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  • Writer's pictureRacquel Foran, Publisher

Yes, purchasing a vehicle from out of province is a pain in the ass!!

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Government bureaucracy delivers again with complex and near impossible conditions to buy a vehicle from out of province.

We should have known better, but for some reason we thought buying a vehicle in Alberta and bringing it to BC would be easy. It turned out to be unnecessarily complicated, and every step of the process felt like a money grab.

Challenges presented themselves with our first phone call to our insurance agent. We have dealt with the same fellow for 20 years, so we figured he must know his stuff. Again, at our age, we should know better than to assume. We posed what we thought were relatively simple questions. "We purchased a camper van in Alberta. What do we need to do to be able to A: drive it home to BC, and B: get it registered and insured in BC?"

His response was, "The van is in Alberta, I can't do anything, you have to deal with an insurance agency in Alberta." He also informed us it would have to pass an out-of-province vehicle inspection before it could be registered and insured in BC. No big deal he said though, just take it to any Canadian Tire. Both pieces of information would prove to be wrong.

We found an insurance agency in High River, where the van was, called them and asked the the same question about what we needed to do to be able to drive the vehicle from Alberta to BC. The agent's response, "we can't give you registration or insurance, you have to have an Alberta address for us to do that."

Perhaps you are already getting a sense of what this experience was like for us.

We pressed saying their must be a process for doing this as we certainly weren't the first people to purchase a vehicle from another province. The agent then explained to us that she could issue temporary "In Transit" registration, that was valid for seven days for the sole purpose of moving the vehicle from point A to point B, but that we would have to get an insurance binder from BC for the same duration. We would have to bring a copy of this binder, along with the bill of sale to their offices in order for them them to issue the In Transit permit.

Back to our agent we go. We explain to him what we need which he finally is able to provide - at a cost of $172 for seven days insurance. This meant we had only one week from the day we picked up the van to get an inspection, repairs and insurance. Again, something we assumed would be doable. (What's that old expression about assuming??)

With our BC insurance in hand we set off on our whirlwind trip to Alberta. We

flew into Calgary first thing in the morning on the August holiday Monday. Everything was closed so we could not complete the sales transaction until Tuesday; the problem was we also had to be back home Tuesday night. Everything had to go perfectly in order for us to get home in time. Luckily it did.

We met the seller, inspected the van, sent the final eTransfer, signed off on the bill of sale all by 9:15 Tuesday morning. From there we headed to the insurance office; they opened at 9:00 a.m., there was a line-up of more than half-a-dozen people outside by the time we arrived at 9:25. It took 40 minutes to get inside, but once in the agent was very efficient. $24 and we had our In Transit permit. We were in our new van on the road home to Coquitlam by 10:30 a.m.; we pulled into our driveway 13.5 hours later at just after midnight.

The old girl ran like a charm. Keep in mind that the drive from Alberta to BC traverses some of the highest mountain ranges in North America. And we happened to be traveling on the hottest day of the year through some of BC's hottest regions. Although the van got warm a couple of times she came nowhere near overheating. We did however notice that it was bit like riding in a boat - an awful lot of rocking and rolling so we suspected new shocks were needed.

The next morning, after spending more time than anticipated we found a link to a list of Designated Inspection Facilities ( This list classifies each location for the types of vehicles they are authorized to inspect. Frustratingly, none of the categories listed RVs or camper vans, but based on the information provided we assumed we needed to find a place that had authorization for C2 , CS, and E3 categories. (Click here for the complete list of categories and their definitions.)

We spent three hours on Wednesday calling places from the list that met these criteria only to be told over and over that they could not inspect a camper van. Even when we said we only wanted the van inspected not the camper portion, they all still refused. No one explained why they couldn't inspect a camper van, e.g. weight, height, propane, etc. None offered a suggestion of where we might go. On Thursday morning we began calling places again - including all the Canadian Tires in our area, again everyone told us they couldn't do it. When we said they were on the government list of places that could, they all said they specifically could not inspect a camper van.

We finally called an RV repair place - Travco in Burnaby, BC - they did not do inspections or mechanical repairs, but we were desperate and thought they might be able to help us. And they did end up being the only place we called who knew of someone that would inspect our camper van. He gave us the number and we gave the place a call. They said they could do the inspection, but not until the next day, Friday. We had no choice but wait, so booked an appointment.

On Friday we took the van in for the inspection. Note that anybody can drive any piece of crap on BC roads if it has always been owned and registered here. But when you bring a vehicle in from out of province, it must go through a thorough inspection, and it has to pass everything 100% in order for you to get registration and insurance in BC. This is where I should mention that the seller provided us with a mechanic's inspection report completed in Alberta in July. Jim's brother took a look at the van too, although not up on hoist, but he is a mechanic with 40+ year's experience who knew family planned to drive the van from Alberta to BC. And the van had just completed the trip problem free. But of course, it failed the inspection. Needed new shocks (no surprise), new back brake cylinders, and apparently there was an oil leak in the engine. $224 for the inspection, still couldn't get insurance and registration.

Now we had to find a mechanic to do the work. In case you aren't keeping track, our temporary insurance expired on Sunday and In Transit permit expired the next day. We had to get repairs done and a second inspection over the weekend. We spent the rest of the day Friday calling every mechanic in the Tri-Cities, as well as Burnaby and Maple Ridge. If their shop could accommodate a camper van, they were busy. (Mechanic's shops seem to be one of those sectors that are booming during the pandemic.) We finally found a local guy who said he could do the work for us on Saturday. This still required we extend our insurance by a day, because we could not get back to the inspector until Monday. $48 for one day of insurance.

Brake repair, no problem. New heavy duty shocks, no problem. The oil leak however, he claimed was very difficult to access, so much so he apparently had difficulty even finding it. He told us that he was surprised the vehicle was failed for this. Apparently inspectors rate a problem as 1, 2 or 3. A one notes the problem but still passes inspection. A two finds a problem that requires repair before inspection passes. And a three finds a problem that is deemed dangerous enough that you cannot drive the vehicle at all until it is fixed. The mechanic who worked on our car considered the oil leak a one. He cleaned the area really well, tightened the gasket that was leaking, and said he felt it should pass inspection. Once again, we had no choice. He didn't have time to squeeze in any more work on our vehicle, and we were under pressure to get our inspection approved. $1,000 and we were on our way again.

Fast forward to Monday, and we are back at the inspector's facility. He hops in the vehicle, drives it around the block, comes back and asks if the leak was fixed. We responded no, and explained the situation. Did not matter how much we begged and pleaded explaining that our insurance expired that day and In Transit permit the next, with no way to get any other registration. And that was the kicker, once the In Transit permit expired, we could not register the vehicle in BC without an inspection sticker, and we could not get any extension on the In Transit permit. And all we got from everyone was shrugs. As far as the inspector was concerned, we had a level 2 leak and it had to be repaired to pass inspection. He did however, have buddy around the corner who could probably do the work. Hhhmmm... smelled kind of stinky to me. But again, what choice did have?

So back home we go. This meant extending our insurance again by a day - another $48 - we could not, however, renew any form of registration, so technically I guess we should not have been driving the van. But we were stumped for a solution as we sure as heck weren't going to pay to have it towed.

Tuesday meant a trip back to the second mechanic for the gasket repair, and from there back to the inspector one final time. Gasket repair, $800. Second inspection, $50 - anyone doing the the math as we go? And finally we pass inspection. But that came with another surprise. We had thought the primary reason all the other places said they couldn't inspect our vehicle was because of the propane for the camper. But no, that was not the case. This inspector also did not inspect the camper portion of the vehicle, and propane had nothing to do with the inspection. Nor did we need to get the propane inspected to be allowed to register and insure the van! In my mind, this was one of the most dangerous things on the vehicle, and there are no inspection/safety requirements. Think about that folks! Seems crazy to me.

Next step is to our insurance broker's office. As I mentioned earlier, we have dealt with him for 20 years, and he has always traveled to us. But for some reason, he insisted we bring the van to him this time - his offices are in Richmond. Hardly convenient, but again, no choice. So off we go.

Now it seems to me the biggest reason we have to jump through all these hoops is so the government can both collect money and generate jobs. Next bill was $700 PST. Even though we bought the Van in Alberta, as BC residents the Province is going to be sure to get their junk of the change. It made me wonder how many times tax has been paid for this 1989 vehicle, keeping in mind we had already paid $500 in GST. And here's another beauty, our insurance agent didn't know how to process our insurance and registration without charging us the GST again. We kept telling him we had already paid it to the seller as it is a Federal tax and the seller was obligated to collect it. It wasn't until Jim went and stood over his shoulder, read the form on his computer screen and told him what box to select that he was finally able to bypass double-charging us GST.

There was then another snag. The overly picky inspector managed to put the wrong VIN on our inspection report and it was after 5 p.m., so no way to reach him. Fortunately, we had his initial report with the right VIN, and we knew the agent, so he trusted we would get him the correct report the next day. That sorted, a cool $1200/year to insure the old girl, and we were finally ready and able to hit the road.

One thing is for sure, you can always count on governments to make things more complicated than necessary.

The whole experience raised lots of questions and frustrations.

1. Why is there not a single website people can visit that clearly lists all the documentation you need and all the steps you must take to bring a vehicle into BC from out of province? (I will write a separate post with this info)

2. Why is there a higher standard set for vehicles from out of province than for those already on our roads? (I have no answer to this)

3. Why did so many places say they could not inspect a camper van, when ultimately that was not an inspection requirement? (Still no answer to this, but if I figure it out, I will share)

4. Why are the electronic components, propane, and water in the camper not part of the vehicle inspection? (We plan to have our propane inspected anyways.)

5. Why is it not a requirement to have your propane inspected annually, and to have smoke and C02 alarms and fire extinguishers in RVs and camper vans? (We have installed both - the fire extinguisher we took out was dated the same year as the van, 1989.)

6. Why does it cost so much to insure a recreational vehicle that will spend so much less time on the road than a typical vehicle?

7. Why can you not get a temporary repair permit in situations like this?

8. And finally, why was it that virtually no one we spoke to had any clue how to help us?

The fact that the first week of camper van ownership presented us with so many problems, combined with all the unexpected expenses is a big part of what made me decide to start this website and blog. Clearly there is a lot to know and learn - maybe we will help a few others as we figure things out.

(click here for a total of all expenses listed in this article, along with a few other unexpected ones as well as a couple of splurges)

And stay tuned for a more pleasant post about our first vanventure!

#vanventures #vanhelen #vanlife

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