Knaus 550 European Motorhome


In 2017 we decided that it was time to stop studying traveling overseas and head on to Europe.  As we were researching the trip Ron came upon an alternative to shipping Scout to Europe.  Early in our research we had looked at the alternative of buying a motorhome in Europe, but it is not possible for a non-EU resident to own a vehicle, and the work arounds we came across in 2014 seemed dicey.  While researching shipping and storage Ron came across the website for France Motor Home Hire, and they had a method for purchase that seemed legitimate.  We contacted them, and after some discussion decided to rent a motorhome from them so that we could see what we might be getting into.  After completing the trip we decided to purchase a Knaus 550 identical to the one we rented.  The costs of purchasing François the motorhome turned out to be very close to the anticipated costs of shipping Scout to Europe.  

Below is a quick review of the RV, and a description of our experience buying and registering the RV.   France Motor Home Hire also sells vehicles at a site called eurocampingcars.com.  They have a good selection of rental returns as well as used vehicles being put back on the market after use by former customers.  They are also an authorized dealer for two motorhome companies if you would prefer a new vehicle.  They have a way of allowing non-EU ownership which is as far as I can tell unique in Europe.  We describe it below under the title paperwork.

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The RV is extremely compact at 19.6 feet long, 10 feet high, and 7.2 feet wide (In comparison Scout our Malayan is 22.5 feet long, 10.5 feet high and 7.5 feet wide.).  Despite the compact size the living area in the Knaus is actually from our perspective more comfortable for long trips than the Malayan.  Part of that is because the Fiat Ducato (sold as the Ram Promaster in the US) does not have the hood of our Silverado, so more of the length is devoted to the house than to the engine, but also due to some smart decisions by the German designers.  We particularly enjoyed having the bed at floor level, and still having a substantial sitting area.  All of the space to the rear of the vehicle is used so the bathroom is larger than in Scout, and we had a floor to ceiling storage closet.  In fact the interior storage is enormous compared to the Malayan.  

In additon to the closet and abundant cabinet space they have a clever way of accessing the storage under the bed.  The slat bed folds up in half giving you access to about 8 x 6 feet of storage.  We were able to put our suitcases under there with the two lawn chairs, a folding table, and the hose and electricity cords.  This storage area is also easily accessible from the outside, though that door could use to be a little wider.

The utility systems are simple compared to Scout due to the differences in camping styles.  There is no inverter, and when dry camping you have only one USB outlet available.  When plugged in there are plenty of electric outlets.  When dry camping the electric outlets do not work.  We found that with proper management we could keep everything we needed charged from the one USB outlet, we dry camped about 60% of the time on the trip.

The RV holds about 30 gallons (120 liters) of fresh water accesible by filling a tank on the outside.  There is no provision for hooking up water and having it on demand.  In European campgrounds there are central water points where you fill the tank on arrival or departure.  If you stay longer and do not want to move, we noticed most people carry 5 gallon water buckets and they manually refill their water every couple of days.  The access points for water are quite large to allow for this.   For black water it is the same cassette toilet system we have on Scout. The systems for disposing of grey and black water are quite different in Europe, and I think it would be very difficult for a RV with an American Black water system to work here.

The heater and hot water run on propane, and they use standard cooking containers for propane.  An issue that we did not experience is that there is no standardization of propane containers or fittings in the EU, so when you change countries you have to change fittings, and bottles, it is a pain but they cope with it.  The heater/ hot water system is significantly quieter than the propane heater we had in our Winnebago, and also quieter than the Espar diesel heater in Scout.  The heat is floor heating and works very well.  We had a couple of nights in the 30’s on the trip, and were able to quickly warm the cabin when we woke up.  The heater also heats the storage compartment.

There is no AC unit, but good windows of the same make as Scout and two roof vents without fans.  We also experienced temperatures in the 80’s, and I would probably invest in a little battery operated fan.

The fit and finish and quality of the latches hinges and other hardware is superior to Scout.  Much superior.

The Fiat Ducato has a 6 speed manual transmission attached to 2.2 liter diesel engine.  We did some mountain driving in it and it handled the hills well.  I imagine it would be a little more of a struggle with an automatic, having said that I have relearned how much I like automatic transmissions.

Part of the purpose of the first trip was to decide whether to ship Scout over to Europe for a few years, or buy a vehicle there.   Given the reliability issue of Scout in the past (with both the Provan and the Chevrolet part of the truck) we decided to purchase a European vehicle where if we do have an issue repairs will be much more straightforward.  While the overall capability and the stuff inside are less, we found on our rental trip that we did not miss those amenities as much as we thought we would.

Paperwork

It is difficult for a non-resident of the EU to purchase a vehicle there.  The folks at eurocampingcar.com have found a way that allows legal ownership thru establishing a “Societe Civile” in France.  A “Societe Civile” is similar to a LLC in the US.  While Ton and I cannot legally own a vehicle in France as individuals, we can form a Societe Civile in our names and the Societe can own and register vehicles legally.  It is an extra step, but it allows for the vehicle to be in our names, albeit with an extra cost.  The Societe is not free, and requires a firm in France to take care of the paperwork.  

The paperwork was supposed to take about 3 to 4 weeks to process, in our case it took longer as the famous bureacracy in France kicked in.  Everything went well initially as the only identification required is a copy of our passports.  The first snag that we ran into is that in France the town of your birth is very important and is apparently part of the passport.  Ton’s US passport only shows Thailand as her place of birth and does not list her hometown so our initial request to file was denied.  Luckily Ton maintains duel citizenship and her Thai passport did list her town of birth, problem solved.  Not so fast, her Thai passport ( and US actually) does not list her maiden name, apparently European ones do, so they requested a copy of her birth certificate.  For various reasons this was going to take months to get, and have translated.  We offered up a copy of our marriage certificate in Thai as it listed Ton’s maiden name, with an English translation.  To make a long story shorter after a couple of tries this was accepted, problem solved!  Not so fast, this time the administrator noticed that Ron’s passport only had his state of birth, and not his town of birth so he requested a copy of Ron’s birth certificate.  This we could and did obtain, and though there was some doubt about whether the administrator  was going to accept the birth certificate due to the poor penmanship of the person who filled it out over 60 years ago, he did eventually decide he could confirm that Ron was indeed born in Camp LeJeune, Carolina du Nord, Etats Unis America. For Americans plan on submitting a copy of your birth certificate as well as your passport.

Once the Societe was completed all of the paperwork was completed within 24 hours, this consists of registration and insurance just like here.  The folks from France Motorhome Hire take care of the title and registration.  We used the insurance company recommended by France Motorhome Hire.  One of the nice things about the Societe owning the vehicle and not us personally is we can continue to drive with our US license.

Accessories

Being Tiger owners we could not help but to customize the vehicle.  We added an inverter, an additional battery, a single solar panel, and a LP gas system that allows our gas to be filled at fuel stations.  The inverter powers two plugs that were added.

After our initial trip we found we actually did not use the inverter but a couple of times. This was because we were able to find very cheap places to stay in both France and Spain that provided electricity.  We were never off the grid for more than a couple of days, and were able to make due with the non-inverter plugs.  I still do not regret the purchase of the inverter and solar as I believe in the future the opportunity to have cheap or free electricity will not be as easy as we move farther off the beaten path.

The LP gas system worked very well.  Purchasing LP from the pump is significantly cheaper than buying bottles, and you do  not have to deal with the non-standard bottles thru out Europe.  So far we have not had any problem at all finding places to fill the LP. We went with one bottle (you can have two) and that also so far seems adequate as during our 40 plus day trip we only filled the LP twice, and we did have to heat the motorhome a few times. 

Tech Stuff

We brought our Garmin GPS unit over from the US with a European map set we purchased on line.  It did the job, but was frustrating because it had no ability to tell the difference from a full sized “D” road where it was possible to drive close to the speed limit, and a 1 lane wide “D” road where the realistic maximum speed was around 50kph despite the posted 80kph speed limit, or a D road that ran thru the center of a medieval town.  Because of this we saw some very rural parts of France that we would not have, but it did come with some tight fits passing other vehicles and squeezing thru some narrow places.  

For this trip we rented a mifi system from hippocketwifi.com.  For about $200 we received a mifi unit, and 50gb of data.  They send you the mifi unit before you leave the US, and when you leave France you drop the unit in a pre-paid envelope and return it to them.  The system worked flawlessly and we came to depend on it for our daily planning.  Using the Iphones wifi calling feature we were able to make and receive phone calls as if we were at home.  We originally ordered a 30gb plan, but I think one day google maps may have been active, or we received a software update while we were driving and ate up a bunch of data.  With one email we were able to add 20gb more.  They also have an unlimited plan which we may use on the next trip so we can stream some video.  I highly recommend this, as in our case it would have cost over $300 to use our Verizon account in Europe and we would have been limited to 12gb of data.









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