Before you head out on the road, make sure you know where you are going. My favorite website to view my options of getting to my desired destination is Google Maps. It will show you a variety of options to get anywhere by car, train or bus. It also gives walking time in between stops. This is a place to start when planning a day out.
Each military member is allowed to import one car. If you choose to bring a second car over, you will have to pay out of pocket, unless you are dual military. [i] If you have a car that is 10 years old or older, it is not likely to pass the MOT test (I will discuss later) so you probably should leave it at home. There are plenty of cars available on-base that exchange hands every couple of years.
If you have a SUV or truck, you can drive it over here but may find driving on the roads and parking difficult. A lot of people say "if lorry (semis) drivers can drier here than you should bring it," but one thing that they fail to notice is that they have been trained to do so and you haven't been. They do have SUVs over here but they are not the full-size ones and they are also narrower than the models sold in the US.
Also now that the road tax is included in your COLA and not reimbursed, you may want to reconsider bringing your car especially if it emits large amounts of CO2. Americans are often targeted by crime because of the vehicles that they drive make them stand out. Be sure to lock your vehicles and houses, even when you are home, and do not store anything of value in your car (uniforms, CDs, etc.).
Make sure that your insurance will cover your car over here. If not, you can try www.confused.com, to compare prices on insurance in England. Do not store the V-5 and insurance in the car because the person in possession of this can be considered the owner. If you get a ticket or are in an accident, you will be able to bring it to the police station within 7 days.
People that are learning to drive often have red “L” magnets on their cars until they pass, then they may put a green “P” magnet on the car. The “L” is mandatory but the “P” is not. Please be alert around these drivers. As a USAFE Drivers’ Permit holder, you cannot teach anyone to drive as you need to be over 21 years old, have a full British or E.U. license, for the type of vehicle for at least 3 years minimum and the permit you have does not apply.[ii] Also people cannot get their licenses until they are 17 years or older.
[i] RAF Lakenheath, “Vehicle Importation,” accessed May 31, 2013, http://www.lakenheath.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-070109-003.ppt
Car seats are another big issue that you may come across. The rule is you can only use an U.S. car seat in in an U.S. car and an U.K./E.U. car seat in any car.[i] “Any child used in the U.K. must conform to the standard ECE R129, which is usually denoted with the letter E in a circle and a number (the number indicates the country in which the seat was tested and approved - the U.K. is 11).”[ii] It is illegal to have rear facing car seats in the front seat. Children over the age of 3 can travel for short distances in a lap belt in cases such as when riding in a taxi but you should bring a car seat with you.[iii] European car seats must have a minimum 3-point harness, frontal and rearward and overturning tests and the buckle lock when all parts are engaged. U.S. car seats as a minimum must have a 5-point harness, and frontal impact tests. Both require that a child be able to be released by the push of one button.[iv] It is mandatory for babies to stay rear facing until they are 15 months old. The car seat regulation vary from country to country so check before you travel.
[i] Military Installations, “Motor Vehicles,” accessed May 31, 2013, http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/MOS/f?p=MI:CONTENT:0::::P4_INST_ID,P4_CONTENT_TITLE,P4_CONTENT_EKMT_ID,P4_CONTENT_DIRECTORY:4695,Motor%20Vehicles,22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.0,34
[ii] Child Car Seats, “Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed May 31,2013, http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/MOS/f?p=MI:CONTENT:0::::P4_INST_ID,P4_CONTENT_TITLE,P4_CONTENT_EKMT_ID,P4_CONTENT_DIRECTORY:4645,Motor%20Vehicles,188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.0,34http://www.childcarseats.org.uk/faqs/index.htm#international
[iii] GOV.UK, “Child Car Seats: The Law,” accessed May 31, 2013, https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules/when-a-child-can-travel-without-a-car-seat
[iv] Safer Carseats, “Car Seat Standards,” accessed May 2013, http://safercarseats.org/car-seat-standards
Traveling to the Continent
If you are going to be driving to Europe, you will need to get an International Drivers’ Permit. You will need to get it at DMV.org and you can also find more information about them there.[i] You must also have a “GB” sticker on car when traveling to Europe. You will also need to research the requirements that other countries have because they do vary. You can see the requirements here. For example, France requires that you have a reflective jacket in your car.[ii]
[i] DMV, “International Driver Permits,” accessed June 24, 2013, http://www.dmv.org/international-driver-permits.php
[ii] AA, “Driving Abroad,” accessed August 2, 2013, http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/general_advice.html
The Road Tax is similar to buying tags for your license plate and is based on the CO2 emissions. It is also renewed annually. If you are caught without road tax and/or MOT, you can be fined £2,000, go to court and have your car impounded or crushed. You must have a current MOT (see below), insurance and all of your information on your V-5 (registration) must be correct to get road tax.
Now that the base is no longer reimbursing you for road tax, this is a way that you can save money in the long run. If you want to see if it is worth you bringing your car over, check the table of road tax based on CO2 emissions. At the moment, bringing over a Jeep Grand Cherokee will cost £490 per year for tax where as a Honda Accord costs £175.[i] This may be another way to save some money in the long run.
When you bring an American vehicle into the UK, you will need to get a light conversion. This is due to the direction that the lights are mounted to shine on, because the U.K. drives on the opposite side of the road, the lights need to be adjusted to accommodate this. The light conversion includes mounting a fog light at the rear center to the right hand side of the vehicle, light control switch must light up when the fog light is on and must be seen from driver’s seat, parking lights must be white (not amber), angle the headlights to match the English cars and rear turning signals must flash amber.
Tinted Windows must all 75% of light on the front screen and 70% of light in the front side windows. The rear windscreen and passenger windows do not have an amount. You can get fined if your windows are not within the limits and you will be unable to drive your car until it is rectified.
You will be given a British License plate for your car. Some people have mentioned that they thought these make Americans stand out because they all start with the same letters but this is because they are processed at the same processing center. The way that they give out license plate numbers is the first two letters are where the plates are issued from, the next two numbers are when the vehicle was manufactured or in the case of imported cars, when they came to England and the last three letters are chosen randomly.
All vehicles that are imported into the U.K. require an inspection which depends on the age of the car. There is a one-time inspection, known as an SVA, which is for cars 0-36 months old. This is because these cars do not require MOTs in the UK.
A MOT is an annual inspection to ensure your car meets safety and environmental standards. You are required to have a MOT for cars older than 3 years old. The fees range from £30-60 based on your vehicle type. For more information, see the Gov.uk website. If your car fails this, you will be given a list of what needs to be fixed, you must get them fixed and then get the car retested.
Anyone who drives a motorcycle will need to have extra training from base.
Here is a page full of info for those that will be using a motorcycle.
FYI: be aware of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, they might go to the front of traffic and it is allowed.