Personal Finance: French loo ruined my holiday

There are hazards everywhere for drivers abroad. So ensure you're covered. By Teresa Hunter

Picture this. You have just set off for three glorious weeks in sunny France, starting with EuroDisney. You take your toddler to the toilet, when suddenly whoosh, down the pan go the car keys. The spares? Back home in London with your harassed husband, not due to join you for a week....

This was just one of thousands of calls made by UK motorists to their breakdown insurers last summer. And for once it ended happily, the AA expressing the spares out to France.

Not such a happy ending was in store for UK motorists stranded in Spanish jails over bank holiday weekends after minor bumps with locals. They will never again head to the Med without first contacting their insurer to arrange a bail bond.

More than eight million Britons take a car abroad each year, but many do so without checking whether the vehicle or their insurance is up to the journey. One helpline assistant was left struggling to console a motorist who had just written off a brand new BMW, only to discover his comprehensive cover was null-and-void in France. And he was an insurance broker.

A UK policy will protect drivers throughout Europe but only as far as the legal minimum required in any country. This cover changes with the borders, but is usually little more than basic third party.

Some UK insurers will automatically extend unlimited comprehensive cover throughout the world, while others may only do so for a specified number of days. Alternatively, drivers may only be issued with full cover abroad on specific request or on payment of an additional premium, of perhaps pounds 30 or pounds 50.

This overseas loading is something that motorists who travel frequently overseas should bear in mind when renewing their cover. But to be on the safe side, all drivers taking a car abroad should check with their insurer that they have the full cover they need.

It also pays to take with you a green card, which is an internationally recognised insurance document. It is not a legal requirement, although French police sporadically decide not to admit any drivers without one.

A green card can smooth muddied waters when dealing with non-English speaking police, and is usually available free from an insurer, although some companies may charge an administration fee of between pounds 25 or pounds 30.

Similarly, recent changes to Spanish law mean that a bail bond is no longer strictly necessary, as police are now prevented from automatically impounding your vehicle, or you, after an accident. However, until the new law beds down, stay smart and take one.

Many companies also issue their overseas drivers with a European accident report. This is a two-part questionnaire, translated into a variety of languages, which should be completed by both parties at the scene of an accident, and can take the pain out of post-crash cross-border wrangles.

Motorists also need to do their own homework before setting off, by studying driving conditions and local customs to improve the odds of happy motoring. Many drivers, for example, fail to realise that France has a different speed limit for wet and dry conditions. Come the clouds and you need to kill your speed from 100km to 80km an hour. These limits are rigidly applied and breaches attract hefty on-the-spot fines.

Extra peace of mind can be bought with breakdown insurance. This swings into action to the opening bars of the put-put-put dirge of an engine giving up the ghost.

No one knows why more cars break down on holiday than at home, although the RAC thinks it has something to do with the monstrously long treks which cars, used to pottering around town, are put through. But give your car a pounding and it can cost anything up to pounds 2,000 to bring it home from France.

An RAC spokesman says: "In our experience, the first things that go are the electrics, then head gaskets are a major casualty. Next come engine seizures, then the highest numbers of calls follow accidents. It is a sad fact that people simply have more accidents on holiday than they do at home."

The AA, RAC, Europe Assist and Green Flag all insure against a major breakdown, with policies offering emergency roadside assistance, emergency repairs, up to pounds 100 towards labour costs and help towards alternative travel, or the price of a hotel while repairs are being conducted. As a last resort they will also bear the costs of bringing your disabled car home.

An AA spokesman explains: "It's not always easy to get spares for English cars. They can be expensive or involve a long wait. In that case, the owner may opt to repatriate the vehicle and have it repaired at home, particularly if he has any form of warranty, or it involves complicated work."

You can buy a policy for a limited number of days or annual contracts that provide good value for frequent travellers. Europ Assistance charges lower premiums for travellers to Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands than elsewhere in Europe. AA has lower rates for its members.

However, the limits on the cover may differ, so customers need to read the small print carefully. Furthermore the cheaper options listed left, such as Green Flag, offer to pay either for alternative transport or hotel accommodation, but not both. The slightly dearer AA cover will pay for both.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash