Buying a Camper in Europe

First of all, it's not easy. If you were from Europe and wanted to buy a vehicle in the States, could you? How would you register it without an address? The same is true in Europe, and the reason that the last time we decided to tour Europe in an RV, we shipped one from the US and kept it registered in our home state of Montana. Luckily for us, Montana doesn't require proof of insurance to renew registration, so everything was easy. But because Montana has no sales tax, registration fees for newer vehicles are hefty. Out of staters can register in Montana by forming an LLC. This is also expensive but may be cheaper than maintaining US insurance on a vehicle. But enough of that.

After enjoying our 2008 Roadtrek Adventurous in Europe for five years, we sold it to another US couple in the fall of 2013. At the time we thought we wouldn't be back to Europe to RV for 3-4 years. Fast forward to January, 2015, and we had changed our minds. The Euro was down from $1.39 to $1.08 and we were missing Europe badly. This time though the tourist insurance for imported vehicles had tripled for full comprehensive coverage--$300 a week for a vehicle valued at $55,000. We decided we needed to find an older camper that we could afford to drive with liability only insurance. Looking at the US market there was literally nothing much beyond VW campers and they had no bathroom. Europe had been so affordable for us in the past because we had spent only about 25% of our time in campgrounds, but we couldn't do that without being self contained. So we started looking at the European market.

In 2013 we had met a couple from Colorado in Barcelona who had purchased an older camper from BW Campers in Amsterdam. They were pretty happy but had had some mechanical issues—but then they had bought a 2000 model with 120,000 miles. I had read about BW in a couple of books Take Your RV to Europe and Traveler's Guide to European Camping (both very dated now.) BW sold you a camper, with or without a guarantee and/or buy back, and they kept the registration in their name. You paid the registration and the insurance costs and were given a bill of sale. The downside was that Netherlands registration is 700E for 6 months and the VAT is 21% (though included in the posted price.) Other people we had heard had been able to buy in Germany—but all the leads I had ended in dead ends.

So we took the plunge as BW had a 2001 Fiat Rotec camper that was fully self contained and only 18 ft. long with 48,000 miles on it. After living in our 23ft. Roadtrek we knew that we could manage just fine in less room, and I wanted something that would fit in a single parking place. We put down a 2500E deposit on the 16,500E purchase price. BW wouldn't negotiate the price but we did get them to install a power vent and LED lights. This is a European camper so it is manual shift and is diesel. The diesel is great since it is less expensive everywhere except Great Britain. Unfortunately, being an older model there is no air conditioning and no power locks. Both, I am sure, we will miss. It does have a queen size over the cab bed (downside—the ladder to get into it). The dinette also makes into a bed that is a full double due to the clever slide-out supports. The 21 gallon water tank is under the dinette so if the weather dips below freezing for a while that won't be a concern. The gray tank is a similar size. European campers do not have black tanks but use a cassette system with the “black” tank pulled out through the side of the camper to empty. Ours is 5 gallons which is about maximum since you have to lift it out and full that is about 45 lbs. We have a luggage cart to wheel it to the dump.

Our camper was in excellent physical condition and just as BW described. Rene also has helped us install an extra door lock and thoroughly demonstrated how everything works. He also explained that many people decide not to continue the Dutch registration but drive on either export plates or expired plates with no problems. At this point we are sticking to paying the fee.

Rene is also helping us with the propane tank issue. Nearly every country in Europe uses a different propane tank type which becomes a serious problem for long term travelers. The tanks are not refillable and must be exchanged, but our German tanks can only be exchanged in Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Belgium. In the last few years a couple of companies have been marketing a replacement tank that is refillable at gas stations from the same pumps used for LPG cars. The tank may require a different regulator and a permanent filling hose mounted through the camper wall and then the 4 adapters that allow it to be filled in the various European countries. All this is not cheap and cost about $300 for one tank with about a 6 gallon capacity. We will then keep one of the German tanks as a back up. The refillable tank will pay for itself over a few years in that the exchange tank system is more than twice as expensive per gallon of LPG than pumping it at a gas station. We ordered ours from Alumagas in Germany and had it sent to BW—shipping was only 27E. Rene installed it in under two hours and Mark said it was easy to fill. It holds about 7 gallons of propane so that was more than we thought it would. It should get us through 2-3 weeks at a time unless we need a lot of heat.

We also decided from our previous experience in Europe that a solar panel was a necessity. Renee had quoted 1500E to install one 100 watt panel. We thought that excessive so we brought a solar controller and a Trimetric battery meter from the US. Renee pointed us to a nearby motorhome sales place and they happened to have a 140 watt panel on sale. So panel, brackets, wire holder, ran about 300E. Installation there (without a meter) was 500E but they were fully booked for the next month. Mark thought he could do the installation as the coach battery is very accessible under the dinette seat and he watched Handi Bob install our solar in our BigFoot truck camper just 6 months ago. Actually, the installation went quite well and everything is working. The hardest part was finding all the circuit breakers, wire screws connectors, etc. We wish we had brought those with us too.

So after five weeks in our European camper we are pretty happy. We wish we could have gotten something newer just to have the cab AC and electric locks. We actually saw a super used 2009 Fiat van camper with a permanent bed, dinette, full bath etc. and only 6 meters long at De Jong Campers, but it was 38,000E. Way cheaper than you could buy something like that in the States (remember tax is included) but still more than we want to drive around without comprehensive insurance. We still want to add some sort of kill switch to our Fiat. Our biggest fear is that someone might steal the whole vehicle—it's rare, but it happens. Mark thinks ours is too old to be attractive but I remember that there are lots of families in southern Europe living in old vans for whom our camper would be a huge improvement. I imagine that in the underground community finding someone to change the VIN and do the paperwork wouldn't be that hard. To me the kill switch would be sort of like carrying bear spray when hiking—yes, it might work, no you probably don't need it, but it provides a little of peace of mind. Happy Camping where ever you roam. Vicki