Driving abroad is all very easy and nice and appears very laid back until you have trouble. So it is best to carefully go through all the requirements of any Country you are going to drive in, and make sure you comply with them all. A quick flip on to the sea front in Calais on a day trip is one thing, driving for 24 hours through France, or whatever, is quite another.
Insurance – my insurance company now assures me that Green Card cover is no longer necessary in any EU country, so that’s one less complication to have to worry about. Try to get your tongue around a few foreign words.
Make sure you comply with any Country’s individual requirements, such as blanking strips on the headlamps to prevent dipping to the left, carrying a spare set of bulbs, first aid kit, warning triangle for breakdowns, etc. Carry an emergency spares kit, which you can get from any Main Dealer here, and check that they will refund for parts not used, or failing that, at least carry appropriate hoses, fan belt and timing belt.
Tyres must be first class, as must be the overall mechanical condition of your vehicle. Distances are much greater than ours, National Speed Limits are often higher too and some of their hills are miles long, and steep. On these, save your brakes by using engine braking in a lower gear, either manual or automatic. Now you know what that 1-2-3-4 (or similar) is on your automatic’s gear selector (sorry)! If you select “3” and then brake until the car is within 3rd gear speed range, it will change down to 3 and will not change up again if your speed increases.
On twisty mountain roads blow your horn before each bend. The local driver will assume nothing is coming if this is not done, and will use your part of the road as a short cut!
Each Country is different, and try to do as they do, so you fit in. The saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, is appropriate. In Holland they seem to use dipped headlights all day on main roads, so do the same. Strangely they are not allowed, by their law, to use headlights at night if the street lighting is “adequate”, so don’t. Do not dazzle oncoming drivers anywhere – you may be driven off the road!
The Dutch seem to permanently drive to a very high standard. The French seem to aim their cars at you, whilst Spanish drivers are always in a great hurry, and generally exceed speed limits and ignore Stop signs etc. I don’t advise you to copy this!
The above is not intended to be a definitive guide, just a few tips and impressions. As with anything motoring, learning comes with experience.
Latest changes for France are as below and were correct at March 2005. These may apply to other countries also.
The old E111 form for free medical entitlement is no longer any good. There is a new one and there has to be one for every member of the party, not one form for all.
Insurance – a “Green Card” is no longer required as UK insurance now automatically covers for EU motoring, but only Third Party cover. If you want Fully Comp you must arrange this with your insurer.
Headlamp external masks to divert the beam will not do for modern High Intensity Discharge (HID) or Xenon headlamps, which have to be manually adjusted. This can be complicated and might be a garage job.
A warning triangle is a must, you must display one of these or hazard flashers at an accident or breakdown, and hazard flashers do not count if near a brow of a hill or a bend.
Using or possessing a speed trap warning device is an offence.
French speed limits are automatically lowered in wet weather by 20kph on autoroutes and 10kph on main roads. On the spot fines can range from 90 to 750 Euros (£60 to £500)