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What you should know when buying a car in France

Cars in a Renault-Dacia dealership in Vitry-Sur-Seine, near Paris.
Cars in a Renault-Dacia dealership in Vitry-Sur-Seine, near Paris. Photo: ERIC PIERMONT / AFP.
From making sure you're getting a good deal, to registering the vehicle, here's what you need to know about buying a car in France.

Purchasing a car can be a stressful experience, one in which everyone’s speaking a different language, and that’s even before you move abroad. Going through the whole process in a foreign country is even more daunting.

These are some of the things you need to keep in mind when on the hunt for a car in France.

Getting a good deal

The first decision to make is whether you opt for a new or used car.

Second-hand cars in France are notoriously expensive, to the point where many readers of The Local have previously said they preferred to buy in the UK and bring the vehicle over. But now registering British cars in France has become a lot more complicated because of Brexit, it is much simpler to buy a car in France.

On the plus side, the small size of the second-hand market means your French car shouldn’t lose its value in a hurry.

If you are looking for a used car, you can buy through a dealer or browse the options online on sites like Leboncoin, AutoScout24, LaCentrale, and ParVendu.

Since the prices in France will be different to what you’re used to, before making an offer you should consult the cote Argus to have an idea of whether you’re getting a good deal. Motoring magazine L’Argus assigns a guide price to every used car based on its age and model, and industry professionals as well as individuals looking to buy or sell a car can consult the guide online.

This is really the minimum a car is worth, so expect to pay more than the Argus price, but it’s a good point of comparison. The Argus price may also be used by insurance providers when calculating the size of your payout should the car be written off, so knowing this before signing the papers can help you avoid any nasty surprises in the future.

Green bonus

Whether you’re buying a new or used car, France offers two main grants to encourage people to opt for a cleaner vehicle.

The first is the bonus écologique (ecological bonus), a grant of up to €7,000 when you buy a new electric or plug-in hybrid car or van, or a second-hand electric vehicle. In order to qualify, new cars must emit fewer than 50g of CO2 per kilometre, while the limit is 20g for used electric cars. Find out more about how much you could receive here.

READ ALSO Power points: What I learned driving 1,777km through France in an electric car

The second aid is the prime à la conversion (exchange grant), which offers help towards a new or used car in exchange for sending a polluting car to the scrapheap. You could receive up to €3,000 for a combustion engine car, or €5,000 for an electric or plug-in hybrid car, although this also depends on your income. Find out whether you could qualify here.

Several local authorities also propose their own schemes which will help you cover the costs of a more environmentally friendly vehicle. Find out what grants are available here.

Renault's Zoe electric car. The French government offers big subsidies to people who buy electric cars.

Renault’s Zoe electric car. The French government offers big subsidies to people who buy electric cars. Photo: Money SHARMA / AFP.

Insurance

Congratulations! You’re now the proud new owner of a car in France. But if you actually want to drive it, first you’ll need to get some insurance.

If you are from the UK and have been insured there within the last few years, it may be possible to transfer over your no-claims bonus.

In France, the system is called Bonus Malus. Someone who has never been insured starts with a bonus of 1.00, and every year you go without a claim this is multiplied by 0.95, shaving 5 percent off your bill. So you could save money by providing proof of your British insurance history.

If on the other hand you are involved in an accident, this figure will be multiplied by 1.25 if you are to blame, or by 1.125 if you are only partially at fault.

Usually, a French insurance policy will cover the vehicle, rather than the driver as is the case in the UK. You will still need to provide one or several named drivers, but others will also be able to take the wheel and be covered by the insurance.

Registering the car

When completing the paperwork, it’s important not to miss any steps to ensure you’ll be driving legally. If you buy from a garage or dealership, they may be able to help you out with some of this, but if you buy a second-hand car from an individual, it’s especially important to check off all the steps.

First of all, when you buy a car, you must sign a certificat de cession (transfer certificate) along with the previous owner, who has to declare the sale on the ANTS website within 15 days. The seller should then receive a code de cession (transfer code) which they must send you because you will need this to register the vehicle in your name.

The previous certificat d’immatriculation (registration certificate) – also referred to as a carte grise – needs to be struck through, and completed with the date of the sale and the seller’s signature.

READ ALSO The cost of registering a car in France

You will then need to register the car in your name, which can be done online. You have one month to do this, otherwise you risk a fine of up to €750. Even if you didn’t buy the car from them, you can ask a certified garage to apply for the carte grise on your behalf, which could save on time and hassle.

When applying for a carte grise you will need to submit proof that the vehicle has undergone a contrôle technique (vehicle safety check) within the previous six months if the car is at least four years old.

Essentials for the car

There are also a few essential things every motorist needs to carry. Legally, a car must always have a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest in case you break down or are involved in an accident.

In the windshield, you need to display proof of insurance, which comes in the form of a carte verte – a small green square of paper – as well as a vignette de contrôle technique – a sticker showing details of the vehicle’s most recent MOT. Cars at least four years old require a contrôle technique every two years.

All cars require the above in order to circulate legally, but there is another requirement which can be easy to forget. If you live in a large city such as Paris, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble or Marseille, or just want to visit, you will need a sticker showing your vehicle’s environmental credentials.

The Crit’Air system was introduced in 2017 and assigns a number to each vehicle based on how much they pollute, so you will need to apply for a number to stick on your windshield. In the above cities, as well as in other towns and some entire departments, the sticker is a requirement year round, even if they are only used to ban the most polluting vehicles during spikes in air pollution.

You will find a full explanation of how the Crit’Air system works here.

From November 2021, another requirement will be added to the list, too, when it becomes compulsory for vehicles to be equipped with snow tires or chains in half of France’s départements during winter, even if you are just passing through.

Make sure you’re also aware of specific rules around driving in France, from strict alcohol limits, to laws around smoking or using earphones at the wheel, to the rather confusing rule about giving priority to the right.


Member comments

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  1. I have been looking to rent (LLD) a new electric car and have been tempted by the low monthly rates offered.
    They are a scam, intended to get you into the dealers showroom!
    When you get to the dealers, they know nothing about the low prices and only want to sell you a new car.
    Very disappointed.

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