#second hand cars
Buying a 2nd Hand Car in France
There’s no doubt that most UK expats moving to France tend to keep their Right Hand Drive (RHD) cars to begin with.
Many keep them on UK plates for some years, though technically illegal, whilst others re-register them onto French plates within the required period.
Sooner or later though, usually after one or two near misses when overtaking, many expats start to question the wisdom of continuing to drive a RHD on continental roads. Their thoughts turn to buying a Left Hand Drive (LHD) vehicle and they start to shop around.
If they’re wealthy enough they may look at new vehicles, but we’ll discuss here the rather more common expat experience of searching for a second hand car.
This is one of those things that shocks new expats in France, because in general they encounter three things when they start to look around:
1. Second hand cars in France are for the most part HUGELY more expensive than the same thing in the UK.
2. They usually have much higher mileage (kilometrage) than an identical vehicle of the same age in the UK.
3. Quite often they have signs of having been rather more ‘lived in’ in terms of dings, dents and scratches.
The reasons for this remain the subject of much heated expat debate and speculation but the upshot is that nobody really knows!
Prices are influenced by the fact that the huge corporate market for new cars does not exist in France to the same extent as it does in the UK. Good second hand vehicles are not quite so available as there are not thousands of firms ‘dumping’ 2-year-old ex-company cars onto the market. Add to this the fact that the costs of employing staff are much higher for a dealer in France and you probably have a good explanation for the price difference.
The mileage differences are perhaps explained by the fact that France is a BIG country of vast distances with a superb and usually jam-free motorway network. French people use their cars over longer distances partly because they need to, and partly because the excellent roads mean they can.
The third factor of dings and dents is very probably attributable to different attitudes to driving between the UK and France. Some people have said a minor dent in the UK is a badge of shame whereas in France it is a badge of honour. Perhaps the less said here the better!
The reality though is that the expat looking to replace their vehicle with a second hand vehicle in France is likely to find that the deals available offer very poor value when compared to the normal UK situation.
So is all lost? Is this a case of continuing to drive an unsuitable RHD UK origin vehicle or finding a huge amount of cash to buy a slightly tatty 3-year-old vehicle with 150,000 kilometres on the clock?
No. Fortunately for those expats with one eye on their budget there are two really viable options:
– Buy in Belgium
– Buy a LHD model in the UK
At first glance this may look horrifically complicated, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is easy!
On the Internet now you can see vast numbers of vehicles being offered for sale from reputable dealers in Belgium. Their services often include delivery to your door and their prices are usually much better than you’ll achieve in France.
The same is true in the UK and you may be very surprised how many UK car dealers actually have extensive stocks of LHD vehicles available. Some are of course very up-market models with huge price tags, but many are humble family cars at prices that French dealers struggle to even come close to. Once again delivery to the door can often be arranged and not only will you save very significant amounts of money but you may find it easier dealing with people who are speaking your language.
Whether you buy from Belgium or the UK, the chances are upon arrival it will have Belgian or UK plates – although even here many dealers as part of their deal will re-plate the vehicle for you onto French plates.
So let’s assume it has arrived with non-French plates and you need to re-register. Is this a problem?
The answer is generally ‘no’. Registration (immatriculation in French) is very simple and you’ll only need the purchase invoice, the vehicle’s registration document, and the certificate of conformity.
There are just two things to keep in mind.
Firstly, if you’re purchasing a LHD vehicle for re-registration in France you should try to buy a French or European one. That’s because it will be a model the French registration authorities will be familiar with and the certificate of conformity should come with the vehicle. If you purchase an American, Japanese or other vehicle, then all will be well if it has a certificate of conformity but make sure to get one BEFORE you buy as getting one afterwards can be tricky.
Secondly, remember that British LHD cars sometimes have headlights that are deflected to the left for UK driving conditions. On French roads they must of course deflect to the right to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. If they are adjustable this will not be a problem – in fact it is not a mandatory consideration for re-registration but it could cause you some issues with the police if stopped. Best checked before you buy and ask your UK dealer to adjust if necessary.
Apart from those two minor points it is usually easy and cheap. By shopping around and buying your second hand car outside of France you can save yourself literally thousands!