Our Complete Guide to Buying a Car and Driving in France

Originally posted on & updated on 15th March, 2024

So, you’re ready to hit the open road and explore France in style – French style! However, buying a car as a foreigner or expat in France can be challenging, especially if you’ve recently arrived and it’s your first experience dealing with local authorities and governemt websites. It is essential to consider several factors to ensure a smooth and successful purchase.

This includes understanding local regulations and choosing the right vehicle. At first, it can feel like you are driving on the wrong side of the road, but with the proper preparation, the process can be less stressful and more efficient. This guide provides valuable advice and practical tips to help you confidently navigate through successfully finding and buying your next car in France.

The Key to your Drive

Do your Research

If you are in the market for a vehicle, it’s crucial to take your time and carefully examine different makes and models that align with your specific needs and budget. Talk with friends, neighbours, and locals, and research local businesses online. Have you asked your estate agent?

While French car brands such as Peugeot, Renault, and Citroën are popular and have their charm, don’t limit yourself and consider other leading brands you are familiar with, except for the Vauxhall brand, called Opel in Europe. Whether you are searching for a spacious family saloon or an eco-friendly car, exploring various options will help you find the vehicle that meets your needs and matches your style.

Determine your Budget

When purchasing a car, one of the first tasks is establishing a realistic budget that considers the purchase price, the extra options, and ongoing expenses such as insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs. When deciding on the type of car to buy, it is also important to consider whether you prefer a new or used vehicle, an EV or a hybrid model, and weigh the pros and cons of each option based on your budget and personal preferences.

Get your Documents in Order

If you plan on buying a car from a dealership, you will be asked to provide certain documents. These include a valid driver’s license, proof of address such as a utility bill or rental agreement, and proof of residency if required. Some dealerships may also ask for passport and visa information. Start preparing in advance to avoid any last-minute hassle, ensuring that your documents are current with a valid expiration date.

Explore Financing Options

If you need to finance your purchase, it’s best to research and secure pre-approval from a trustworthy lender before you start shopping. Take the time to compare interest rates, terms, and conditions to identify the financing solution that aligns with your budget and financial objectives; they will be different in France.

Brush up on your French

When buying a car from a private seller, it’s important to feel confident and armed with the correct knowledge. Understanding car vocabulary and buying terminology can easily help you navigate the process. That’s why we’ve compiled a comprehensive A to Z glossary of words and terms translated into simple English that anyone can understand.

Choosing Your Ride

When selecting a vehicle, evaluating your transportation requirements and goals is essential. Consider who will use the car and for what purposes: commuting to work, travelling long distances, or running errands around town. Think about your lifestyle, for example, the number of passengers you will usually carry, boot space for shopping or golf clubs, and overall comfort level.

Besides your lifestyle, you should also consider the car’s fuel efficiency. A fuel-efficient car can save you money on gas and reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, consider the vehicle size; a smaller car may be more suitable for city driving and parking, while a larger car may be better for longer trips and transporting large items.

Dealerships versus Private Sales

When buying a car, there are two main options: dealerships and private sellers. Dealerships offer the advantage of providing extended warranties and security with your purchase but often come with a higher price tag. Alternatively, private sellers may be more willing to negotiate on price. Still, you’ll need to take precautions by inspecting the car extensively and conducting thorough research to ensure you’re making a wise purchase.

New versus Used

New cars are typically more expensive but come with a warranty and offer peace of mind as they are yet to be taken on the roads. In comparison, used cars are cheaper but require a thorough inspection to ensure they are in good condition. It is important to note that the inspection should include checking for potential issues that may affect the car’s performance or safety. One way to ensure that a used car is in good condition is by looking for “CT” (Contrôle Technique) reports. These reports provide a detailed analysis of the car’s condition, including roadworthiness and emissions levels.

Online Marketplaces

If you’re in the market for a used car, you’ll find Leboncoin, La Centrale, and AutoScout24 among the most popular online platforms for buyers. However, be cautious when dealing with sellers, especially if they’re not professional garages. To avoid falling victim to scams, it’s crucial to thoroughly check the vendor’s history and conduct comprehensive inspections of the vehicle to ensure that you’re getting a good deal.

Sealing the Deal

Shop Around and Negotiate

When purchasing a car, it’s imperative to research and explore different car dealerships, both online and physical, to find the best deals and options available. It’s always a good idea to negotiate the price and terms of the sale to ensure you get the most favourable deal on your car. Don’t hesitate to ask for a better deal, particularly if you buy without finance.

Test Drive

Taking the car for a test drive before making the final purchase is highly recommended. Test driving allows you to evaluate the car’s performance and handling on the road and to identify any potential problems that may not be visible during a static inspection. During the test drive, pay close attention to how the car responds to your inputs, such as acceleration, braking, changing gear and steering. Listen to the engine, test the clutch, and note any unusual noises or vibrations that may indicate underlying issues. Remember to check the lights and air-conditioning; a must-have in the summer when you live in France!

Get a Mechanic’s Inspection

It’s always a good idea to have a mechanic thoroughly inspect a used car before making your purchase, although this is only sometimes practical in everyday life. This is because hidden issues can go unnoticed and may result in costly repairs later. During the inspection, the mechanic will look for signs of wear and tear, mechanical issues, and any potential red flags that could impact the vehicle’s value or safety. If you cannot do such an inspection, ask a driver friend to accompany you for an extra pair of eyes and advice.

Understand the Paperwork

It’s essential to ensure all required documents are complete, accurate, and in order. Among these documents are the “carte grise,” the registration certificate, and the “certificat de situation administrative,” proof of ownership. These documents are crucial in verifying the legality of the vehicle and ensuring that you have full ownership rights.

Ready to Hit the Road?

Register your French car

You need to register your new car and obtain a registration certificate within one month of your purchase. The request is made only on the ANTS website (National Securities Agency). In most cases, the application can be made directly to the vehicle dealer.
Alternatively, you can request using the online National Agency for Secure Titles (ANTS) service.

During registration, you must provide several documents, including your passport, driver’s license, proof of residence, CoC, contrôle technique certificate, and proof of insurance. Your local prefecture will provide your French registration certificate (carte grise). Then, you’ll get your French license plate personally from a specialist website once you have the registration number.

Insurance is mandatory in France

Choosing the right car insurance can be a little daunting, especially if you are not fluent in French. The good news, however, is that some insurance companies have customer service representatives who can speak English fluently and are available to help you navigate the process. We can assist you in finding the best insurance car policy that fits your needs and budget, ensuring you have the necessary coverage in any unforeseen circumstances.

Stay Informed and Maintain your Vehicle

Understanding the country’s road laws, regulations, and safety standards is crucial to driving safely in France. It’s not just about avoiding fines or penalties; it’s about protecting yourself, your passengers, and other road users. Therefore, staying informed about the latest rules and regulations, including updated speed limits, traffic signs, and road markings, is essential.

Finally, keeping your car in good condition ensures a safe and comfortable journey. Regular maintenance and servicing can help detect and fix potential issues before they become more significant, extending your vehicle’s lifespan. This means checking your tyres, brakes, lights, oil levels, and other main components to ensure they are in good working order.

With these tips, you’ll be ready to hit the road confidently and explore France’s beauty behind the wheel of your car!

Important Note: This guide is intended as general information and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult with relevant authorities and professionals for specific details and regulations.

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