Two for the road

Pete Williams from the RAC looks at the pros and cons of second-home owners keeping a car in the UK and in France

Owning a second home in France, and spending several weeks there every year, raises inevitable questions about whether or not it’s better to have a car in both countries.

It is a conundrum that many Brits with a second home in France often think about: should I buy a car that is registered in France as well as keeping a UK-registered one?

The ease and comfort of having your own car to travel in to and from France is a key reason why many people opt to keep their own vehicles with them rather than investing in an alternative.

It is, of course, perfectly legal to have a right-hand drive car in France. In fact, it’s legal to drive a car that is registered in one EU state in another EU state for six months of any 12-month period.

Key to staying on the right side of the law is also ensuring you follow French motoring regulations, such as deflected headlamps for right-hand drive cars and carrying certain equipment in your vehicle including a warning triangle, fire extinguisher, high visibility vest and breathalyser. You should also ensure you have your documents, including licence, insurance and vehicle registration, to hand at all times you are on the road.

While some people are perfectly comfortable driving on either side of the road in a right-hand drive vehicle, many, often through regular use of hire cars, find they start to prefer a left-hand drive car while they are on the other side of the Channel.

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Moreover, if you stay in France for an extended period, or more than six months of the year at a time, you’re probably much more likely to be thinking about having a left-hand drive car available. Buying a left-hand drive car to keep at your French home comes down to individual choice and circumstances. However, in terms of the practical, legal and regulatory aspects of buying a second car abroad there are several factors to consider.

The main benefit for purchasing a left-hand drive car is often seen as being safety. Blind spots are more likely when driving a right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road as the driver is positioned at the furthest point from oncoming traffic and it can be difficult to have a clear view of the road.

Your line of sight can also be obscured by the car itself as you look across the passenger side to check traffic. Drivers must also remember to check the side mirrors more often and it can be safer to have a passenger in the front to double check blind spots as well.

A further benefit of having a car based permanently at your second home is that the vehicle will always be available and ready for you, or any other drivers named on the insurance, to use any time you want to visit.

Then there are the little things that, while they may seem trivial, can make a difference. With the number of tolls on French motorways, leaning over the passenger seat to pay through the passenger window can also become a chore if you spend the majority of your time in France.

And of course, there is the wider cost. Buying a left-hand drive car for long-term use can be cheaper than keeping your own UK car in France or hiring one every time you visit. If you are going to spend a significant amount of time at your French home, the costs of extra EU insurance for your UK car and paying for tolls as well as UK car tax does add up.

As well as weighing up the benefits, you should also give careful consideration to the potential difficulties that buying and driving a car in a foreign country can present.

The second-hand car market in France is quite small in comparison with the UK. The French traditionally own their cars for far longer than UK drivers and cars of about two or three years old don’t come onto the market in any significant numbers. This is often attributed to the fact there are smaller numbers of corporate fleets, which means there is less of a turnaround. You may want to consider buying a left-hand drive car in the UK, and then exporting it to France.

Remembering to tax, insure and get breakdown cover for your car in both countries can become a hassle, and difficulties with understanding the French legal requirements, if you’re not used to the system, can be a turn-off.

If, like many people who travel from one country to the other on a regular basis, you do decide to continue using your right-hand drive car, it is not necessary to export your vehicle to France, if you are there for less than 12 months. But it is worth noting that the car remains subject to UK law, meaning it must be taxed in the UK with a valid MOT and insurance. It will also be subject to French road duty if your stay exceeds six months.

Do also make sure your UK car tax doesn’t run out while you are abroad as you won’t be able to drive it back to the UK. You will need to make arrangements for it to be transported back to the UK and apply for a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) straight away. If you or visitors decide to hire a vehicle to drive from the UK to France, the car will need a Vehicle on Hire Certificate before you travel.

Ultimately, there is little doubt that France is a country where a car may be necessary, but compared to the often congested roads of the UK, driving there can be incredibly enjoyable – resulting in whatever choice you make being a good one.

Pete Williams is head of External Affairs at the RAC