Driving Overseas? Some advice to help

Driving Overseas? Some advice to help

22 Aug

By Steph Savill

This summer my husband and I flew to Toulouse courtesy of Easyjet, collected a hire car from Europcar and toured the Dordogne and Midi Pyrenees region at our leisure.
Clearly, we needed to read up about the latest driving rules in France so here are a few tips in case you're planning a similar fly drive holiday in the near future.

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Motoring tips when driving in France

1. When you rent a car overseas, the hire car company will probably ask to check your driving licence details before they let you loose on their roads. To do this you need to go online and obtain a permission code for them which is valid for 21 days from the date you obtain it. You can find out more here.
2. After you complete your initial hire car paperwork, be sure to check that there are no bodywork or wheel rim scuffs or scratches they could charge you for at the end of the hire period. They will try to sell you extra insurance to reduce your car hire excess (ours remained an eye-watering 1200 euros) or in case of tyre or windscreen failings. These options are far too expensive to take seriously but it does make you drive even more carefully than usual, just in case.
NB: Our holiday homework suggested we might need something called a Crit Air sticker in the Toulouse area but the Europcar rep said no. I therefore assume that if a hire car needs it, the hire company should either tell the hirer or supply this with the car?
3. Before you take to the roads, take time to acquaint yourself with the car, its workings and your initial route. You may prefer an automatic car which'll save you having to cope with a gear stick on the 'wrong' side. Check and re-position the side mirrors and make sure you understand how the SatNav works. We couldn't see how to get the SatNav language into English so asked a representative to show us. It was SO much easier when we could understand what she was telling us...
4. Spend some time comparing the speed limits in your holiday country with ours in the UK. We used autoroutes on our return journey airport leg but otherwise chose rural roads to make our motoring more relaxing and leisurely. The road speeds are well signed and the rental car's SatNav seemed to correspond with the signs – which isn't always the case in my experience in the UK. Even so, the maximum speed limit on rural roads was 80kph, sometimes 70kph, dropping to 50kph in built up areas and a ridiculously slow 30kph wherever there were speed humps. These are much slower speeds than we are used to in the UK.
5. The role of a good navigator is a critical one – or was in our case. A companion can help the driver respond to the latest speed limit and remind them to 'drive on the right' particularly after a disorientating three-point turn or similar manoeuvre.
6. It's a good idea to compare drink and drive limits to see that the drive limits in England and Wales are higher ie more tolerant than in most EU countries. In a nutshell, we found it wasn't worth the worry to drink and drive at any stage. Our solution was simple, to stay in places where we could park the car and walk to bars and restaurants. My favourite town was Sarlat in the Dordogne, a medieval and gastronomic jewel, where all tourist parking is outside the historic centre.
7. I suggest you fill the hire car up with fuel close to handing it back – some companies will ask for the fuel receipt to prove this. This is usually part of the hire car's final check process and so you get your deposit payment back at that stage, without any dispute.
8. The cost of living was particularly high in France this summer as a result of the depressed value of sterling. Having done my homework re: credit cards in advance I learned that the Halifax Clarity credit card doesn't add a percentage charge to purchases in foreign currency. I'll be paying any foreign currency bills off with it every month to avoid any interest s well.
9. The French don't pay car tax/VED like us so their government relies more on fuel taxes and autoroute tolls. The first toll station (peage) you come to, you collect a card. The next peage is when you enter that card in a machine and it tells you how much you need to pay. We used the Clarity card again and requested receipts to see what we were paying. Quite a lot it seemed whereas the French can drive from Dover to John O'Groats and back again for free on our roads... #justthinking.
10. It's a shame that Europcar doesn't add the planned car hire return point to its SatNav as a destination. They'd given us a series of airport coordinates to find them of course but I couldn't see how to enter these into the onboard TomTom so we had to attempt to follow their directions using a mobile device. Bearing in mind that coordinating a long drive, with returning a hire car, in enough time before checking in for a flight, can be mega-stressful, this process could be a tad easier Europcar.
Some of these tips will apply equally to driving holidays in countries other than France. I hope you find them helpful. There's no shortcut to doing your homework in advance and buying the right maps in advance of course.
I do speak a little schoolgirl French so that helped ease matters on occasion but fortunately most tourism staff* spoke English much better than I spoke French, and wanted to practice this. I hope this is some comfort to non-linguists.
*Apart from the grumpy Sarlat guide for the Rooftop Ascenseur ride who gave us a laminated A4 sheet to read but no time to read this AND look at the views before she expected it back...
Happy holidays everybody and may the sun shine where you go - especially after such a wet August here at home.

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