Driving abroad: six things you must remember
Planning a trip overseas? Follow our must-do guide to ensure a chilled-out tripTaking to the roads for your big holiday break this summer? Good idea: it’s hard to beat the go-as-you-please feel of bowling along the Continent’s open roads in the sun, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk. And open they promise to be: remember that the UK has some of Europe’s busiest roads. France has two and a half times the space for a similar number of cars while Spain is even quieter away from cities.
Even if you’ve never driven outside the UK before, there needn’t be anything to worry about, especially if you prepare correctly. Here’s our guide to the key things to watch for before and during your trip.
1 Ready the car
Check the lights, wipers, fluid levels and tyres. If you’re unsure how to do any of these tasks, go to motors.co.uk and check out our advice section. With the tyres, calculate how many miles you’ll cover and work out whether there’s enough tread to last. Also look at the spare to see if it is usable and also ensure that you have a jack and tools needed for changing a wheel.
Look also at your car’s service schedule (which should be in the car’s handbook pack) and see if your expected holiday mileage will take it past its next date with the garage. If so, get it seen to before you go.Take a set of spare bulbs for the car and spare fuses, too.
Finally, of course, you’ll need a ‘GB’ sticker to fix to your car’s rump – unless, of course, it has a new-style number plate that shows the country of origin.
2 Ready yourself
Make sure that your driving licence is up to date and that you have a good copy. If you’ve an older style licence (which dsn’t need a photo card) this can confuse foreign police who may decide that it isn’t legal (it is). For an easy life, it may be worthwhile obtaining a photo card, too. Check that you car insurance covers you when driving aboard (most do, up to 90 days) and for which countries. See, too, that anyone else who’ll share the driving is covered, too.
In France and most other European countries, you’re obliged to keep a hi-vis reflective jacket or vest in the car and wear it whenever you stop in an emergency. It must be kept in the cabin and we’d suggest you do as the French do and hang it on the back of the driver’s seat – where the police can see it.
You’ll also need a warning triangle to be kept in the boot. If you break down it should be placed at least 30 metres behind your car.
Remember that for most Continental countries, drivers need to be at least 18 years old – which is the youngest at which you can drive in Germany. Seventeen year olds can’t drive in many countries, even if they have passed their test. Learner drivers of any age usually can’t drive abroad.
3 Plan the route
If you’ve a sat-nav, check that it has maps for wherever you wish to go and they are up to date. Ensure, too, that its battery holds power and that the in-car charger works well. Buy a good road atlas, too and don’t rely on your sat-nav.
Be realistic about how far you wish to travel and plan lunch and rest stops. The good news is that cafes on French auto routes as a rule serve higher quality food than you’ll find in Britain, although they can be expensive. France also has pleasant roadside picnic areas, close to main roads but screened by trees.
4 Drive on the right
Yes, we’re stating the blindingly obvious. But drivers are injured and killed abroad each year because they’ve strayed back to what for them is the ‘natural’ side of the road to drive. The danger is greatest when you re-start the journey after a break. And when approaching roundabouts it is too easy to drive the wrong way around them if no other cars are present.
The best way to stay alert to this danger is to stick a reminder note on the centre of the steering wheel and another on the dash in front of your passenger. Encourage whver else is in the car to act as a second pair of eyes and warn you if you look ready to stray.
5 Watch your speed
Limits on motorways are often higher than in Britain but in towns they may be lower: 30km/h (20mph) limits are common in French villages. Othewrwise most Continental motorways allow you to travel at 120km/h, although in Norway the limit is 90km/h and on the German autobahn you can go as fast as you want, unless a limit is shown.
On A-roads, 80km/h is usual, although that is raised to 90km/h in Italy and Luxembourg and 100km/h in Germany. In towns, 50km/h is standard across the Continent, although this is reduced to just 30km/h in some areas.
Be warned that radar traps are common across northern Europe and that police will fine you on the spot – 130 Euros is standard in France. You’ll also have points added to your UK licence. Be aware, too, that your entry and exit times for toll roads are noted and you may be prosecuted if they prove that you’ve exceeded the speed limit.
6 Keep an eye on costs
They mount up. Driving from Calais to southern France and back could easily cost £180 in road tolls. But you can avoid these by using national routes, which are usually wide, well surfaced and almost as fast as the motorways.
Filling up on the auto routes (toll roads) is also very expensive – adding about 10% to your fuel bill. Prices change, but at time of writing diesel fuel in France and Germany was a good bit cheaper than in the UK while unleaded petrol was slightly more expensive.
Proper breakdown cover and a get-you-home service are invaluable. Even though garage labour rates may be cheaper abroad, you don’t want to be paying them.
And while UK citizens are entitled to free healthcare under a reciprocal agreement with other EC members, proper travel insurance will ensure that you are properly looked after and flown home if needs be. We wouldn’t recommend travelling without it.
For more great car buying advice and to view and buy new and second-hand cars, click on to motors.co.uk. Surf the web using your mobile phone? Go to http://mobile.motors.co.uk/ or text ‘motors’ to 65056 and we’ll send you a link