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Should your home swap include trading a car?

by John Mensinger on May 14, 2011

When you drive a few hours to a home exchange the issue of trading your car never comes up. When you are flying to your exchange residence you will think about whether or not to trade a car. If you are British and trading in nearby parts of continental Europe you should consider trading a car so you and your exchange partners are driving a vehicle with the steering wheel next to the center line of the road. There is always the alternative of renting a car or relying on public transport.

There are risks to exchanging a vehicle. If your car is driven badly people could be killed and your insurance might be insufficient to cover the damages. This is unlikely and I have never heard of it happening. We mitigate this risk by trading a company car, which is heavily insured. (My company and its insurer have approved this arrangement.)

Avoiding a car exchange may save you money. Every mile put on a car represents wear and tear and decreases its resale value. If you are British you probably have to take out extra insurance for your home exchange partners, which adds to your costs. Our exchange partners have put as many as 5,000 miles on our car in a month. It might have been cheaper for us to have paid for their use of a rental car.

Occasionally there is a mismatch between the exchange home and exchange car. There was a lovely flat in Dublin, Ireland that could accommodate five comfortably. Yet the family of three only had a small car that seated four. If my family of five wanted to trade for that home we would have needed a rental car. And the Irish family wouldn’t have needed our mini-van with seating for seven. If your exchange group is six or more you will have limited exchange choices unless you supply your own vehicle.

Another reason to forego the car swap is being in a large city. Driving in New York City is living dangerously and you will pay a small fortune for parking.

If you need a car, a vehicle exchange should be cheaper and more convenient than a rental car in most but not all cases. There are other advantages to car exchange. You get to try out vehicles you normally never would drive. We enjoyed trying out smaller cars such as a Citroen Picasso, Renault Scenic, or Mercedes A class. Our first experience with GPS navigation was in France on an exchange. It was luxurious to have a top of the line Mercedes station wagon and fun to drive around an American Jeep with the top off in Stockholm during the summer. The Ford pickup truck was large and fuel hungry but useful for carrying bicycles.

That pickup was welcome because we also had a normal car on that exchange. Many of our partners have let us use both cars, even though we only have one for them. The pickup expanded our range of vacation options. Partners in the Netherlands left us a tiny car and a mini-van. The smaller car was great for small roads and navigating cities and towns while the van was comfortable and relaxing for road trips by freeway.

Two vehicles can be handy for exchange groups with different activity preferences. My wife and daughters can go shopping in town while my son and I drive to a park for a hike.
Vehicle exchange can be asymmetrical. Our family will have an apartment in the center of Berlin next month. It comes with an old but serviceable small car and two transferable public transport passes for the Berlin region. We will get free public transportation while our partners enjoy the wide open spaces in a mini-van.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on trading your car

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeanette @GringoDog.com June 13, 2011 at 11:24 AM

On one of our first home exchanges, we exchanged vehicles with an American couple in Ajijic, Mexico. Unfortunately, we were in an accident in the car while we were in Mexico. While the accident was NOT our fault, and no one was hurt, their car was badly damaged. It was VERY lucky that the fault was placed on the other driver, because it turned out that we were not insured. Their agent had told them that we would be insured, but like many things in countries like Mexico, the laws and regulations are hazy and change frequently.
Dealing with the accident in a language we do not speak was the stuff of nightmares, and I am happy to report that the Mexican police, Federales, ambulance and fire depts that dealt with us were marvelous. Still, we would be unlikely to include a car in our out-of-US exchanges again.
BTW, we have remained good friends with the owners of that car (took them 3 months to get it repaired) and we all had a good laugh when we received a photo radar ticket of them driving our car to the airport for their return to Mexico!

2 Marie July 10, 2011 at 9:35 AM

We swapped with a couple in Australia once who were obviously not used to driving a manual gearbox car – when we returned we needed a new clutch in the car. Our policy is now never to swap our car!

3 Diane October 28, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Have just completed an exchange and returned home to find our car has two scrapes on front and rear bumpers. Our exchangers vehicle was damaged on every panel and bumper and so they obviously do not see damaging our car as a problem and now refuse to take responsibility for the damage. Ironic, since they insisted we both sign a car contract agreeing to pay the deductible or damages if too small for an insurance claim!!
This is the second time this has happened, no more cars included in our exchange, we will rent a car costs less!!

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