So, you want to go driving in Europe. Perhaps you intend to take your car on a driving tour across Europe. Or maybe you’re just taking a short hop across the channel. If you’re going to drive your UK registered car abroad there are a few things to think about before you set off. This guide will help you plan ahead and keep legal as you go.
What do you need to know before taking a road trip?
Make sure your car is up to the trip
If you are taking your own car then you need to do a few basic checks before you head off. Firstly, make sure your car is up for a long road trip. Even if you are just hopping across the channel you’ll likely be driving quite a distance. If you plan on driving to anywhere in Southern or Eastern Europe then you’re going to drive a lot of miles. Of course, you don’t expect to break down but it happens. However, you can make it less likely if you check your car over before you go. So, if your car isn’t serviced regularly then this is a good time to get it checked over.
Even, if your car is serviced regularly there are a few checks you can do before setting off. Top up your windscreen washer. Check the oil. These are little things but you’ll be annoyed if a light comes on the minute you arrive in France. Trust me, I’ve been there. Also, check your tyre pressures. Personally, I like to give the car a bit of a clean out. Better to start with a nice clean car as stuff does seem to accumulate on a road trip.
Check your documents
Firstly, make sure your car documents are valid and up to date. I keep mine in one of those transparent envelope folders. Then I can just grab it and go when we take the car abroad. You need to carry quite a few pieces of paper. If you are the registered keeper of the car then you need to carry the V5 registration document with you. If you drive a company or lease car then you should carry documentation that proves you are legally in possession of the car. This is the V103 document that the hire or lease company can provide. Also, make sure you have a current MOT if your car requires one.
Is your insurance policy valid for driving in Europe?
Check if your UK car insurance covers you adequately for driving in Europe. Of course, you should carry a copy of your UK insurance policy. However, don’t just assume that it offers the coverage you need. If you’re lucky then your insurance company gives you the same coverage in Europe that you have at home. For example, both Saga and the RAC extend your comprehensive car insurance to cover you in Europe.
However, you must check as not all car insurance companies do this and many reduce your comprehensive cover to the third party. Not a lesson you want to learn after you have an accident abroad. It’s perfectly legal to drive in Europe with 3rd-party only cover. In fact, it’s the legal minimum. Whether that’s enough for you is a personal choice. However, if you drive with comprehensive cover in the UK why would you want to take the chance when driving in Europe?
You need European breakdown cover
If you have breakdown cover in the UK then check if it extends to European coverage. In fact, you’ll find that some do. For example, we have breakdown cover on our First Direct bank account and it’s a very comprehensive policy which covers European travel. Similarly, you may find that you have European coverage on your AA, RAC or Green flag breakdown policy. Make sure you double-check though. If you don’t already have it then you should top up your policy or take out a new one.
Of course, this isn’t compulsory. No country in Europe insists you buy breakdown cover. If the idea of breaking down somewhere thousands of miles from home with no idea how to get your or your car home doesn’t scare you at all then go ahead and take a chance. Nobody will check whether you’ve got European breakdown cover when you leave the UK. However, it’s a risk I don’t take and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you do either.
If buying Europe-wide breakdown cover sounds very expensive or too much hassle then ask yourself how you’re going to get a broken down car back to the UK from Croatia, Italy or Spain! Also, how will you get home? Of course, if you have the correct insurance policies in place it’s a lot easier. Not only will they pay to get you and your vehicle home but they’ll also help you deal with local authorities and organisations. You’ll also find that it’s not that expensive for the cover you get. You can usually get cover for under £200 a year. You’ll pay a lot more than that if you have to get your car towed back to the UK from anywhere in Europe. I wouldn’t travel without it.
Know who to call in an emergency
You should carry copies of these policies with you when setting off on your Balkan itinerary. Also, make a note of all the telephone numbers associated with them. Put them on the contacts list on your phone but also print a copy and pop it in with your documents. Just in case.
As well as making sure your car is up to scratch and its documentation in place you also need to make sure your personal documents and insurance are in order. Check out this handy guide for international travel documentation.
Whenever you drive in Europe your car must have a GB sticker or GB number plate. If your car is registered in the UK then you need to fit deflector stickers onto your headlights so that you don’t dazzle drivers when driving on the right-hand side of the road.
Know the rules for driving in Europe before you go
Before you set off check the speed limits for all types of road in the countries you will be driving. Although speed limits tend to be similar to the UK there are differences and there is often little tolerance for small excesses.
Drink driving is frowned upon right across Europe and rightly so. However, the actual limits vary. Obviously, it’s easiest not to drink at all but if you do have even a small drink then be very careful that this is allowed in the specific country you’re in.
Lots of countries in Europe require you to carry a high vis jacket in the passenger compartment of the car. Not in the boot! If you have an accident or breakdown you are required to put it on before exiting the vehicle. In some countries, your passengers must have one too. They are cheap and easily available so we find it makes sense to just pop one each in the car whenever we’re driving in Europe.
It is also common to need a warning triangle. Most newer cars have one in I’ve discovered. If yours doesn’t then you can buy them in the UK before you go. Note that some countries suggest you carry two.
Sat Navs with speed camera locations
Something else to be aware of when driving in Europe is that some countries have banned sat navs which show speed camera locations. If you use a sat nav with this capability it needs to be permanently disabled in these countries. Check the exact rules before you set off as fines can be high.
Low emission zones
You’ll find it increasingly likely that the country you are visiting has some low emission zones in place. More and more European countries are designating cities and even some parts of the countryside as low emission zones. This means you will need some kind of sticker if you want to drive in one. So far, we’ve bought stickers for France and Germany as their schemes are quite extensive. If you think there is any chance of straying into a low emission zone when driving in Europe then buy a sticker before you go. Check country by country requirements at a trusted website such as the AA or RAC and use their link to go to the official selling point. Don’t just search on google as there are a lot of scam sites about.
Motorway driving in Europe
Firstly, check the speed limits for the country you are driving in. Speed limits across Europe do vary. In Germany, for example, there is no maximum speed on the motorway although there is a recommended maximum. However, in all other countries, there is a maximum speed limit. You will also find that there is normally a minimum speed limit on the motorway too.
Quite a few countries in Europe also vary the speed limits if it is raining or if visibility is poor. There may be recommendations for using dipped headlights during the day, particularly in tunnels. This will also apply when driving on the motorway in Europe.
Tolls and Vignettes for driving on the motorway in Europe
Unlike the UK where most of our motorways are free, most European countries charge on a pay as you go basis. France and some other European countries have tolls along the motorway. You may need to take a ticket although not always. At some point, you will come across a toll booth and you will need to pay for the stretch of the motorway you are driving on. You should bear this in mind when budgeting a trip as it can be quite expensive if you are driving long distances. Of course, you can avoid motorways but that can make the trip a lot longer. It depends on your priorities.
Several European countries operate a vignette system so if you are driving in Europe you will need to know if you need one. For example, Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland all require a vignette for motorway driving. In this case, you buy a sticker which allows you to drive on the motorway for a certain length of time. You can usually buy a short-term vignette for say 7 or 10 days which is suitable for most tourists driving in Europe. Alternatively, there will be longer-term vignettes for 1 month or 1 year for those staying longer. I worried about this a bit before we went but actually, they’re very easy to buy. You’ll see plenty of signs on the motorway warning you that you need one. Just pull into the service station and buy one there.
Overall, driving in Europe is not something to worry about but you should take your responsibilities seriously. Understand that there are differences from driving at home and make sure you prepare accordingly. Have a great trip!