Don't let your car drive you to despair

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The Independent Online
The freedom of being able to go wherever you like continues to make taking a car to the Continent extremely popular, writes Michael Drewett.

But that freedom can turn into a weight around your neck if things go wrong. Apart from screaming children frustrated by traffic jams as you approach the coast, there are three specific problems that motoring holidaymakers want to steer clear of. Theft, breakdown and traffic accidents can ruin a holiday pretty conclusively, and cover against them is vital.

Never mind the inconvenience of vehicle theft at home, finding your car has been pinched in a French village can leave you literally stranded. Breaking down abroad can be costly. A new battery will cost more than pounds 100 in Switzerland, and a tow back home from the French Alps pounds 1,000 or more. It is, therefore, not just prudent to ensure you have breakdown cover, but a necessity. If it does not feature on your insurance policy, companies such as Zurich Municipal can add European breakdown cover to standard policies for less than pounds 50.

With accidents in some countries, such as Spain, you can end up in jail - as well as having your car impounded - unless you can provide a deposit against the possibility of your being found at fault. Insurers can provide a "bail bond" which puts up the money on the motorist's behalf.

By law, all UK motor policies must give third-party cover for motoring in Europe. However, it is wise to get a "green card" - an international motor insurance card which gives proof of this cover - from your insurer. Although not a legal requirement in many EC countries it does provide evidence of cover.

Royal Insurance Direct will uprate your foreign cover to its normal UK level, as well as provide the green card to prove it, free. It will also print the insurance certificate in four languages as well as English. The Royal's Dave Cutt says: "It appears that some foreign officials are confused by UK documents. Hopefully, overcoming the language barrier will help placate foreign policemen for those who encounter motoring problems."

Boring but obvious, the experts suggest we should ensure the car is serviced before setting off. A year's suburban driving to the supermarket is no way to prepare "old faithful" for a fully loaded journey in hot weather of up to several thousand miles.