May 30, 2013

Posted by in Features, Money Saving Tips, Trip Advice | 20 Comments

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Your 10-step plan to driving abroad this summer

For many, half term is now over and the countdown is on to the big summer getaway.

And, if you’re planning to drive abroad this summer – whether you’re looking to reduce the hassle of airport transfers or just to have the freedom to explore your destination – a bit of forward planning will go a long way.

To help you save money on your motoring abroad, and to prevent any potential pitfalls, follow our 10-step plan below.

Driving abroad

1. Pre-book your hire car to make big savings

If you’ve shopped around to find a killer holiday deal, don’t waste your hard work by paying over the odds for car hire. This is what you’ll do if you leave booking your hire car until the last minute before setting off or, even worse, when you reach your destination airport.

We took a look at prices to hire an ‘economy’ car from Malaga Airport from July 27 until August 10 and found huge differences. For example, on the day we looked, Hertz’s pay-at-location price was £453.88 for a car of this type whereas a quick search on TravelSupermarket found vehicles in the same class from as little as £276.96 – that’s a saving of £176.92 for a few minutes online.

And, during peak holiday periods, such as the school summer break, demand can outstrip supply for hire cars, so not only will you be faced with higher prices at the last minute, you may have little or no choice of the vehicle you drive.

2. Don’t forget excess insurance

How many times have you arrived at the rental desk to pick up your hire car only to be given the hard sell about everything you’ll need in case something goes wrong? To prevent this, and to save a packet in the process, purchase your car hire excess insurance online in advance.

Car hire excess insurance is important cover to purchase – it prevents you having to pay a high excess charge should your vehicle be damaged or stolen – but it can cost as much as £20 per day if you buy it from the rental desk. However, you can buy this cover from £2.99 a day online or £39.99 a year if you’re a regular traveller through TravelSupermarket’s partner, iCarhireinsurance.com.

3. Make sure you’re covered to drive your own car

If you’re planning to drive your own car abroad this summer, it’s just as important to make sure you have all of the cover you need.

So, before you pack your bags, take a look at your car insurance policy to check whether you’re covered to drive overseas and, if so, what level of cover you will have. It’s also a good idea to check how long you will be covered for while abroad as insurers will have limits. If you’re unsure about anything, give your insurer a quick call before you travel – it could be worth upping your cover for peace of mind while you’re away.

And, if you have breakdown cover, check whether you’ll be able to use this while you’re away. Many standard policies won’t include European cover so you might need to add this on before you set off.

4. Check your driving licence

Whether you’re setting off in your own car or hiring one when you arrive, don’t forget to check your driving licence is valid (the same goes for your passport) and you have all the parts of it together ready to pack safely – both the paper counterpart and the plastic card if you have a photocard version.

And, well before you travel, check whether you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) for the country you are visiting.

5. Do you have everything you need in your car?

Different countries have different rules and regulations on what drivers should have in their vehicles, so make sure you know what’s expected of you should you be pulled over by the police or your car breaks down.

In France, for example, it is illegal to drive without at least one unused breathalyser in your vehicle (although the fines for not carrying one have been postponed indefinitely), while in Austria and Croatia it is compulsory to have a first aid kit in your car.

Other items to be aware of include reflective jackets (check where these need to be stored too), a warning triangle, your insurance documents, headlamp converters and a GB sticker displayed clearly on the back of your vehicle (unless you’re driving in the EU and have number plates that include the GB euro symbol). Failure to carry any compulsory items could result in a fine, so it’s worth doing a little research.

If you’re hiring a car, your rental company should provide the necessary equipment but it’s worth doing a quick check before you set off so you know nothing is missing.

6. Don’t forget the extras

As well as making a list of compulsory items to pack in your car, don’t forget the items you rely on in your vehicle on a day-to-day basis, such as sat navs and baby seats.

If you’re thinking about hiring a car when you reach your destination, consider bringing your own sat nav or baby seat to avoid high daily rental rates and to make sure you have the quality of equipment you’re used to. But, don’t forget to turn the traffic camera alerts off your sat nav if you have them set up, as these are illegal in many popular holiday destinations.

7. Shop around for petrol

According to the Post Office’s recent Motoring on the Continent report, fuel will cost British motorists more this year in nearly all of the top destinations this summer. In France, for example, filling up with unleaded petrol will cost 7p more per litre than last year while diesel in Spain will also cost 7p more per litre.

So, don’t get swept away by your holiday good mood and forget to shop around for your fuel. Just like driving at home, certain petrol stations – such as those on motorways – will be more expensive, so plan your fuel stops in places such as supermarkets to prevent costly mistakes.

8. Don’t inadvertently break the law

While you may have the best intentions, if you don’t know the rules of the road in the country you’re driving in, you could inadvertently break the law, resulting in a fine or your licence being confiscated. So, look up the speed limit on motorways, in built-up areas and on dual carriageways where you are travelling. And remember that these are likely to be in km/h so work out a quick conversion before you set off.

Another common mistake is to assume that the drink driving limits are the same as in the UK. If you like to have a drink with your dinner, for example, make sure you know what the limits are – in the UK, the limit is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100ml of your blood whereas the limit in both France and Spain is a lower 50 milligrammes.

9. Do your homework on the roads

You may think that all you need to remember about driving abroad is to stick to the right, but when faced with a sign saying “Cédez le passage” in France at a roundabout, would you know what it meant? And how about “Zone a Traffico Limitato” in Italy?

Combined with the fact you probably don’t quite know where you’re going, unknown signs can lead to stress and costly mistakes, so read up on a few of the most common before you travel. (“Cédez le passage” means that the traffic on the roundabout has priority and “Zone a Traffico Limitato” means only residents can use the roads.)

Find out more about driving in France in our video.

10. Make motorway tolls a breeze

Motorway, bridge and tunnel tolls are another factor to think about when driving abroad as you don’t want to be the annoying tourist holding a queue of traffic up as you work out how to pay. So, have change or a card ready to use at any toll points on your route and find out whether there’s anything else you’ll need to smooth your journey.

In Switzerland, for example, drivers have to pay an annual motorway tax, so to drive in the country, you’ll need a vignette (a sticker) to display in your vehicle. If you are caught driving without one, you’ll get a fine.

Please note: All prices and deals were correct at the time of writing (May 28, 2013).

  1. Anonymous says:

    A very helpful article, thank you!

    • Winkleman says:

      Take a good up to date map because France & Spain build new roads all the time. If you follow a French Deviation sign it will take you miles out of your way. There are 100s of new roundabouts , the French know how to use them BUT the Spanish dont.

    • Peter C says:

      Very useful advice, especially the excess insurance info. Will certainly take advantage of this website. Thank you.

  2. great info – thank you – can you publish the website with all the common driving French signs with English translations please.

    thanks

  3. Check if hiring what the fuel return arrangement is – I just returned a full tank but was told they would only refund 7/8 of it. As is common, I had paid an inflated price as a deposit for a full tank at the start of the hire and filled up at the airport (being a Good Citizen) – again at an inflated price. It cost me a wasted 40 Euros!!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    A very useful and important advice.

  5. Gerald says:

    Your report contains inaccuracies. You do NOT need additional GB stickers if like majority of cars the number plate contains GB next to EU flag. (Union Flag, English flag etc are acceptable alternatives.

    Fines – Yes. Points on your licence – never. The EU has not yet reached cross border cooperation.

    • Hi Gerald, thank you for your comment. I’ve added a line to explain that if you’re driving in an EU country and have number plates that include the GB euro symbol, you won’t need a GB sticker. You will still need the sticker in some countries outside of the EU though, even if your number plate has the symbol on, so it’s safest to have one.

  6. lawrence colton says:

    is there a age limit on hiring a car abroad

  7. RichardD says:

    You also need a vignette to travel on the motorways(Autobahn)in Austria.

  8. Derek Imrie says:

    Going to Europe shortly. This article is very interesting as it is a few years since I took my car abroad and it seems things have changed a bit. Good advise in advance. Thanks.

  9. nigel richards says:

    I did my own Tour de France/Switzerland/Italy – some 3000 miles.

    Toll booths are awkward in a right hand drive car. Not a problem if you have a passenger but quite tricky if you are solo. Fortunately most of the people behind me were good natured.

    Very good article.

  10. Richard Pamplin says:

    If Driving in Germany watch out for Umweltzone (Low Emission Zones)in many towns and cities. If you drive in one without a special sticker you may be fined. Various web sites give more details.

  11. Fiona Smith says:

    Hi,
    Check fuel policy. Some car hire companies off a full tank and you return it empty. However, you might have to pay 90 Euros plus for this full tank! If you hire a car with a full tank and have to return it full – you will probably pay over 100 Euros more for the same car hire period. So – they get you either way! Also…use a car hire company where you pay on arrival. A real problem if you cancel your trip…difficult to get your car hire money back!

  12. Hazel Buck says:

    Just a little word of warning:-
    If anything goes wrong with your car i.e. an accident and the car is written off. You may think that having european breakdown with a a replacement car will get you home to the UK. From our experience this is incorrect, you will get a replacement car in for example France but that car cannot be taken back to the UK without an exhorbitant cost that the breakdown cover will not reimburse. It is a sobering thought when you have all the families goods and paraphenalia in the back of an estate car. The insurance will fly you home but all the goods causes a serious problem. With BA you can pay prebook-in for extra luggage at a reduced rate, which can be cheaper and more sensible than a courier service that the insurance company will offer.

  13. Thank you for this article, it’s very useful but it tends to point out many of the pitfalls without good solutions. What I’d find really useful is to know:

    1) Where to buy vignette’s to travel in countries such as switzerland and Slovenia? What other countries require them.

    2) How do I know if my driving licence is valid (does the euro symbol count for enough or, if not, how do I go about getting an international driving permit?)

    Thank you

  14. Mariska says:

    Article and all subsequent comments are very helpful. I have just returned from driving in The Netherlands for 9 days during horrendous wet weather. On some stretches on the motorway visibility was virtually nil due to spray especially due to heavy and large vehicles. Variable speed limits seemed to be continuous as well as the presence of speed cameras. These driving conditions are a big change from when I last drove in The Netherlands in 2011. Fines are hefty (was glad to read that EU cross border cooperation is not yet implemented).

  15. Peter Bradford says:

    Re toll roads – had some difficulty paying on the Italian autostrada – seemed reluctant to accept either visa or mastercard. Any similar experiences ?

  16. cliff says:

    very good advice learnt a lot from your article thank you

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