An American Couple in Delft
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Bringing a Car up to European Standards

After three months, our car finally cleared customs and I was able to pick it up. I hadn’t really missed driving all that much because it’s so easy to get around here but by having it, we’d be able to go to some out of the way places. Somehow the car found its way to Utrecht, about 40 miles away, and that’s where I went to retrieve it. Before we left the U.S. the car was getting pretty low on gasoline and I thought it would be a terrific idea to fill it up with cheap (don’t complain about $2/gallon gasoline!) American fuel. It also occurred to me that as terrific as that would be for me, it might not be so terrific for the ship to be carrying so much potentially explosive material so I bagged the idea. The car left our house with a gallon and a half of gasoline, maybe two.

When I got to Utrecht, the car was waiting patiently and forgave me for ignoring it for so long for which I was very happy. I was concerned when they packed it in the container that it would be safe from things that might fall that were in the same container. You know how the airlines always tell you to be careful opening the overhead bins because items may have shifted? Same principle. Therefore, I thought it was necessary to explain how important this was to me. By way of illustration, I told the movers that I love my wife, I love my kids, and I love my car. My son Aaron was standing next to me and further explained, "But not necessarily in that order." So I inspected the car for damage and produced the myriad of documents they wanted and I was free to go. The fuel gauge seemed lower than I remembered it and I asked where there was a station. He said about four kilometers in the direction of the highway. Off I went. For about a half mile. It seems that these dudes were so concerned about explosive material that they siphoned off all the gasoline in the car. I called back to the terminal and they dispatched a man who gave me four liters, a bit more than a gallon, a €4.84 value!

I drove home feeling very conspicuous with my Pennsylvania license plate in the land of the Dutch. We had not yet received our green insurance card; all we had was a faxed version on plain white paper. I was cautioned that the faxed version was not a legal document because it wasn’t green, but, if stopped, perhaps a policeman would understand. But perhaps not. Therefore, caution was a top priority. My Pennsylvania drivers’ license is also not a legal document here (the reason that that hasn’t been converted to a Dutch one is a whole other story) so I carried my passport to show I was not an arch-villain and was really allowed to be here.

Nothing happened on the trip home. The next hurdle was getting a Dutch license tag. I had to go to RDW (their version of PennDOT) to have the car inspected. I called for an appointment and because of their work load, I had to wait more than two weeks for my time slot. When I got there, there were no other cars waiting for inspection and by the time I left almost two hours later, two others had come in. Three whole cars in two hours made it look like a pretty heavy day which explained my two week delay.

Passing this inspection was not going to be a problem. The car is in great shape. American emission standards are tougher than those in Europe, so this was a slam dunk. A slam dunk that clanged off the rim and bounced 20 feet backwards. The car doesn’t have a rear fog light, side turn signals, and horror of horrors, the parking lights were amber in color, not white, and they blinked as turn signals.

What is a rear fog light? I’ve not seen a single car here with anything that seems to resemble a rear fog light. They’re disguised. In the U.S. we have two reverse lights, one on each side. Here there is only one reverse light. The other is a fog light. To correct this flagrant violation, there are two options. First is to replace one rear light assembly. This will cost only €450. The alternative is to have a light installed under the center rear of the car. In the pictures they showed me of our model car, it doesn’t look awful. The light is €20. Not bad. The labor to install it along with either a new switch (I hope not) or connecting it to the existing front fog light switch (I hope), is a mere €230. So €250 or €450 for a rear fog light. We’re going with the additional light.

Side turn signals are on every car here. I never noticed that they were turn signals, though, because they look like they’re only little reflectors. They’re placed just ahead of the driver’s and front right-side passenger’s doors, and they blink along with the turn signals on the front and rear. It’s probably documented somewhere that these little buggers save at least 685,122 lives every year in Zuid-Holland alone (the province where we live) so I sure don’t mind forking up the €250. Not at all.

The amber light may cause some serious controversy. Maybe even an international incident which you’ll read about in all the papers. Replacing the bulbs is a little deal. Really. They said it would be €5. I don’t know if that’s for one bulb or two and I don’t care. If it costs €10, I’ll still be happy. The man doing the work says that’s all I need regarding this and as evidence, he points to the American car he imported for himself and replacing the bulbs was all he had to do. However, the guy at DutchDOT had other ideas. His English, while infinitely better than my Dutch, was not great so perhaps I misunderstood. What I think he said was that not only do the bulbs of the parking lights have to be white, they can’t blink with the turn signal. I need other bulbs that would blink. This would require two new light assemblies for the front. If we assume that they cost the same as the one I was quoted for the rear, we’re talking about €900 just so that these bulbs don’t blink. This is why I don’t care if it costs €5 or €10 for the bulbs. I don’t even care if it’s €15.

There’s no getting around it: this work has to get done. All but the front light assemblies. I made an appointment with the dealer and they even volunteered to pick up and deliver the car from the dealer which is in Rotterdam about 15 miles from here. The man was supposed to be here Wednesday evening. Perhaps you heard me mention earlier that it doesn’t snow much here. Not too much, anyway, just some flurries that cling to the trees and are gone by midmorning. Wednesday afternoon it snowed, the biggest snowfall here in four years we were told. As snow goes, it really wasn’t much. Those of you in the east and Midwest will laugh when I say it was only about four inches. Those of you in Florida and Southern California will either have vague memories of snow or won’t know what I’m talking about. But there were two problems. The first is that the lack of significant snowfall means there is a lack of snow removal equipment. Traffic was awful, much worse than usual. Second is that my car, more than any other I’ve ever driven, is terrible in the snow. It’s a rear wheel drive that’s heavy in the front, a dynamite combination, but we didn’t get it for snow, we got it for beautiful summer days which will eventually happen and they can’t come soon enough! Our next appointment for the work is Monday and, I hope, the next inspection will be before the end of the week. Then we’ll have our license plate and will be legal enough to drive to Antwerp or Groningen or somewhere. Zoom zoom.


2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008