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More about cars

Continuing with the driving license thread, Natasha finally has scheduled her practical test for sometime in November, and in the meantime, decided to take a lesson or two. The rationale is obviously not to practice driving, but to practice passing the test. At the first lesson, as soon as she pulled out, the instructor remarked that she made five mistakes in the process. Are you kidding me?! The guy is probably looking to scaring her into signing up for additional lessons. Yet, there is little doubt that an examiner during the test will be pedantic in looking for very specific behavior and actions and unreceptive to the notion of prior driving experience, so it makes sense to learn the right formula.

The silver lining in all this saga is that the UK driving license is valid for 30 years. So, when we retire to Tuscany in the future, we will have a valid EU license with no further need for tests and such.

The biggest reason to get a British license is, as many could have guessed, the cost of car insurance. The difference in premium is rather substantial between the “international” license and the UK one. Nonetheless, my renewal of our motor insurance yielded curious results.

When I first acquired a car insurance, that was through a broker over the phone. I did get the insurance companies in America to send me certified letters that were accepted here as no-claims proof, and my premium initially ended up at about £850 for the year. But when I got rid of Vauxhall and bought the BMW, that same broker gave me some nonsense about the new car falling into “high-value, high-performance” category, and even with the no-claims bonus, I had to shell out additional £400 for the policy change.

The broker sent me a renewal letter a few weeks ago, claiming that my policy with the company called Norwich Union was still competitive, and with an extra year of no claims, the cost would be somewhere around £1250. I went to the very good price comparison site, (I am not sure whether there is an American equivalent), plugged in all of my information, and one of the lowest quotes returned was from that same Norwich Union, but for considerably more agreeable under-£800. I called the broker to ask the obvious Why? question, and was assured that they quoted me the lowest price they could get. I called another broker – on advice of a co-worker – who promised to match the low rate, but with some exclusions from the desired package. I then called Norwich Union directly, mentioned the online quote, we kicked around variations of deductibles and optional covers, and ended up with a very comprehensive package for just £715.

The downside is the realization that I clearly overpaid last year. The upside is the confirmation that there is not a clear always-cheaper channel, but that the system can be worked to achieve satisfaction.

Staying on the motoring topic, it was high time for us to change oil in our BMW, so Natasha made inquiries at the nearby shops (which in UK are called garages). Recalling that oil change in the States (expensive synthetic oil and all) normally cost us no more than 30 bucks, we were a bit shocked to hear £65 quoted to us. In the end, Natasha found a shop that did the work for £50, but coupled with gasoline being clearly the most expensive commodity in comparison with the US, car ownership overall remains a very expensive comparative proposition.

And with newly insured and newly well-oiled car, we are off for our next travelling adventure. Kids’ half-term break is here, and we are spending most of it in Loire Valley. The next post will likely appear upon our return sometime next weekend.