Rules on washing car at French home: Can you really be fined?

Environmental rules may limit how – and where – a vehicle can be washed

It is not only in summer when restrictions on car washing may be in force

Reader Question: My friend says he was fined for washing his car at home even though it was in the middle of winter and we had no drought restrictions in our department. Why was he punished?

Fines can be given for washing a car during periods of drought but this is not the only reason.

In some areas there is a ban on washing a car due to the negative effects on the local environment from wastewater run-off. 

However, these restrictions generally only apply if you wash your car on a public road accessible to other vehicles, or if your garden/parking spot is directly next to a public road or walkway. 

For example, the decree banning this in Paris states “car washing is prohibited on the public highway, private roads open to public traffic, banks, harbours and quays as well as in public parks and gardens.” 

Washing your car on a fully private piece of land is not prohibited except during drought periods as long as you ensure the water used to wash the car does not reach a public area. 

"Any discharge of wastewater, domestic or otherwise, is prohibited on public roads,” the Parisian decree adds.

If your car is parked on a public road, and this is where you want to wash it, contact your local authority to see if any restrictions are in place.

During droughts, any washing of your car may be prohibited depending on the level of restrictions in your local commune.

Read more: How do I see if any drought rules are affecting my French home?

How much is the fine for ‘non-regulated’ car washing in France?

The standard fine for washing a car in a restricted area is €450. 

However, it can rise to €75,000 and a two-year prison sentence if the wastewater includes detergents, oil, or other pollutants. 

This is stated in article L.216-6 of the French Environmental Code. 

Alternatives to washing your car include opting for a dry wash, or using products that are more ecologically friendly and do not contain pollutants. 

Taking your vehicle to a car wash is recommended by driving associations, as this helps lower pollution levels given these facilities have specialist equipment to deal with wastewater sludge. 

It also uses less water on average than washing your car at home.