From buy­ing a new or sec­ond-hand car to reg­is­tra­tion, in­sur­ance and break­down cover, Kate McNally takes you through the process step by step

Living France - - Contents -

Our es­sen­tial guide to buy­ing and reg­is­ter­ing 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.

When it comes to the diesel ver­sus un­leaded choice, bear in mind that while diesel petrol is still quite a bit cheaper than un­leaded in France, the French govern­ment ear­lier this year be­gan im­ple­ment­ing a plan to align prices for the two fuel types over the com­ing years.

What­ever your choice, find­ing a car to buy shouldn’t pose a prob­lem. As ever in France, the fun starts with the pa­per­work!


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. 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 cer­ti­fi­cat d’im­ma­tric­u­la­tion (still com­monly called by its for­mer ti­tle, carte grise) which is the ve­hi­cle’s reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment – the cer­tifi­cate 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.

You in­sure the car as op­posed to the driver, so any­one with a valid driv­ing li­cence can get be­hind the wheel


When you buy through a reg­is­tered deal­er­ship, the sales 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 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.

On the road… CAR IN­SUR­ANCE

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. This 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 ( at­tes­ta­tion

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.


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 months in which to get the car re­paired be­fore re­turn­ing to the MOT cen­tre. Some cen­tres of­fer this re­turn visit check for free.


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 help 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.

The cer­ti­fi­cat d’im­ma­tric­u­la­tion (also known as the carte grise) is the ve­hi­cle’s reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment

Deal­ers will usu­ally or­gan­ise the reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments for you

Once you’ve dealt with the pa­per­work, it’s time to en­joy driv­ing on France’s open roads

There is no equiv­a­lent of the AA or RAC in France. In­stead, the car in­sur­ers of­fer break­down as­sis­tance

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