The time had finally come where I had absolutely no choice, but to take the plunge and finally buy a car. I desperately needed mobility and independence, I needed wheels! Not that I enjoy driving in France but still, needs must. Buying a car may seem like an easy, everyday task, but believe me, in France there's no such thing!
There were a lot of decisions to make. Buy in France, (exhorbitant prices, the French have not heard of depreciation) or buy in UK, or Germany, or other European country? Left hand drive or right? Diesel or petrol or even hybrid, or get a deal on an electric jobbie? Buying outside of France needs a lot of investigation. Although second-hand cars elsewhere are far more reasonably priced, the French don't like you to import so they make it difficult and expensive. There's a recently introduced 'Malus' tax which is calculated on age, emissions, engine size and whatever else to make it prohibitive to bring in gas guzzlers. And after Brexit, who knows? UK cars will probably be completely off the table.
Then there's the rigmarole of registering an import on a French plate. Seems to be near enough impossible, without a certificate of conformity from the manufacturer, which rules out any sort of modified vehicle, and a lot of other cars sold second hand, especially old ones in my budget, which fall outside the norms of recent European manufacture.
There's this whole thing about the headlights, which need to be Euro standard which UK models are not. You can buy stickers to put on, which is supposed to be OK for your CT (equivalent of MOT) but many garages still refuse to pass cars using stickers and insist on the whole headlight units being changed, at significant cost and time delay. This being France, there's no arguing with them when they take a position, its simply 'non'.
So I decided to look for a car over here, and up popped a beautiful beast on facebook. Ideal, being right hand drive but already on French plates, a diesel, 4WD, auto. Could have been made for me! The owner was English, and had imported the vehicle some years before, so the difficult part was done, or so I thought.
Well there began the saga. Although the car had a fairly recent CT, it had not been done in the last six months. Unlike the UK, French law stipulates that a car cannot be sold without a CT dated less than six month previous. So the delightful seller undertook to get a new test done. This picked up a few minor issues, easily fixed, but a hole in the exhaust silencer meant the emissions test could not be completed. A new silencer box was ordered, but the lead time was several weeks, from Germany. We were now into August, so of course everything is shut down in France, for les vacances. Good job I was not in a hurry!
Thankfully the garage doing the jobs was run by an English fellow, so the part was received and fitted within a couple of weeks, and the new test done. It passed! So on to transferring ownership, simple you say? Oh no. There's this online procedure. The infamous 'ANTS' website. To access this, you have to be a member of 'France Connect', a sort of big brother government computer system which links all your data, or is supposed to. There are several ways to become a member, for me there were three options, my tax details, my social security number, or a last resort, an appointment with the post lady to verify I am who I say I am, which takes several weeks apparently. So I try the tax one first. I've paid tax in France for 18 months or so. Computer says no. Next I try the social security log on. It prefills my name and date of birth, so obviously it knows who I am, but apparently my social security number is not recognised. Computer says no. Now I'm in a panic, blood pressure through the roof, as I don't have several weeks for the post lady to verify me. There's a time limit on this transfer of course!
So despite having a carte vitale, carte de sejour, EDF and bank RIBs, Tax and social security accounts, I'm still persona non grata with ANTS. Let's try another way. The seller has the forms on his computer, so we arrange a meet and he brings his laptop, with his data filled in. We scroll to the part where my details go. It is pre-filled with his info. Can we get my details in the fields? Can we buggery. After around 20 tries, I'm all for throwing in the towel and cancelling the whole shebang. Luckily my OH is a patient man, and a techie wizard. He plays with the system for a while, and finally cons it into allowing us access to fill in the correct details. Done.
Next step, print off these details, and the seller needs a code to allow transfer of ownership. There's no sign of the promised button to bring up this code though, so a few more anxious hours of keyboard bashing until it magically appears, called something else entirely from what it says on the instructions, of course!
As the system is so complicated and still won't allow me access, we decide to go to a garage for a hand-holding service to finish the process. The cost of this is 30 euros, money well spent. The lovely lady uses google translate on her laptop to tell us what we need and in what order. You need insurance to get your carte grise, (log book/ownership document) but this is a chicken and egg scenario. I have to supply all the old documents to the insurance company, the broker struggles to find me some insurance as I have not driven for the past 18 months, and he suggests that I might need to be insured as a new driver at a cost of 3k, more than the car is worth! My nine yers no claims is not valid, apparently. Eventually after I have another melt down, he finds a company that will give me a small discount and I go for a third party policy, as all the excesses are 1k plus anyway.
I finally manage to get a cover note so the carte grise application can go in, along with copies of my passport, birth certificate, EDF and bank RIBs, all the forms we filled in printed in triplicate, and a utility bill from the last three months but not a water bill apparently!
The garage lady presses a few buttons, clips the huge pile of documents together with a paperclip, and we are seemingly finished. I part with several hundred euros for the privilege. The carte grise should be sent to me within a few days. As promised, this arrives and then I trot off to the garage to get some new plates made up. All re-registered cars are now given new plates, another bill to add to the stack. Our local garage is a family affair, the owners know all about us mad English, and they are super helpful. A conversation about our new neighbours ensues while the mechanic tries to make the new plates fit the chassis attachment holes which are sized for the old style yellow back plates. In the end he decides to attach the new plate over the old one, so we have a rather fetching yellow border around the shiny white new plate.
And finally, the new carte grise has to be scanned and sent to the insurance company, so they can redo all the documents with the new plate number. What a palava!
So for you lucky people who've yet to embark on this particular French adventure, bonne courage. Just be prepared for lots of frustrations along the way, and some quite interesting rules and hoops to be jumped through. It is much the same with everything official in this lovely land, extra-complicated and time-consuming. But you'll find a way in the end. If you need help and advice, a first port of call is the excellent facebook group, Registering vehicles in France. They were invaluable for me. And I'd suggest that you use a hand holding service from a local garage from the start too, much easier than trying to negotiate French websites, with only a rudimentary grasp of the language. Happy driving!