MANY car-caravan combinations are possible on an ordinary car licence - a permis B - but for larger caravans extra training or even a special test may be required.
French licence holders wanting to use more heavy-duty combinations – such as a 4x4 car pulling a caravan sleeping four or more – will have to complete seven hours of training to have their licence stamped ‘96’ on the back, or take the test for the ‘BE’ licence (note, however, that some British people may be exempt due to rights obtained in the UK - see later).
What can you tow on an ordinary French licence?
A permis B is fine in any car/caravan combination in the case of very small caravans of less than 750kg. This figure (Poids Total Autorisé en Charge) is the caravan’s weight with a safe load of baggage (the English term is Maximum Authorised Mass – MAM). You can find it in the owner’s manual or possibly on a sticker on the vehicle.
French caravans also have their own registration document (certificat d’immatriculation), where the PTAC will be shown in section F2.
It is possible to tow some larger caravans if the combined PTAC of the car (which allows for baggage and passengers) plus that of the caravan does not exceed 3,500kg. For example, a Subaru Legacy estate has a PTAC of 1,930kg. Combined with a four-berth caravan of 1,300kg makes 3,230kg – near the 3,500kg limit but acceptable.
To tow a combination weighing 3,500kg to 4,250kg (unless the caravan is under 750kg) requires the B96, and to tow more, a BE.
For example a Range Rover Estate can be around 3,000kg-3,200kg and larger caravans may be 1,200kg-1,900kg. That makes a combination from 4,200kg (just within the B96 allowance) to 5,100kg (BE).
So, if you have a 4x4 – often seen as ideal for caravan towing – it is likely that you will need at least the B96.
NOTE: there are limits as to what a car may tow legally.
Section F3 of the registration document shows the maximum combined weight of loaded car and trailer (referred to in France as PTRA).
This involves a seven-hour course with a school. There is no exam. It consists of four hours off-road learning and three hours on-road including at least 50 minutes driving per pupil (sessions are often for several people at once). Theory that you learn includes the rules on PTACs mentioned above, plus issues such as safe braking, checking the caravan’s equipment, indicating, lane use and loading up the caravan safely.
Practical aspects include checks on the car (brakes, suspension…) and the lights and indicators of the car and caravan, checking all the tyres, safely coupling and decoupling and reversing.
In the on-road section the instructor will also explain aspects like: blind spots, stopping distances, changing direction, awareness of the dimensions of the car-caravan combination and the swaying of the caravan that can result if its load is not well distributed, plus what to do in oncoming traffic or in situations involving overtaking.
The school provides a certificate you can take to your préfecture. You will then be issued a new licence marked 96 on the back known informally as le petit permis remorque. You can do the course at a school in the Ecole de Conduite Française (ECF) network or any local driving school offering it (ecf.asso.fr).
The BE licence
This requires similar lessons, plus an exam. Lessons start with an evaluation to see how many you need and focus on safety. If you passed your driving test more than five years ago you also need theory lessons. A medical is required to sit the test.
Foreign residents also need proof of being in France for six months such as rent or pay slips. You apply to the préfecture to do the exam, via the driving school.
There is a multiple-choice theory test for those whose driving licence is more than five years old and once passed, an hour’s practical test, half off-road and half on. The licence is valid for five years and renewal requires a medical.
What about UK licences?
If you are a UK resident who spends time in France, or any EU citizen who still has a licence from your original country (eg. the UK) that is within its validity period you may also tow a caravan on it if you obtained relevant categories before coming to France.
If you took a British driving test before January 1, 1997, your licence should be suitable for towing any caravan (combined PTAC to 8,250kg). If you took it later the limits are as for a French driving licence unless you took a special ‘BE’ test in the UK.
If you become a French resident and swap to a French licence, the préfecture should normally have carried over all the same categories - you may wish to check. British licences of people who passed tests before 1997 are usually already stamped BE, however, the prefecture may ask you to have a medical to retain this 'heavy trailer' category.
Even if you are not obliged to do training because you already have the right licence categories, there is nothing to stop you doing some lessons to give you more confidence and make sure you use your caravan safely, an adviser at one of the ECF driving schools told Connexion.
Other rules on using a caravan in France:
- Registering: Caravans kept permanently in France should be registered here, which requires formalities at the préfecture similar to re-registering a car. Caravans need their own number plate and registration document. This is generally doable with recent British models but there may be conformity issues with ones aged 15 years or more.
- Insurance: French-registered caravans usually need their own insurance.
- Speed limits: Motorway authorities advise not going over 90kph. This is obligatory if the PTAC of car and caravan is over 3,500kg (a limit of 80kph applies elsewhere apart from in built-up areas). It is not obligatory to place a 90kph speed limit sticker on the back of a caravan in this case (as it is for campervans) but it is sometimes recommended.
- Brakes: All caravans over 750kg need their own brakes