The chance to drive through Europe is a dream many of us share. As a family vacation, as a chance to get reacquainted with your spouse or as one last wild road trip before the responsibilities of a new job, a European driving vacation has a great deal of appeal. But then there's the cost. While airfares to Europe have a tendency to wax and wane with demand and time of year, car rental rates in Europe always seem to the high side. This explains the popularity of European train and bus tours, but those of us with an independent streak would much rather chose our own routes at the wheels of our own cars.

Interestingly, that's just what more and more consumers are doing. Instead of renting a car at European rates, they are buying a car in the United States and taking delivery of the vehicle in Europe, participating in the overseas delivery programs of a number of European-based manufacturers. After their sojourn abroad the car is then shipped to them in America, where they take delivery again. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have overseas delivery programs, but the most popular of the current programs comes from Volvo. To examine the ins-and-outs of such a program we recently participated in Volvo's Overseas Delivery process (OSD), jetting from home base in the Los Angeles area to Sweden to take simulated delivery of a spanking new Volvo XC90 V-8 sport utility vehicle.

Consumers Highly Satisfied with Overseas Delivery

Suffice it to say our experience was fantastic. The combination of vehicle, route, sightseeing opportunities, accommodations, restaurants and other attractions was simply stellar. But you could well be asking, was the Kelley Blue Book experience a fluke of good-timing or was it a reliable, repeatable positive experience that you and yours would find of value?

The answer to that seems to be the latter. Volvo says its surveys indicate more than 95 percent of its OSD customers are "highly satisfied," and a large number of individual testimonials from Volvo's customers are equally positive about the experience. Frequently the process is described by its buyers as "too good to be true." You can judge that for yourself, but the essential facts are compelling.

No Haggling Required

First, if you purchase by Volvo Overseas Delivery, you will get a "one-price, no-haggle" deal from your local dealer that is eight percent below the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP.) While the very best negotiators among us on their very best days might be able to better this net price on some of the models in the Volvo line, for most buyers this, in itself, is an excellent bargain. For example, on the XC90 that eight-percent-below-MSRP price is about $2,000 less than what consumers are typically paying for the vehicle based on our Fair Purchase Price. In addition to the discount off MSRP, buyers taking part in OSD get additional advantages, the key one being two roundtrip tickets from their home city to Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo's home. And there are other perks as well.

Once you land in Sweden, you and your group are picked up at the airport by a Volvo limousine and deposited at a first-class hotel - currently the SAS Radisson -- in Gothenburg for a complimentary overnight stay. The following day your group is shuttled by limo to the Volvo headquarters complex where you can tour the famous Volvo Cars Safety Center or the factory where your Volvo has just been built. You are also treated to a classic Swedish lunch at the Delivery Center, and you are also given a walk-around of your new Volvo by an English-speaking delivery expert.

With simple paperwork like European insurance coverage taken care of, you are ready to take command of your vehicle and venture out onto the Swedish road system. Many Volvo OSD patrons confine their journey to Sweden, but the whole European Continent is at your beck and call. Volvo also offers a wide variety of packaged tours - hotels, meals and other amenities - at what appear to be bargain prices.

Go Where You Want to Go

Once at the wheel of your vehicle, your options are completely open. Drive around Sweden for a couple of days, venture to Europe for several weeks or keep the car with you for an extended time in Europe (as many as six months.) When your overseas journey ends, you don't have to return the car to Gothenburg for shipment back to the United States. Instead, you can drop the vehicle off at one of some 20 drop-off points across Europe. If you return the vehicle to Gothenburg or to Volvo's shipping center in Bremerhaven, Germany, there are no shipping charges at all for its passage to the U.S. If you use one of the other drop-off points, you pay for the vehicle to be transported to the European port for overseas shipping, usually a matter of a few hundred dollars. In eight to 10 weeks time your Volvo will arrive at your local dealer ready for you to take delivery again.

Are there downsides to taking delivery in Europe? The only one that jumps to mind after participating in the Volvo OSD experience is timing. First, you must order your new Volvo from the local dealer of your choosing at least eight weeks prior to your desired travel time. Then, at the conclusion of your overseas adventure you won't have the use of your new car until eight to 10 weeks after your return. Another issue to pay attention to is your individual deal. The Volvo program described here could change without notice. Equally important, other manufacturers' overseas delivery procedures differ markedly from Volvo's and might offer less value.

But by doing your homework we believe you will be richly rewarded, and the benefit is not only the purchase of a high-value vehicle but also the opportunity to go on a European vacation that almost pays for itself.

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