In it, the player takes on the role of a mobster’s apprentice, clawing a way through the ranks of the underworld heirarchy, via gory storylines glorifying armed robbery, assassinations, drug-pushing and, of course, brutal, car-jacking heists. Roundly condemned as dangerously degenerate by all the usual suspects in moral authority, notably the church, media clean-up campaigners and the police, Grand Theft Auto’s notoriety guaranteed it would be the ultimate trophy on any kid’s birthday present wish list. And so it proved.
Archly parodying reality, it was nevertheless based on every god-fearing motorist’s worst nightmare – being waylaid by some gun-totting heavy, who’d stop at nothing to separate the driver from their car. So it has comes as some shock to many to discover that a real-life version of this video nasty is being played out here on the tranquil, sun-bleached byways of Mallorca…and the twist in the tale is that the mob of armed car-jackers is none other than the police.Their victims are foreign motorists, driving foreign-plated cars. And, judging by the evidence of the exotic array of Mercs, BMWs, Audis, Porsches and other particularly tasty 4×4s ‘arrested’ by Tráfico, business is booming. The modus operandi of the island’s uniformed car-jacker gang is simple. Set up a checkpoint in a zone frequented by non-Spanish EU citizen – i.e. Portals Nous village or the Bendinat roundabout – and confiscate until the gas tank of the gruas’ towaway trucks are empty.
Equally, the bevvy of yummy mummies, collecting their kids from international schools at going-home time, provide a nice little earner. Last month, for instance, 32 such vehicles were impounded in one, fell swoop, with their owners being lashed by hefty fines – up to €9,000 – and ordered to transfer their motors onto Spanish plates, pronto. With financial penalties out of all proportion to the offence, it’s little wonder one disgruntled driver told the police where they could stuff his car, since it was worth no more than €3,000. Meanwhile, the German community feels particularly chagrined by all this heavy handed policing, citing fears that they are being unfairly targeted. Maybe so. But perhaps they should take it as a compliment, because invariably Germans have better taste in cars than anyone else.
However, the fact broadly remains that all foreign vehicles must be transferred to Spanish registrations within, at most, six months of being imported here. And in the interim period, a non-Spanish vehicle should have all the valid paperwork from its country of origin (in the British case a current road tax disc and, if applicable, MoT certificate). Now, while it is perfectly understandable for Spain to want knowledge of all vehicles on its roads – to reap the fiscal benefits, check roadworthiness and, presumably, crackdown on real criminals – once upon a time the legitimacy of such precipitate action was questionable. Criticism stemmed from a requirement to pay an ‘import duty’ on foreign-plated cars, levied at 12 % of their value, along with fees for technical checks, including an ITV road-worthiness test of vehicles aged three years or more.
But such a ‘tax’ was against the laws and spirit of the EU, since one of the charter tenets is that goods, services and people can travel freely, without let or hindrance, across member state borders at no cost. Undeterred, Spain responded with a swift change of vocabulary. So, ‘import duty’ went out of the exhaust pipe of governmental parlance to be replaced by the more arcane term, ‘matriculacion’ or registration charge.
According to my humble understanding, EU nations are entitled to demand an ‘admin/matriculation’ fee to transfer a vehicle’s registration. But, since it cost no more to shuffle the paperwork for a €50,000 Mercedes ML than a €5,000 Fiat Uno, I was at a loss to understand why a sliding scale of payments, based on a percentage of a motor’s notional value, was fair. This is acknowledged elsewhere in Europe and, in the instances of the UK and Germany, re-registering foreign vehicles usually costs less than €500 and is done in a figurative blink of an eyelid compared to the groaningly protracted and bureaucracy-laden Spanish practice.
Clearly, this also taxed the consciences – or so I like to think – of Spain’s legislators, because from last January 1st a new set of costs was implemented.Sensibly, these reflect eco impact and are based on the grams per kilometre of CO2 emissions a vehicle discharges into the atmosphere. Auto manufacturers are supposed to provide an independently-measured, CO2 figure that each of their motors spews out – it should be listed on your vehicle’s ownership documents – and this is now the basis of the ‘matriculation charge’ or whatever passes as a euphemism for an ‘import duty’.
Hence, a dirty, gas-guzzler is rightly clobbered accordingly and the most pious/least poisonous motor escapes tax-free. For the record the new cost criteria is: Under 120 grams per kilometer (g/km) = zero euros; 120-160 g/km = €475; 161-200 g/km = €975; and 201-plus g/km = €1,475.
This is a step in a positive direction, but an interminable state of affairs still exists here when buying or selling a motor. So it’s small wonder a cottage industry has evolved, whereby confused foreigners employ gestors or administrators to handle the complex machinations of a simple car ownership transfer and ratchet up further costs.
Perhaps some day EU states will get agreement on and adopt a pan-European set of rules governing all aspects of motor vehicle administration, but don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, to paraphrase a popular English proverb: A switch in time saves nine thousand euros. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!