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OMFG. UK Insurance, or, Adventures in Not Getting Anywhere

Apparently, UK insurance companies REALLY think little of American drivers.

I mean, I can’t blame them. We have completely inadequate drivers’ education, and our licensing is a joke. American drivers are notoriously bad, never use their indicators (it’s not just a “turn signal,” it’s a way of indicating the driver’s intention), and haven’t a fucking clue how to merge.

 

American drivers in a right-hand drive car, on the “wrong” side of the road? Disaster. Having them encounter a round-about? DISASTER. Americans on the “wrong” side of the car, on the “wrong” side of the road, on a narrow British street where you have to sensibly give way to oncoming traffic in order to keep moving? Yeah, right. “I was here first” and “YEW CAIN’T TAELL ME WUT TA DOOO!” is pretty much the constant mindset of most Americans.

 


But I’ve driven here in the UK. A lot. In 1998 I had a job at a London recording studio for which I drove bands to gigs in a giant Mercedes 410D splitter van (think FedEx truck size) around London, the greater UK, and into Europe with never an incident. I make a point to drive in every country I go to, and have driven off-road in the Sahara in a Peugot hatchback, the mud roads of the far northern jungles in Thailand. I’ve taken performance and rally-car driving training. I was a motorcycle messenger in San Francisco for a couple of years.

The Mercedes 410D. I drove a pig like this around London, UK, and Europe. OK, maybe not uphill, both ways, in the snow.

The immediate problem is that I’m already over here in Edinburgh for the three months leading up to the 2016 Mongol Rally, an epic 10,000 mile drive from the UK to Mongolia (and then a little farther, to the finish line in Ulan Ude, Siberia). And I have been trying for three days, and failing, to get car insurance.

My plan was to arrive in mid-April, rent a flat so I had a “permanent” address for insurance and registration purposes, buy two crap hatchbacks (per event requirements of “small and shit”) for the team, get them registered by the June 4 deadline, hie back to the West Coast for my sister’s 50th birthday and to wrap up with my job, then back to the UK in mid-June for car mods and final rally prep. Easy, sleazy, greasy. Right?

I SWEAR I did research on buying, registering, and insuring cars before I got here. But like everything Rally, if it can go wrong, it will.
First of all, you need to have actually BOUGHT the car to get it insured. But you can’t figure out if you get coverage until you have a vehicle registration number… which you can’t get until you buy a car. So I tried to call around and ask if it was even possible.

 

Not even out of my pajamas yet, and I want to kill people.

Three days (and many spikes in blood pressure) later...

...and I’m still not sure I can get insurance. I tried a few differnet angles, and didn’t EVER mention the Mongol Rally, which I expect to set off every alarm bell for any insurer. First, I asked about short-term cover (no: “we don’t cover Americans”), 1-year coverage with a cancellation (no: “you haven’t lived here long enough”). I said I had income during my stay from my freelance work for an American company because I thought having a bit of money to pay the bills was a good thing. No. As far as I can tell, they want me to be on holiday for an entire year with no visible means of suport. Um, OK. Something about “deceleration of income,” whatever that means.


I got sent round and round on call after call, company after company. I talked to a few “ex-pat insurance specialist” agents, like Keith Michaels, who SWEAR they help Americans (and were distinctly not helpful). I kept being funelled back to the firm I had originally identifed as being my option when I was doing research: HIC, who are the most-used “banger rally” insurance agency who will cover nearly anything… but it turns out that they won’t cover for more than three months, and I need 5 months, from now until we finish the Rally in September.

Then I got the bright idea to call The Adventurists themselves and ask: what the hell?!?

I talked to Dan, who was the first helpful person I’ve spoken with (aside from my friend Dean over in Glasgow has been also been burning up the phone lines trying to sort something out for me). He hadn’t heard of Americans having as many problems as I’ve had, usually it’s Australians (sorry, guys). He dashed off a couple of emails to previous American team members for me.


Then he told me the magic words: I only need three months of coverage because we buy country-by-country car insurance starting in Turkey. Where we are scheduled to arrive in 93 days. Meaning I can get 3-month insurance for UK/EU from HIC. Meaning I can start calling on car sellers tomorrow. I spoke to HIC and they sounded positive… but they wanted the damn vehicle registration number to confirm.


At any rate, the nice chaps from Team Corsa Gonna Make It are here in Edinburgh and said I can get one-day cover for them to drive the car to my flat’s car park if I can’t get it sorted beforehand. After all, the key right now is to actually get the cars bought in the first place!

Stay tuned. I don’t give up easily. Because I need two of these:

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