With the summer holiday season rapidly approaching, many people will be looking forward to a summer trip they’ve been dreaming about since February. But if you’re unprepared, that dream could turn into a nightmare.
We’ve taken a look at some the obvious – and less obvious – things you need to consider before setting off on a trip to Europe in your car.
1. Driving licence
Check that you have both parts of your driving licence. If you’re stopped by the police while driving broad, you’ll be expected to produce your driving licence. You’ll also need it if you want to hire a car.
2. Travelling with children?
The same rules about children travelling in cars apply in the European Union as here. Essentially, that means children up to 12 years old or 135cm in height must sit in a suitable child car seat while travelling in a car.
If you’ll be taking grandchildren or your own children’s friends on holiday, think about how suitable your car is to accommodate them all safely. Check out our assessments of cars for carrying multiple child car seats. To allow three or four children to travel in a medium hatch, you could consider the Multimac child car seat, an innovative alternative we’ve tested.
In France, it is illegal to drive a car or ride a motorbike without carrying your own breathalyser. This may seem extreme, but it isn’t such a bad idea, especially if you’re touring one of France’s seven wine regions where the temptation of the grape might leave you over the limit the morning after.
You’ll be fined if they find you don’t have a breathalyser, and they’re likely to throw the book at you if you also turn out to be over the limit.
4. Local knowledge
You’ve possibly had maps of the area pinned to the kitchen wall since booking your channel crossing tickets. And you may have been studying the local food and drink and even learning the language.
If you’re driving, it’s also useful to have a grasp of the local road rules. Check out the speed limits – and note whether there are any special conditions (France and Germany have weather-related restrictions, for example). A little local knowledge can help you steer clear of trouble.
5. Sat navs and maps
Check your sat nav covers the countries you’ll be travelling through as well as the one you’re heading for. Good sat nav brands offer extra maps for a nominal fee – either to download directly to your sat nav or better still, supplied on a memory card. Don’t wait until the night before departure to download the maps, as it can be a tricky and time-consuming process.
It also helps to have detailed map books as a back-up. Buy them and study them in advance so you’ll be able to spot any rogue routing the sat nav may throw up.
6. Get your car serviced
Garages are usually at their busiest in the run up to peak holiday seasons. So book your car in now if the annual service is due soon. Knowing your car has just been checked over will also give you extra peace of mind when you do set off.
Check Which? Local for a recommended garage near you.
7. Insurance cover
Many car insurance policies automatically include short periods (often 14 days) of cover for driving abroad, but it’s best to check this in advance; also make sure you have cover for all the countries you’re visiting.
It’s also worth considering insuring extra drivers for the trip. When you’ve been up since 4am to make it to your slot on Eurotunnel, then driven half way across France the same day, you’ll be best off if you can swap drivers every couple of hours.
8. Breakdown cover
You’ve probably already got breakdown cover for the UK, but it won’t automatically cover you elsewhere in Europe. It’s well worth adding pan-European cover to your policy to ensure you’ll get assistance if your car breaks down on a foreign motorway.
You’ll no doubt be carrying a camera to take holiday snaps. But it’s also a good idea to have an extra camera with the car. That way, if you have an accident, you can get an immediate record of any damage to your car and to any other car involved. This will be invaluable when it comes to making any insurance claims, or defending yourself should someone make a spurious claim against you for damage you don’t believe occurred.
If you are hiring a car, check it has no damage before signing to accept it. If it does, photograph the evidence and make sure the hire company accepts the damage was there prior to you taking the car. If you are unfortunate and damage the hire car, photograph the damage before handing the car back, and make sure the hire company representative acknowledges the extent of the damage.
10. Other useful kit
A bulb kit is a legal requirement in France, and useful whichever country you’re in, but also make sure you’re carrying any screwdrivers you’ll need to access the bulbs.
Carrying a spare wheel or an emergency repair kit is only useful if it is in good condition. Check your spare for signs of wear and damage, and make sure it is inflated. Make sure the bottle of sealant in your repair kit is full and intact and that you have the accompanying maker’s tyre pump. Check the car’s jack over too.
A fire extinguisher (around £20) is worth carrying, just in case. And a warning triangle is required in many European countries, and it’s a sensible thing to carry whether or not it’s legally required.