Millions of Brits are heading off to the continent for some quality time this summer, and with Channel crossings affordable and frequent – with none of the long airport queues plaguing the most popular destinations – many of us are choosing to take the car instead.
So if you’re one of them, we’ve created this handy guide so you’ve everything packed that you need.
Maintenance before you go
As with any long journey, you should ensure your car is in good condition before departing. Check the tyres and lights, and top up the windscreen washer reservoir.
Insurance and documents
Your car insurance policy will automatically cover you to drive in Europe, but only on a third-party basis. If you have comprehensive insurance and want this to apply in Europe too, you must check your insurance. Some insurers, such as Admiral, automatically give 90 days’ European cover at no extra cost, provided you carry the certificate with you. Others may charge you.
In the past, you needed to carry a Green Card to drive a British-registered car on the continent. It’s no longer a legal requirement, but will make exchanging details with another driver or the police (in the event of an accident) much easier. Your insurer can provide one.
You should always carry your driving licence, and apply GB stickers if the registration plates don’t integrate a country identifier.
Road safety laws in Europe vary by country, but in general are more stringent than in the UK. For instance, to drive in France (most Brits’ point of arrival) you must be carrying, amongst other things, a breathalyser kit.
Almost all European countries insist that you carry a warning triangle and various other bits and pieces; remember to carry equipment for every country you drive through, not just your destination. The RAC and The AA both sell a range of kits designed for the purpose.
Be aware that some of Europe’s more unusual destinations – like Sweden, for instance – insist on some additional compulsory equipment, like snow tyres and a shovel in winter.
We drive on the left, so British car headlights are designed to illuminate slightly to the left. When driving on the right, this means your lights are shining directly into oncoming traffic. Therefore, you must apply headlight deflectors to reverse their effects when driving in Europe, to avoid blinding other drivers. Just remember to remove the deflectors when you get back.
Know the local laws
Driving laws in Europe are broadly similar to Britain, but it’s worth brushing up on the specifics for each country you’re driving through before setting off.
For instance, many countries expect that you drive with your headlights on at all times – even in bright sunshine. In Belgium, it’s prohibited to use cruise control on congested motorways and some motorways during roadworks. And in Spain, you must not wear headphones while driving – it carries a €200 fine.
The AA has a a country-by-country breakdown with downloadable guidance for countries across Europe.
Emissions windscreen stickers
A crackdown on urban pollution means many European cities are placing restricting on the most polluting cars from entering. In the UK, these restrictions have mostly been applied to HGVs and local buses, but in some European cities these now apply to all vehicles.
You may need to apply for, and display, a windscreen sticker that confirms your car’s emissions rating if you are planning on driving into a major city. You can buy these online; the EU’s Access Regulations website has information and links on where to buy.
At the time of writing, schemes are in place in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Antwerp, and dozens of German towns and cities. More cities are introducing similar schemes all the time.Restrictions are slowly tightening; pre-2006 diesel and pre-2001 petrol cars are particularly likely to fall foul of a ban, but this varies by scheme.