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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How Having A Car Makes Life Easier... Sort Of

It's funny that I've had this draft since the middle of 2015, yet now it seems like I need to change the title, hence the "...sort of". Let me start at the beginning. Having a car is awesome. It is very useful for traveling long distances with friends (Pamplona, LisbonCádiz, León, Les Cases, and Galicia road trips), it is useful lugging heavy exercise equipment to and from workouts, and it's just convenient for going to the movies or anywhere late at night when the buses have stopped running.

Which brings us to current date, and how having MY car is not making my life easier. My car is an American spec'ed car that was taken to Belgium by an American diplomat, who later sold it to me, also a diplomat at the time. But, I decided to stay in Europe after leaving my job, and therefore I have an American car in Europe without US government support. 

Fast forward to living in Spain, and after trying unsuccessfully several times to register my car in Spain, and after being told "you can't, and we don't know what else you can do", I continued driving my car with old, expired license plates. What harm could it do? Besides, I will only be in Spain a few more months. Then, someone steals my front license plate off the car. Darn kids (or adults who suck at life) and their pranks. So, I get new plates made, no problem.

Two years later, I go to pick up my car after a super fun excursion to Zugarramurdi, only to find my car has been towed - from the white zone which is always free parking. Something seems strange.

The police cars are equipped with cameras and they think that my license plates look strange (the new plate was poorly made and part of the lettering was disappearing, so it looked like I tampered with it), and the police tow the car. They look in the system and see that my plates are expired, don't match the car, and they don't know if I'm a criminal or just unknowingly breaking the law (I'm the latter).

My buddy, Pol, goes with me each time to speak with the police and act as a translator, and to help me with my official statement. It only takes us about 5 hours on the first visit and another 2 hours on the second visit. Now, he and I both know enough about the local legal system that we can be paralegals! 

So, long story short (*cough, cough* so much bureaucracy *cough, cough*), I still haven't got my car back and I now ride a bike everywhere :-)

After six months of having no car, I get an official letter saying I have to appear in front of the judge to determine if my case is criminal or not. I am given a free lawyer and an official translator, both of whom are nice and I think they are helpful. Pol is not allowed to go in with me. The judge turns out to be just a clerk who takes my statement again, and then passes it to a judge I never meet. They say in 15 days I will have a verdict.

40 days later, I call the second lawyer helping me (as the first just disappeared) and ask about an update on my case, and he says the judge ruled in my favor and "archived" the case. I never received any (official) notification. So, Pol calls the local police to figure out what's next and how to get my car back, but they won't let it go until I have new license plates. I have to call DGT, the traffic management department, and they are about as helpful as a bag of rocks on a sinking ship.

I decide to call one of those "We buy cars" ads and they also cannot / do not want to help. Pol calls the police again to let them know I've decided I don't want the car back and just want to let them have it and scrap it, or whatever it is they do with cars. They tell us we need the official letter from the judge saying the case has been archived, and that we can get it from the same place I gave my second statement. 

We pick a day (4 July) where we are both super free, as we are expecting this to be a day-long process, or that we will have to come back several times. Surprisingly, we are able to get the document from the courthouse quite easily, though they complain that my lawyer should have sent me this paperwork, dated 1 June.

We then go to the police station, but the officer on our case isn't working today. Pol has the genius idea to go to the impound and ask them if they can process the request - and they can! I give them the keys to the car, the title, and say farewell forever to my car. We are home before noon, much to our delight.

If you have a non-EU car and plan to ship it to Europe, don't. I recommend you buy a car in Spain or in whatever country you're in, and that's that. Forget all that money you just spent on buying a new car and trying to bring it to Europe; it's not worth the trouble.

Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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