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Car insurance in France: your questions answered

Car insurance is as essential in France as in the UK, but there are a number of differences that lead readers to ask many questions. Here we answer your queries with the help of an expert

Why is car insurance in France more expensive than in the UK?  J.G.

It actually works out about the same, taking into account exchange rates; automatic breakdown assistance in French policies; the fact you do not have to pay road tax in France; and the fact that the contrôle technique for older vehicles is every two years, as opposed to every year for a UK MoT.

Working backwards and taking all this into account, many people find that the cost of a French policy is actually about the same as a UK one.

Where can you pick up a basic accident claim form?  A.T.

You can ask your insurer for a Constat Amiable d’Accident Automobile. It is a good idea to keep one in the glove compartment of your car, in case of an accident, so you and the other party can fill it in straight-away.

If more than two vehicles are involved, you need to fill in a form with each of the other parties.

You should receive the form with your first policy, but you can ask for one at any time. You can also download one from the internet – English-language versions are available. Some insurers even have an app that you can download and complete on your smartphone.

Is it possible to get a single policy in France to cover more than one car?  R.M.

That is a question for individual insurers but many, like AXA, offer multiple-policy discounts, which means that the more vehicles you insure, the more discounts you receive.

Can you insure a UK-registered car in France for an extended stay of more than three months on a UK policy?  M.W.

Some UK insurers offer extended insurance in Europe. However, if the vehicle is going to be out of the UK for more than 12 months then you need to export it officially to France.

Some companies like AXA, will insure foreign-plated cars in France, but they must be fitted with French numberplates within 12 months if you plan to make France your main residence.

European law states that if you import a car into a country that you intend to be your main residence, you should change the plates of your car to that country.

There are exceptions, which you can find by logging on to the following web pages:

If you export your car, you need to tell the DVLA by filling in the V5C/4 ‘notification of permanent export’ section of your registration certificate (logbook) and sending it to the DVLA in Swansea.

Include a letter if you have moved abroad and want your vehicle tax refund sent to your new address.

Keep the rest of the V5C registration certificate – you might need this to register your vehicle abroad.

The DVLA has started to send out a notice to owners of vehicles that do not appear to be insured. This is because the DVLA works with UK insurance companies to check that cars are insured.

If you have French insurance, the DVLA will not be able to establish that your car is insured so they may send a ‘failure to insure’ warning letter.

Does the ‘no claims bonus’ exist in France?  A.G.

The no-claims system does exist here. Drivers receive a percentage deduction for each year they make no claim on their insurance – it can be up to 5% a year and takes 13 years for a driver to reach their full no-claims allowance of 50%. Three years after this you will receive a ‘good driver’ bonus, which means your no-claims is protected if you make a single accident claim. After 19 years, you get what’s called a ‘longue durée’ bonus.

This is different for each insurer but often takes the form of an additional discount. The good news is that you do not lose your entire no-claims bonus even if you do have an accident even if it is your fault. You just lose a percentage but it does not reset completely.

Can I object to a garage’s valuation of a vehicle that has been involved in an accident and demand another opinion?  M.B.

It is not the garage’s decision. All insurance companies use independent valuers, known as ‘experts’, who are called in to calculate the insurance value of a vehicle that has been involved in a collision.

It is their job to decide whether any work is justified and the value of a vehicle in case it is a write-off.

You can appeal against the decision but it can be difficult to change the expert’s mind and you must be able provide evidence of similar vehicles of similar age that are in a similar condition, and put together a file explaining why you disagree with the expert’s decision.

There are different firms of experts all over France and, depending on where the garage is and how busy they are, it can be some time before they can examine a vehicle.

Is there a reason that French car insurance contracts run indefinitely, whereas UK ones last a year, unless the renewal is paid?  N.G.

An insurance contract automatically renews because vehicle insurance is compulsory in France.

Since 1958, the owner of a vehicle must insure that vehicle with a minimum of third-party insurance. This will cover the vehicle, regardless of whoever is driving and whether you have allowed the driver to use the vehicle or not. 

If you do not insure your car with the minimum insurance, you could be fined €3,750, have your licence suspended for up to three years or have it cancelled; you could be banned from driving certain vehicles – even if they do not require a licence – and could have your vehicle confiscated.

Even if a vehicle is off the road and in a garage, it must still be insured in case, for example, it gets stolen.

The minute you become the owner of a vehicle, it must be insured. The insurance rolls on automatically, unless you go through the proper procedure to cancel it.

Can you change your insurer at any time?  H.W.

There are strict rules regarding cancelling any insurance policy in France. These rules vary depending on the type of insurance – house or vehicle etc – but because cars and motorbikes must be insured (see the previous question), any cancellation must be requested by a new insurer by recorded delivery (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception) giving 30 days’ notice. This is to ensure that the vehicle in question is always properly insured.

Is it easy to add more people on to a car insurance policy?  J.H.

Generally in France, it is the car that is insured with the details of the main driver. Anyone can then drive the car and will benefit from the same insurance as the policy holder. With many companies, if the driver has held a full licence for less than three, years then the excess is different.

With AXA for example, the excess for new drivers holding a licence for less than three years is automatically €1,500. For drivers with more than three years’ experience, the excess is the same as for the main driver. 

Some companies (mainly internet based) are now offering a policy, similar to the UK, where only named drivers can use the car.

The details of who can drive a car in these policies are generally in the small print and if your French is not great you need to be careful that you fully understand the terms of your policy.

Can a person with a UK provisional licence drive in France?  A.T.

Absolutely not. A provisional licence is only valid in the country in which it has been issued. It will only become ‘international’ once a driver has passed their test and has been issued with a full licence.

If, however, the driver has a French provisional driving licence, it is easy to insure them on your existing policy. It is simply a case of adding a clause to include them.

Once added, as long as a qualified driver is present in the car, they will be fine to get behind the wheel.

Why is motorcycle insurance so expensive?  M.C.

The number of claims for motorcycles – and the amounts involved – is much greater than cars in percentage terms. The policy price probably reflects that. A motorbike remains one of the most dangerous forms of transport and you are twice as likely to die as a result of an accident on a bike than in a car.

Why must owners of classic cars have insurance for a ‘véhicule moderne’, or insure the vehicle as if it were for daily use?  T.S.

This varies depending on the insurer and is not the case at AXA.

 Answers compiled with help from Axa Agence International, a dedicated English speaking agency

www.axa-in-france.fr

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