Ask Jack: Cross the Pond or Ditch the Ride?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

If you’re in Manhattan on a Wednesday night, you need to head to Arthur’s in the village and catch the 10 p.m. set by soul singer Allyson Williams. She has one of the all-time great voices, expressive and touching, and she has a rotating group of crack musicians backing her up.

A few years ago, I sprawled out in Arthur’s in the middle of a post-auto-show drinking binge when Allyson decided to cover Chaka Khan’s “Through The Fire.” For a chance to be with you, the song says, I’d gladly risk it all. At the time, I took it as a personal rebuke from the Fates for having abandoned the woman I loved. Although I’ve returned to the scene many times since then, I’ve never heard her sing the tune again. Maybe I imagined it. Hard to say.

If you really love someone, you’ll endure a lot to be with them. And that’s the problem facing Eddie, although in his case it’s not a matter of going “through the fire.” Rather, it’s a question of shipping across the pond.

Eddie writes:

For the past four years, I’ve driven a 2006 Audi, my first premium car. I was the second owner, and the car was well maintained throughout its life. Once it passed the 140,000 mile mark, I sold it despite it only costing about a grand a year to maintain, tires included. With the help of a dealer friend, I located and bought a very clean 2011 328xi with 50 thousand miles, deep-sea blue exterior and oyster leather seats. It has few options (no nav or turbos, alas no world-class xenons like the Audi either), but it’s an incredible car. I really love it.

Unfortunately, within weeks of owning the BMW, my wife got a job offer in the UK, and we’re moving this summer. The company she’ll work for has a generous moving policy. This creates a conundrum: Should I move the car to the UK? Is it legally possible? Cost prohibitive? If this is possible, is it a good idea with the steering wheel on the left side and a 3.0-liter gas engine?

If the collective wisdom says this is not a good idea, the next question is: What should I buy in the UK? I love the idea of a stick-shift 5-door 1 Series with a 2.0-liter diesel, but the interior doesn’t look very nice in photos. Additionally, unlike the thorough research I did when weighing the pros and cons of various model years and BMW powertrains in the US, I know little about those offered by BMW in Europe. All I know is that two doors won’t work (single-car couple) and that we both seriously dislike the idea of driving anything higher than a proper sedan. Also, it has to be a stick as my wife still misses her manual Jetta she had when we met.

Let me start by saying that I completely understand how Eddie feels here. I recently fell in love with the E90 for the first time on a long passenger ride to a motorcycle show. Hindsight has been particularly kind to this generation of Bimmer.

As Dominic Toretto would say, however, “You might be in my good graces / But you’re not keeping your car.” This isn’t because it’s terribly difficult to bring an American car to the UK, because it’s not. The Individual Vehicle Approval process is fairly straightforward. From what I’ve read, the biggest issue is usually headlight and taillight compliance, which in this case should be easy because UK-compatible lights are easily obtainable. It’s possible that you’d have to pay up to 30 percent in duties and VAT, although the duties might be waived if you’ve owned the car for over six months, leaving you with just a 20-percent surcharge plus the cost of shipping.

And that is where we start to get into the meat of the problem. It’s expensive to ship the car, expensive to have it put through the IVA process, and expensive to be taxed on the total. The costs can vary wildly depending on relatively minor issues — and when you’re done you still have a car that is more expensive to insure because it’s LHD and has what the UK insurers consider a massive engine.

I’m thinking it would be considerably cheaper to sell the 328xi and buy something like this. You’ll want the better fuel economy in a country where “petrol” costs equal to $5/gallon even today. It’s no trouble to find a manual-transmission BMW in the United Kingdom, as it’s still the default drivetrain of choice for 5 Series and below cars. It’s easier to operate a RHD car in the UK, particularly in traffic. And the process of purchasing and insuring the car is far more straightforward than the import process. It’s one thing to be an English hobbyist who is jonesing for a Corvette; it’s another thing to try to move your entire life to Great Britain and handle your car at the same time.

Last tip I’d offer: don’t buy a diesel. “Derv” is on the decline in the UK and pretty soon you won’t be able to drive a diesel-engined car into most population centers. Be smart and get the same thing you’ve got in the US — only a little bit less. It might hurt to leave your baby on the wrong side of the Atlantic, but take it from this formerly heartbroken man: time heals all wounds.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

More by Jack Baruth

Join the conversation
2 of 47 comments
  • LambourneNL LambourneNL on May 06, 2017

    Euro here. Would probably just buy another 3 series in the UK, they're very common and the UK has pretty low used car prices (compared to mainland Europe anyway). A left hand drive car is doable for a few months but it gets annoying eventually (overtaking, toll booths, taking a parking ticket etc) The E90 4 cylinder diesels have issues with the timing chain (N47 engine, it's all over the internet), the 6 cylinder ones seem to do better and are fantastic engines.

  • -Nate -Nate on May 06, 2017

    I guess not enough time has passed yet ~ I hope that psychotic bitch never calls me again..... -Nate

  • Ajla I've owned one 4.5L (Allante) and one N* (Seville). In Allante tune (200hp/270lb ft) the 4.5L feels decent, but I don't know how it would have held up to the competition. The N* is perfectly lovely until it breaks. GM adding a 5th gear to the 4T80 around 2004 would have been nice though.I'm a little surprised that adding a turbo or supercharger to the 4.5/4.9 wasn't considered when other GM divisions were utilizing forced induction in a largely successful fashion.As I'm sure most of us know, adding DOHC heads to an OHV design is something GM eventually did anyway with the 3.4L and although reasonably powerful it was a bigger maintenance and reliability nightmare even than the eventually N*. I'm also interested if the N* has any development overlap with the Quad4 or if it was totally separate.
  • Bd2 Excellent article as always Corey. Looking forward to this series and your style of verbiage.
  • YellowDuck Really surprised it's only 1/3. Lack of Android Auto would be a dealbreaker for me. At this point I might even say it needs to be wireless. I can't believe any manufacturer would still be trying to sell built in nav as like a $1500 option. Must sell it to people with flip phones.
  • Mike Beranek Great subject for a multi-part piece. There's a lovely DTS for sale near my work... does anyone have a year that the Northstar becomes buyable? I've heard both 2005 and 2007.
  • Parkave231 Looking forward to this deep dive, Corey. My '02 Deville was right on the cusp of when they "fixed" the head bolt issues, but I really don't know if mine was one of the improved ones. Still, it never gave me problems during ownership, aside from the stupid intake plenum duct issue, which was the one time I'll admit I bit off a little more than I could chew.Smooth engine, decent low-end torque for an OHC engine, and whisper quiet. I got great gas mileage out of it too. But how could GM ever screw up head issues on two V8s in a row?