provided that Mark does make it to Holland, our fingers are crossed that The Beast is mechanically sound enough to convey Mark from Rotterdam to Bournemouth.
Because how do you get European Recovery for a twenty-four-and-a-half tonne truck?
- Volvo N10 Spec
Join us next time for some fun Italian style, as we visit the Orange Festival in Ivrea.
To see what we get up to when we spend a winter in Italy, check out my new book Pups on Piste – A Ski Season in Italy.