When driving in Europe, there’s a lot more to it than simply switching onto the wrong side of the road. So if you’re one of the many Brits heading to the Continent this summer in your car, be sure to follow our handy pre-departure checklist.
1. Complete Routine Maintenance
Check tyres, wipers, windscreen washer fluid and lights before setting off. The last thing you want is to find yourself in need of a replacement while in the depths of rural Europe – unless you’re fluent in the local lingo, of course.
2. Deflect Your Headlights
Your car’s headlights don’t illuminate exactly straight ahead; they’re set up slightly to the left, since we drive on the left. But on European roads, that means your lights are shining directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers.
Buy and fit a deflector set to reverse the direction of the beams; instructions are included for most models. Just remember to remove them when you get home.
3. Set Up Breakdown Cover
Even the best laid plans can go wrong, and you don’t want to tempt fate by leaving yourself without cover. The best European breakdown policies include repatriation for you and the cover, replacement transport so you can complete your holiday, and much more besides.
Some new and Approved Used cars come with European breakdown cover included for the duration of their warranty; if you’re not sure, ask.
4. Pick Up Safety Equipment
The UK has some of Europe’s laxest laws when it comes to compulsory safety equipment. Pretty much anywhere in Europe, you’ll be required to carry a few essentials, such as hi-vis jackets and a warning triangle.
The requirements vary country by country (France, for instance – most people’s initial destination at least – demands a breathalyser), and you can usually pick up a complete kit at your port of departure, but retailers know they’ve a captive audience and they don’t come cheap. Plan ahead to save yourself a few pounds.
5. Carry Essential Documents
Be sure to pack your driver’s licence, insurance certificate (plus Green Card if necessary), and registration document (V5C). Remember to notify your insurer that you’re driving in Europe, to ensure your cover is extended beyond the basic third-party-only; you might be charged for this.
And since you’ve no idea when disaster will strike, it’s a good idea to carry a credit card with a large limit, just in case.
6. Know The Local Laws
Local laws vary, so read up on your destination before you arrive – plus any other countries that you’re driving through on the way there.
For instance, many European countries (including Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic) demand that your headlights are turned on at all times, even in bright sunshine. Others, like Hungary and Italy, also apply this rule – but only in rural areas. And in Croatia, it only applies between the last Sunday in October and the last Sunday in March.
In Sweden, as you might expect, winter tyres are compulsory during the winter months. But did you know you must carry a shovel too? And in Norway, your car will be checked at or near the border to see if you are carrying snow chains. If you’re not, you can be turned back.
The AA has a complete country-by-country breakdown with full details for everywhere in Europe.
7. Buy an emissions sticker – read carefully if travelling to France, Belgium or Germany
Lots of low-emissions zones are being set up in cities across Europe to help improve the local air quality.
France has set up the Crit’Air scheme, which operates in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble. Lille and Strasbourg will also operate this scheme from autumn 2017, and other cities will be joining in due course.
If you’re planning on driving in any of these cities, you’ll need to display a sticker stating your vehicle’s emissions rating. Your vehicle will be given a rating from 1 to 5; 1 being the lowest-emitting models, and 5 being the most polluting.
You can order your sticker online (the form is in English) and it costs €4.80, including postage to the UK; you’ll need to upload and attach a photograph or scan of your car’s registration document (V5C, sometimes known as the logbook).
You should arrange this at least 30 days before departure to ensure it arrives in plenty of time. When it arrives, fit it in the lower right-hand corner of your windscreen.
The restrictions are gradually tightening. Currently, only diesel models registered after 1st January 2001 (rating ‘4’) and petrol cars registered after 1st January 1997 (rating ‘3’) may enter a low-emissions zone. Cars registered before these dates are banned.
The rules for vans, motorcycles and HGVs are different. Details can be found here.
A low-emissions zone is set up in Antwerp, and matching schemes will soon be in place in Brussels, Mechelen and Ghent.
Some vehicles are banned; others may enter after paying a fee; and others can enter freely. You can check your vehicle before leaving by entering a few details online.
There are dozens of low-emission zones in cities all over Germany, and again you need a windscreen sticker (‘Umweltplakette’) to display your car’s emissions rating.
Cars receive a red, yellow or green sticker. Diesel cars registered before 1st January 1997, and petrol cars registered before 1st January 1993, do not qualify for a badge and are banned from these zones altogether.
Many zones restrict access only to green badge holders: petrol cars registered after 1st January 1993, and diesels registered after 1st January 2006.
You can buy your sticker online, or from any TÜV location (there are many across Germany). You will need the logbook handy for this.
And that's it. Remember, also, that foreign drivers may have different road manners and customs (tailgating is practically the French national sport), so exercise patience, understanding and stay calm at the wheel. You're on holiday, after all!
All details were correct as of August 2017.