Driving and towing in Europe
UK caravanners must clearly display GB stickers on the rear of their tow car and caravan. EU numberplates (with the circle of stars) do not need to be changed, and if your numberplates have GB on them (with or without a Union Flag), you don’t need a GB sticker in the EU.
The exceptions to this rule include the Republic of Ireland, where no GB sticker is needed when driving a Uk-registered tow car, regardless of the type of numberplate it has. In Cyprus, Malta and Spain, you do need to have a GB sticker, regardless of the type of numberplate fitted.
When towing to Europe, UK drivers must obtain a motor insurance Green
Card. This regulation includes the Republic of Ireland, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland. Green Cards are usually free, and provided by your insurer. Contact them to request one, listing all of the countries you’ll be visiting. Note that when entering an EU country, you must have 15 days remaining on your Green Card.
Your UK car insurance policy gives you a minimum of third-party protection in EU countries. Check with your provider that your UK comprehensive/fire and theft cover extends to the EU.
If you drive abroad regularly, these details should be factored into your initial insurance-buying decision, because cheaper policies may not offer the best EU cover.
Company car users should request a free VE103 vehicle-on-hire certificate from the leasing firm, and make sure to keep it in the tow car at all times while you are abroad.
International Driving Permits
British drivers with a UK card licence do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.
Those with a paper licence – or a licence from Gibraltar, Guernsey,
Jersey or the Isle of Man – should carry an IDP when driving in the EU and Norway.
There are three different types of IDP, so it’s advisable to visit gov.uk/drivingabroad/international-driving-permit to check which one you will require.
IDPS are available from selected post offices, and cost £5.50. To find out which branches can supply them and download the form, visit www.postoffice.co.uk.
Accidents in the EU
If you are a frequent visitor to EU countries with your caravan, when buying your annual car insurance, find out whether a proposed insurer will deal with the claim/paperwork if you are involved in an accident abroad.
Previously, your insurance provider or the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB, www.mib.org.uk) would deal with any claim on your behalf, but after Brexit, you might find yourself having to deal with foreign insurers.
The MIB has also negotiated a reciprocal deal with 29 of the 30 European Economic
Area countries (a deal with Romania has been delayed). This means that if you are hit by an uninsured driver while driving abroad, you will be able to access a fund to cover your financial losses.
British citizens can no longer be pursued across borders for speeding infringements caught on camera. However, EU police can issue on-the-spot fines, and the French government is seeking to establish a new cross-border-fining deal with the UK.
You should continue to carry your full driving licence (and photo ID if you have a paper licence) with you at all times.
In addition, take a V5 vehicle registration document. It’s advisable to keep photos of all documents on your phone, and to consider storing copies on an online hub.
If you are stopped and can’t pay any fine on the spot, the police might confiscate your V5 until you return to pay it.
n Be sure to take enough gas for the duration of your holiday. Continental gas bottles are not compatible with UK ones. For longer breaks, consider taking a Continental pigtail adapter, because you can then pick up a Euro-fit gas cylinder at a service station or DIY store.
n Be sensible about distances that you can tow each day, especially after an early start. For example, when we are crossing to Caen and towing south, we aim for Le Mans or Tours. We like Compiègne if crossing to Calais or heading to Paris. All three are great places to explore and have dinner! n Choose your Channel crossing carefully, and bear in mind price, distance and practicality. For example, fans of Spanish touring should think about how valuable it might be to gain an extra day or two at your destination by travelling with Brittany Ferries to Bilbao or Santander. Of course, some may prefer a leisurely road trip through France. The longer crossing isn’t cheap, but you’ll save on fuel, tolls, towing, time and campsites en route.
n For a long tow to your holiday destination, plan to leave a day or two ‘spare’ at the end of the trip, and keep an eye on the weather forecast for a few days before the return journey.
n When driving or towing in Europe during the summer, try to stay off the roads around the major holidays. In France, for example, Bastille Day (14 July) and Assumption Day (15 August) are best avoided. The roads can become extremely congested on and around these days, just like bank holidays in the UK. n If you want to reach your French destination quickly, the fastest routes are the Péage toll motorways. These are generally quite quiet, allowing you to make good progress. However, they are expensive. Expect to pay around £100 in tolls to cross France from north to south.
n Buy good-quality breakdown cover that includes all of the countries you might visit on your tour. The Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club both offer excellent breakdown and repatriation cover.
› campingandcaravanning club.co.uk
n If you’re taking an extended holiday, be aware that many home insurance policies don’t protect properties that are left uninhabited for more than 30 days. It’s advisable to check your cover before you go.
n Find out about the ‘towing’ speed limits of any country you plan to visit – there are significant differences.
n If you’re heading south, or expecting hot weather on tour, pack a fan or air-con unit to help you get a good night’s sleep. Portable fans are cheap, while air-conditioners are more expensive (and heavier).
n When abroad, always carry a copy of any NHS prescriptions members of the party may have. n Use Google Earth and Street View to plan your journey, with approaches to sites and so on.
n If you prefer to avoid towing down narrow medieval streets, it’s well worth considering a caravan-specific sat nav.
n Bear in mind that devices warning drivers of speed camera locations are illegal in France. n For a more leisurely and picturesque French touring experience, try taking the Routes Nationales, which are more like British A roads, and have the added bonus of frequent boulangeries and patisseries! You can stop to enjoy lunch, in a pretty town, with the money that you save on road tolls. n Some fixed-distance Péages require payment when you join them, but most have tickets at the start and pay-barriers at the end. Often these are automated, so if you get stuck at the barrier, it can be very stressful, and may require a long reverse between concrete walls. Certain credit/ debit cards are not accepted at the barriers, so it’s advisable to keep some cash in the car for such emergencies.
n If you can, avoid towing into the tollbooth bottleneck, between the concrete walls, until the vehicle ahead has left. Just in case they get stuck! n Keep the key dimensions of your outfit on a sticky note on the vanity mirror. Especially the van height.
Ferry pic n An increasing number of European countries now have low-emission zones (LEZ) to improve air quality in major cities. These restricted zones apply to visitors, too, and you must not be caught driving through an LEZ without the correct documentation/sticker, because you’ll risk a fine.
› urbanaccessregulations.eu n In Italy and Spain, if the total length of your outfit (tow car plus caravan) is over 12m, you’ll need to fit ‘long vehicle’ marker boards on the rear of your van. These red-and-white reflective panels measure 50cm by 50cm. Only the biggest van and car combos should exceed 12m, for example, a Range Rover and the largest six-berth caravan.
n If you’re checking your tyre pressures while touring on the Continent, bear in mind that there are 14.5 psi to one bar.
n Remember that you must use E-marked towing mirrors when touring on the Continent.
n For travelling on motorways in Austria and Switzerland, you require a windscreen sticker, known as a vignette. These are available at the border or online in advance of your journey.