T+L's personal finance columnist, Jean Chatzky, answers your questions. This month: Buying a car in Europe?
Stephen Campbell European Cars
| Credit: Stephen Campbell

Q: I’ve heard that I can buy a new car in Europe and get a great deal that includes a trip there as part of the package. True or false?—Jessica Traub, San Diego, Calif.

A: TRUE. "European delivery" programs offer discounts of up to 12 percent off the price of the vehicle plus a European holiday subsidized by the automaker. Instead of buying a car off the lot in the United States, you order one (built to stateside specifications) from your dealer, pick it up at any of a handful of delivery points in Europe, and cruise around the continent. Autobahn, anyone? At the end of your vacation, drop it off to be shipped back home to the States, at no additional cost. Here are a few questions to ask to see if such a program is right for you.

Is the model I want available?

Most of the major European automakers, including Saab, Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes, offer a European delivery option. Volvo, though, is the only manufacturer to include its entire fleet in its program. You won’t find the Mercedes R- or S-class, the Saab 9-7x SUV, or the BMW Z4, for instance, though all of these manufacturers offer about a dozen models.

How much money can I save?

Mercedes gives flat discounts of 7 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. But not all prices are set in stone; discounts vary based on the model. Saab’s markdowns range from 9 to 12 percent, which can mean substantial savings: Saab’s 9-3 Aero Convertible drops from $43,845 to $39,220, a $4,625 reduction. Volvo offers about 8 percent off, and BMW grants up to 7 percent.

What travel perks are included?

Saab’s program is the most generous—and flexible. It includes a $2,000 travel stipend, chauffeur service from the airport, overnight accommodation in Trollhättan, Sweden, where Saab is located, and a tour of the plant. (The idea is to inspire brand loyalty—go to the source and remain a customer for life.) Volvo offers two coach tickets on Scandinavian Airlines, a one- night stay in Göteborg, Sweden, and transportation to the delivery center. (Volvo can also arrange a driving lesson at the Nürburgring track in Germany.) The offers from BMW and Mercedes pale in comparison. Fly Lufthansa to pick up your BMW, and you’ll get a free companion ticket. Mercedes provides a free night’s lodging, breakfast or lunch, and taxi fare to get to the plant.

Are there any caveats?

Picking up and dropping off your car anywhere other than the factory can cost you several hundred dollars more. And there may be insurance fees. Volvo, Mercedes, and BMW offer free zero-deductible coverage for about two weeks, then begin charging a premium. Saab bills you right off the bat, about $300 for the first 15 days (depending on the model). Be sure to read the fine print. And since vehicles can take up to four months to arrive at your local dealership, you’ll want to time your trip well in advance of when you actually need the car back home.

Additional reporting by Arielle McGowen