Moving overseas can be stressful, but knowing what to expect – especially where expenses are concerned— can help you manage your family’s budget. AHRN.com reached out to military spouse blogger Melissa Gilliam Shaw to share her experiences budgeting for personal vehicle expenses in Germany.
Vehicle expenses are one of the largest single expenses categories your family should consider when preparing for — and budgeting for — your PCS to Germany. The military usually pays for your family to ship a single vehicle to Germany, but there are smaller, hidden expenses related to owning and operating a vehicle overseas that you should anticipate when building your family’s budget.
Selling a Vehicle
Because the military will probably only pay for your family to ship one vehicle overseas, you’ll need to make decisions about any other vehicles you own. We had the military ship the newer of our two vehicles to Germany, and we took the older vehicle to CarMax for a quick-and-easy resale.
Because the car we sold before our PCS was high mileage already, selling it didn’t cost us anything. If your family will be forced to sell a higher-value, lower-mileage vehicle, you may want to account for that loss in your family’s PCS budget.
The vehicle that you’ll ship overseas must be completely empty and very clean when you deliver it to port. Unless you have the time and supplies to detail the vehicle yourself, you’ll want to budget for the expenses related to deep-cleaning the vehicle before you move. We had our car professionally detailed, just to be safe.
You should also make sure that you’ve removed all personal effects from the vehicle. Even things like car chargers for your phone or GPS unit must be removed. The only items they’ll ship inside the vehicle are those items that are directly useful in the case of an emergency (spare tire, tire iron, first aid kit, etc.).
Proof of Ownership
You’ll need your proof of ownership for your vehicle when you deliver it to port. We accidentally left our vehicle title in our filing cabinet when our household goods were picked up in Colorado. When we arrived in Baltimore to ship the vehicle, we realized we didn’t have its title with us. We were frantic!
We had to pay for expedited processing and overnight shipping of a replacement title from the license office in my husband’s home state. Don’t be us. Make sure you carry your title or other proof of ownership paperwork in your PCS binder. If you forget it, you could incur unnecessary PCS expenses.
It’s wise to budget for any small repair work on your vehicle before leaving the U.S.A., since repair work on U.S.-specification vehicles overseas is more expensive than the same work done stateside. Need a new muffler? Have a cracked bumper? Has your windshield seen better days? Budget for those repairs now, before you PCS, and it’ll save your family money down the line.
Getting Your Vehicle to Port
When your vehicle is ready to ship, you’ll need to deliver it to the nearest port. Your basic expenses for transporting the vehicle to port will be reimbursed by the military, but it’s possible that you’ll incur additional, non-reimbursable expenses as well. Want to tag on an extra night to catch up with old friends en route? That’ll tap into your personal budget. Want to eat at nice restaurants instead of hitting the drive-thru? That could exceed your daily food allowance.
The bottom line here is that when you get information from the military about your vehicle’s delivery to port, read the fine print and budget accordingly.
Buying a “Hoopty”
A “hoopty” is a well-loved, used car that a service member drives while stationed OCONUS, and then sells to another soldier before PCSing stateside at the end of his or her tour. Hoopties are usually high-mileage, German-specification vehicles that get cycled and recycled through the overseas military community.
Most installations have a Hoopty Lot where families put their vehicles up for sale, and many posts also have an MWR Hoopty Bid Lot. The MWR Bid Lot is a great opportunity to bid on hoopties that have been donated to the MWR Auto Skills Center. Auto Skills fixes the cars up and makes them available for bid to U.S. I.D. Card Holders.
We scored a reliable, late model BMW with no bells or whistles (read: the heat doesn’t usually work and there’s no A/C) for less than $2,000 from the MWR Bid Lot. And thanks to USAA’s multiple-vehicle auto insurance discount, our annual auto insurance actually fell when we bought the BMW, making it cheaper to own two vehicles than to own just one.
German Safety Kit, Safety Vest, and Parking Time Card
German law requires all vehicles to carry a safety kit and a safety vest in the cabin at all time. AAFES sells German safety kits and safety vests at gas stations. Safety kits cost around €30, and safety vests are just a few dollars each. Your family will need at least one safety vest and one safety kit in each vehicle you drive in Germany.
Another small expense to account for in your vehicle budget is a parking time card. Many German parking spaces have posted maximum time limits. You place your parking time card in your dashboard so that it’ visible to the Polizei, stating what time you initially parked your vehicle in the spot. A basic parking card costs a dollar or two, and a nice plastic card costs around €5.
German Vehicle Registration
Finally, each vehicle you own in Germany has to be registered there. Our registration costs were approximately $40 per vehicle, and the entire process was handled on-post.
Owning a vehicle in Germany is a big responsibility and an even bigger convenience! Once you get settled in your German duty station, having transportation is a big perk for soldiers and for spouses. I hope that this post helps your family understand what to expect — and how to budget — for vehicle ownership overseas.
Preparing for an OCONUS PCS? Check out Melissa’s other OCONUS PCS Budgeting Tips:
- Budgeting For Your PCS To Germany
- Budgeting For Your PCS To Germany: Traveling With A Pet
- Budgeting For Your PCS To Germany: Adapting To EU Utilities
Meet Your Contributor:
Melissa Gilliam Shaw is a freelance marketing professional and the creator of MilliGFunk: a blog about resilience, adventures, and deeply planted roots. Melissa’s husband is an officer in the Army, and they live in Germany with their daughter and their scruffy rescue dog who still hasn’t forgiven them for making her fly cargo from the U.S.A. to Germany. You can find Melissa on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Bloglovin’, LinkedIn, and Google+.