Buying a car in Europe still has its pluses

BUYING a new car in Europe these days isn't the good deal of the past, but it can still make sound economic sense. The higher the car price, the larger the savings. A Mercedes-Benz 190E with 2.3-liter engine and automatic transmission, for example, carries a list price in the United States of $27,100. Delivered in Stuttgart, the same car costs $25,990, plus $675 in customs duty. A 300E, which sells in the US for $39,500, goes out the factory door at $36,300 in West Germany. A top-of-the-line 560SEC, which sells in the US for $68,000, can be bought at the factory for $62,250, in all cases plus customs duty. Whether bought in Europe or the US, a gas-guzzler tax of $1,500 accompanies the 560SEC.

At the other end of the scale, a two-door gasoline-engine, five-speed Volkswagen Jetta, base-priced at $9,290 in the US, sells for $8,906 in West Germany, including duty. The base-line four-speed Vanagon camper, which lists in the US for $16,660, carries a tourist-delivery price of $15,539. The European value-added tax is refundable on all factory-delivered cars.

Why buy a new European import in the US and pick it up in Europe?

Besides the obvious issue of money, you can take the car on vacation. If you've ever priced a car rental in Europe, you'll recognize the cost advantage immediately. Collision, liability, and comprehensive insurance coverage can be obtained from the manufacturer or from an independent insurance company. The cost averages under $150 for 15 days up to around $260 for a month.

Gasoline is no problem, because the catalytic converter emission-control device is not fitted to the car until it is ready for shipment to the US. Unleaded fuel is still a rare commodity in Western Europe.

At least 10 European car manufacturers have overseas delivery programs for Americans, including various models of Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Renault, Volvo, Saab, and Volkswagen.

A base model Saab 9000 turbo with manual transmission costs $26,025 in the US. The same car, without a radio, sells for $22,965 in Europe, including duty, insurance, and all shipping and port charges. A base Saab 900, which lists for $14,395 in the US, goes for $12,705 in Europe. The Swedish carmaker ships from four ports in Europe to eight ports in the US.

Depending on the manufacturer, delivery systems vary from casual to VIP. Mercedes-Benz and BMW have a good reputation for their full-service, formal overseas delivery program.

If you plan to go to Europe, and if you are thinking about buying a new European car, find out about the overseas delivery program for the manufacturer and model of your liking. Visit a local dealer of your choice or request specific literature about the process by writing to the manufacturer directly.

Start the purchase process three or four months before leaving. Although the procedure can take as little as a few weeks, it is best to give yourself the maximum amount of time so as to minimize the possibility of anything disrupting the purchase process. A deposit will be required when you place the order.

When you arrive in Europe, all the paperwork will be complete and the car all set to go. You might want to get an international driver's license before leaving the US. It is not a necessity in Europe, but it is easily obtained from the American Automobile Association and is a very useful form of identification.

By working through one of the normal foreign purchase programs, you are virtually assured that your car will meet all US safety and emissions standards. Up-grading a car to meet US emissions and safety standards is usually prohibitive in cost.

Become familiar with a specific manufacturer's factory locations and standard shipping ports to help adjust your plans to minimize delivery costs. Have a general idea of your travel details before your first dealer visit.

The optimum situation would be to start the trip in the city where the factory is located and end it at a major port. It is also more fun to pick it up directly at the factory and to look over the process that produced your car.

How many motorists take advantage of buying and using a car in Europe before having it shipped to the US? In the first 11 months of 1984, Mercedes-Benz sold 2,935 cars through its tourist-delivery channel. In 1985, the figure fell to 1,988, but moved up slightly in 1986 to 2,010.

Don't buy a car in Europe because you expect to save a huge bundle of money, because you won't. But the value of the experience may be compensation enough.

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