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How to buy and register a car in France

PUBLISHED: 17:36 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 12:15 08 May 2017

Buying and registering a car in France ©  istockphoto

Buying and registering a car in France © istockphoto

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If you are planning to own a car in France then make sure you understand the registration documents you need and how car insursance, MOTs and breakdown cover differs from the UK first

Buying a car in France

The decision and search process for buying a car in France is much the same as in the UK. Work out your budget, see what is available in your price range, and start looking for your desired vehicle on the market through the usual channels – dealerships, garages, websites and small ads. You will find little difference in the price of new cars in France as compared with the UK, but there are inevitably many more dealerships selling French cars, notably Renault, Peugeot and Citroën. However, when it comes to second-hand cars (voitures d’occasion), be ready to take a big gulp as the second-hand market is decidedly more expensive in France. On the upside, at least the car will keep its value better if you come to sell it at a future point.

Getting a loan

Should you require a loan to make the purchase, you can arrange this either through the dealership or with your own bank. The dealership will require certain documents such as proof of residence and earnings, but will generally process the loan relatively quickly to ensure a smooth sale. Your bank, on the other hand, will already hold all the necessary information, but it can be a slightly lengthier process to gain head office approval for a loan. Be sure however to check out both options to compare the relative merits of each.

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French car documents © Unclesam / Fotolia French car documents © Unclesam / Fotolia

Documents you will need for your car

Whether you buy from a professional or a private individual, there are several documents that the seller is required to provide, including:

Certificat de situation administrative (previously called the certificat de non-gage)

This is the most important document that you must have in your possession before handing over any money as it basically proves that the owner is indeed the owner and that there are no outstanding fines, claims or loan payments associated with the vehicle.

Contrôle technique

An MOT certificate issued within the last six months is required in sales transactions for all cars in circulation for four or more years.

The cancelled certificate d’immatriculation (still commonly called by its former title carte grise)

This is the vehicle’s registration document and must be clearly cancelled (i.e. lines across the page) with the seller’s signature and date confirming release of the vehicle.

Carnet d’entretien

The car’s maintenance log book as well as invoices for any repairs it has undergone.

Certificat de cession

This certificate testifies that the owner has signed over his or her ownership of the vehicle as a result of the sale. It is needed in triplicate; one copy for the seller, one for the buyer, and one to pass on to the préfecture on completion of sale.

Registering your new car

When you buy through a registered dealership, the dales department will usually organise all the necessary registration papers for you, so that when you take possession of the car you already have the carte grise in your name. All that remains is to inform your insurance company of your change of car.

With a private sale, it’s your responsibility to organise the papers and although it’s not a hugely onerous task, be prepared for a wait at the préfecture (which issues the cartes grises) and potentially a return visit.

Don’t delay, however, as the registration procedure should be activated within one week of purchase, after which time the authorities have up to three weeks to send you the document. If the carte grise is not in order a month after the purchase, you risk a fine if stopped by the police.

As well as taking all the documents provided by the seller at sale to the préfecture you will also need the following:

• Proof of identity for each registered owner (usually your passport)

• Proof of residence

• Proof of insurance

And don’t forget to take along your bank card or cheque book as the little carte grise doesn’t come cheap – the fee varies from around €200-€300 depending on the vehicle’s engine size and the regional tax levy.

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Car insurance in France

When it comes to insuring your car, all vehicles on the road must be insured (and there is no relief for cars spending part of the year off the road). The key difference is that you insure the car as opposed to the driver, so anyone with a valid driving licence can get behind the wheel of your car which can sometimes come in handy, especially if you have visitors from home. That said, the insurer will still issue the insurance in the car owner’s name and usually list the principal drivers.

As in the UK, there are several organisations offering car insurance, including dedicated insurance companies and banks, and it is always advisable to seek expert advice and shop around for the better deals. Once your car insurance is in place, it is automatically renewed each year unless you choose to terminate (this must be done in writing by recorded post within the stated deadline).

Every year upon renewal, the insurer sends through the updated policy (attenstation d’assurance) as well as a small green square coupon (certificat d’assurance) indicating the expiry date which must be clearly displayed in the bottom right-hand corner of the windscreen to render the insurance valid. The policy, including an accident form, should be kept somewhere in the vehicle.

MOT

In France, all private cars that have been on the road for more than four years must undergo an MOT test (contrôle technique) every two years at a licensed MOT centre. These centres are dedicated to carrying out MOT tests and are equipped with computerised equipment for the relevant checks, which means you can be in and out in less than half an hour if you’re lucky. The cost of a contrôle technique is €70 on average.

If your car passes the MOT, the garage will add a sticker of validation in the relevant part of the carte grise indicating the car is roadworthy and will provide a written diagnostic of the findings, including any potential problems that may require attention. Should your car fail any part of the test the garage provides a written report listing the failings and you have two moths in which to get the car repaired before returning to the MOT centre. Some centres offer this return visit check for free.

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Always put a warning triangle out if you break down in France © gemenacom / Fotolia Always put a warning triangle out if you break down in France © gemenacom / Fotolia

Breakdown cover in France

In France, it is the car insurers that offer breakdown assistance (assistance dépannage) as part of the insurance package – there is no equivalent of the AA or RAC. Check exactly what this assistance entails when applying for the insurance, especially what they reimburse should you break down on the privately owned toll motorways on which they are unable to send out their own contractor.

Always keep the insurer’s emergency call-out number to hand in case of a breakdown or accident. They are quick to respond and will provide clear instructions of what you need to do.

Before calling, however, remember to put on the high visibility yellow jacket (especially if on a busy road or motorway) and set up the warning triangle as soon as possible a few metres behind your car.

Documents you must have in your car

There are certain documents that you are legally required to keep in your car in France, or at least be able to hand over to police if required:

• A valid certificat d’immatriculation with proof of an up-to-date contrôle technique

• Valid car insurance papers with the green expiry date clearly visible from outside

• Your driving licence

• A luminous red warning triangle and high visibility jacket

Failure to produce any of these if requested at a routine check or if you are stopped by the police can result in an on-the-spot fine and a more severe penalty if they are not submitted within a stated time period. These fines range from around €10-€150 (the higher sanctions usually imposed after certain deadline periods).

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