Driving in Ireland: So You Want to Buy a Car…

Now that one has made the decision to pack up and move out, heading across the Atlantic to live in the lovely country of Ireland amidst its kind and helpful people there are of course many decisions and many purchases that have to be made. One of them is – What about a car?

Gas prices, or petrol as it is referred to in Ireland, will take one’s breath away in comparison to the US. At the time of writing, both petrol and diesel were selling for just barely under €1.50 a litre. Given that there are 3.8 litres to an American gallon and €1.50 = US$ 2.08, that means that gallon of petrol costs $7.90. In Chicago, again at the time of writing that self-same gallon of gas was selling for $3.85. So yes, for all intents and purposes the fuel cost is doubled.

The good part though is that the expat will quickly find that he or she is doing nowhere near as much driving as in the US. The beauty of the towns and villages of Ireland is that they are compact and designed centuries ago for pedestrian travel. Parking anywhere along the High Street – what you would term as the downtown shopping district – means that banks, grocers, butchers, hardware, post office etcetera are all usually located within one or maybe two blocks. So although there are the large supermarkets like Tesco or Aldi on the outskirts along the motorways they are there if you want them but not there as a need.

This is a good thing because, and there is no way of soft-selling this, driving in Ireland until one gets used to it can move one’s heart to the vicinity of the Adam’s apple. Once off the motorways, it is worth noting that the roads were often laid out by cows. Why? Cows have the intelligence to not blithely step into bogs or swamps. Follow the cow and lay out one’s path accordingly.

Cows however lacked the maneuverability and certainly the pace of modern autos. Therefore, the B roads are usually quite narrow. You might notice that autos in Ireland are often missing their side mirrors. This is because when two oncoming cars meet on a road lined by hedges, stone walls and no shoulder to speak of, a slight miscalculation leads to mirrors being clipped off in a sort of modern tribute to medieval jousting. You will not see many wide-bodied SUVs on Irish roads for just that reason.

As to the cost of vehicles, the expat might be surprised to the point of drooling that the high-powered vintage sports car of his youthful dreams is suddenly affordable. An immaculately serviced 1999 Jaguar XKR with 400 horsepower can be bought for €6000 or $8300. The temptation is to cry out to the dealer, ‘I’ll take two!’ Ah, but there is a catch. In order to promote fuel efficiency and road safety, all cars in Ireland must undergo an annual MOT Inspection. This ensures that the vehicle is in safe operating order. Besides the €50 or so the MOT costs, one then has to pay the annual road tax whose receipt is placed in plain sight on the windshield. That road tax is based on engine size, although certain very vintage vehicles may be exempt. That same Jaguar is liable for an annual road tax of €1000 or so. Annually. Ah. Suddenly that tidy 2.0 litre Renault or Vauxhall looks much more desirable.

Lastly, the expat’s American driver’s license is good for one year after arrival, by which point one must take a road test to get an Irish or EU license. Presumably by then the driver will have become used to the Irish roads and the knuckles will no longer be white.

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