Second hand cars in France

A first-hand account of registering a second hand car in France

A niche in the French second hand car market?

I thought I saw a niche in the ridiculously overpriced second hand car market in France, by buying left hand drive cars in the UK, taking them to France, registering them again there, and selling them on to make a profit. My first attempt started last November, when I paid £9,900 through Ebay UK for a LHD 2002 Jaguar XK8 Cabriolet (worth here 20,000+ Euros), from a chap in Wales who had imported it from Texas USA, and registered it in the UK. I hadn't done enough research on re-registration, and now know why nobody else is doing this! (Taking a car to France and registering it in France.)

Practicalities of getting the car home

First, I had to fly from Béziers (Béziers Property Guide) to Bristol to pick up the car. And get the money. My UK bank wouldn't change 11,000 Euros without one week's notice, neither would the Post Office, so I had to take a taxi to a Marks and Spencer's store in the heart of Bristol, where I arranged the exchange at a ridiculous commission. I then had to catch the train to this chap's house to buy the car. Then I drove straight to Folkestone in atrocious weather, and stayed overnight a few miles from the channel tunnel, which I went through the next morning, then set off for the south.

Driving to the south of France

Tom Tom took me around the Paris (Paris Arrondissements Property Guide) by-pass at lunchtime, which was "chocker", and by the time I was south of there, it started snowing, and didn't stop all day. When the roads became treacherous (around teatime), and the back end of the big heavy Jag was sliding around dangerously, I pulled off the motorway and decided to stay the night near Blois (Blois Property Guide), setting off the next morning at 8am, and arriving home, near Béziers, Languedoc-Roussillon (Languedoc-Roussillon Property Guide), at around 2.30pm. The trip from northern France would normally have taken only one day (about ten hours, depending on traffic conditions). (Travel France.)

Trying to be efficient

The V5C took six weeks to get to me, via my mother-in-law's address in Manchester, but in the meantime, I thought I'd save time, so I went to our prefecture in Béziers to find out what I needed to do. Their forms say that apart from all the other things you have to do, described by the other visitors to your site, you need a Certificate of Conformity from the manufacturer, or a certificate from your local DRIRE, where you must present your car, by appointment.

Getting the Certificate of Conformity

This is what happened to me over the last couple of months, and many of you will think this bizarre account is an exaggeration, but I assure you that it's all true! I rang Jaguar France because someone told me that the Certificate of Conformity had to be in French, though I now believe this to be untrue. They told me that for 180 Euros, they would send me one, so, not wishing to drive to Montpellier to the DRIRE (one hour away), I sent off a cheque and three weeks later the Certificate of Conformity arrived.

Getting the Côntrole Technique

I'd already taken the car to our local garage, where the chap had altered the headlights to suit left hand drive roads, with the aid of a couple of bits of metal provided by the previous owner, and he did the Côntrole Technique for me at a cost 68 Euros.

Quitus Fiscal sorted

I had already also visited the Béziers tax office for the Quitus Fiscal (which was free), where the man behind the desk took little notice of the documents. He just looked at my passport, proof of residency, and V5C in my name, stamped a form and gave it to me. He did ask what I did for a living (I'm retired).

A visit to the Prefecture

So, the next morning, I arrived at the Prefecture in Béziers at 7.30am. Why 7.30? Well, I've had previous experience with this place through registering my own French registered car there (four visits!), and at Béziers (not sure if others are the same), they are only open 8.30am - 12 noon, and operate a ticket system, only dealing with 100 tickets per day. I'd previously turned up at 9am to find all tickets gone!

Not so easy

After about a half hour's wait, my number comes up, and I approach the counter with a smug expression on my face, knowing that all my documents are in order, and shortly, I'll be going to the cash counter with a little form to pay my dues (about 150 Euros, I think), then off to Norauto to buy new plates (about 40 Euros) - done and dusted. How wrong could I be!

A visit to DRIRE is needed

Apparently, the Certificate of Conformity is no good as it's only a partial certificate (I've since found out that this is because the car was made for the USA market). The "lady" at the counter, with whom I've dealt before, and normally has a passive expression on her face, now has the smirk, and from what she says, with my limited French, I need to take the car to DRIRE at Montpellier (Montpellier Property Guide). She took all my original documents, photocopied the V5C and then started speaking at such speed that I didn't have a clue what she was talking about.

Pastis sometimes helps

I left with my tail between my legs, and arrived disconsolately at my village café just before lunch and ordered a large Pastis. I asked my friend Patrick, the proprietor, to look through Yellow Pages for DRIRE, and telephone for an appointment for me. No luck, the number in Yellow Pages is wrong, it's been changed. So, he looks the number up on the internet and finds it to be the same number as in Yellow Pages. What can I do now?

More Pastis, but no further forward

Then I went to the Immobilier who sold me the house and asked for his help. He got me the right number, which had changed, though they hadn't thought it necessary to tell either Yellow Pages, or their website manager. However, after I'd had lunch (not like the French, I just had a sandwich!), I started to get angry with Jaguar France, who'd charged me 180 Euros for a useless piece of paper. However, the Prefecture had retained this apparently useless piece of paper, so I went back to Béziers hoping to see someone from the office which had closed at lunchtime. The receptionist told me I'd have to come back in the morning! That's the second visit to Béziers!

Back to the Prefecture again

The next day, I'm still angry with Jaguar France, so I go down to Béziers again (fifteen kilometres and third visit!), but I'm a bit late (number 44), so have to wait in a coffee shop until about 10.30 to be seen. When I get to the counter, it's the same woman, who explains to me (more slowly this time), that all the forms have been sent to DRIRE and that they'll write to me with an appointment. I go home again, disgruntled.

DRIRE appointment is arranged

It's now the Xmas break, and when my appointment finally arrives, it's not until the 18th of February! The address on the letter is not that of DRIRE Montpellier, it's a different place, in St Jean de Vedas, just to the south of Montpellier. I allowed myself two hours for the journey (which is only an hour), to give myself time to find the place, having had previous experience.

DRIRE - hard to find

Tom Tom took me to the address at about 1.30pm, for the 2.30pm appointment. No sign of DRIRE or anything resembling it, infact, the buildings on this industrial estate were not numbered. Beside where Tom Tom told me to stop was a narrow dirt road, so I looked up there. At the end of the 500-metre road was a place called Dekra, which had two huge bays to take lorries, and looked to be a modern lorry-washing facility. After driving around for half an hour looking for DRIRE (there's nobody to ask because it's lunchtime, and as you all know, France shuts between 12 and 2pm for the main event of the day). I'm running short of petrol now, on reserve, but don't want to be late, so I go back to Dekra to ask. A man is wandering into the place at about 2.20pm. He tells that I am at the right place, and to drive round to the back of this huge building to a small office.

Finding the chassis number

I go there and wait until 2.40pm, when a French bloke turns up from lunch, a little the worse for wear, though this state of semi-inebriation makes him quite pleasant. He gets the forms and asks me to open the bonnet. He doesn't check headlights or emissions or anything. He's just checking numbers from my paperwork. Yes, the number engraved on the windscreen corresponds, yes, the number on the plate inside the driver's door corresponds. "But where's the number stamped on the chassis", he asks. "Buggered if I know, I've only had the car five minutes" I retort. Neither of us could find it, so he went to telephone Jaguar, who weren't answering, after ten minutes! So, he gets a piece of paper, writes the address of Jaguar down from Yellow Pages and tells me I'll have to drive down there personally, find out where the chassis number is, and come back to see him.

Petrol problems

By this time, I'm cursing and swearing under my breath, and not thinking straight, because if I was, I would have phoned Jaguar UK from my mobile to find out the whereabouts of this goddamned number. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Instead, I set off for this address, which is apparently only ten minutes away. But Tom Tom doesn't recognise the address, so I follow his sketchy instructions. Knowing I'm short on fuel I'm looking for a petrol station (it's now about 3.30pm) and there isn't one. Can you believe it? I'm on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in the area, and there's no petrol station... so I drive for miles and miles, round and round looking for one... none whatsoever! Then I run out! Merde!

The price of taxis!

So I jump out of the car, looking to hail a taxi... no taxi (later, you'll see why!). As I'm walking over a motorway bridge, taking my life in my hands because there's no footpath, I spot a petrol station in the distance (about 1000 metres away) and break into a run... can you believe all this? A 63-year-old crony running around motorways! Anyway, I finally get to the station and buy a can and some petrol, and the kind bloke there phones me a taxi, which arrives fifteen minutes later (by this time I'm half dead!). The taxi driver charges me 15 Euros to go 1.3 kilometres, and tells me where Jaguar Montpellier is, so I hastily chuck the petrol in the car and drive there.

Jaguar Montpellier is a part of a Ford dealership

It's a little confusing, because Jaguar Montpellier isn't Jaguar at all, it's a small part of a Ford dealership, which also sells Jags, Ferraris and Maseratis. And anyway, it's not at the address I was given, because they've moved! None of the mechanics know what I'm talking about, so I have to wait at reception for ten minutes to be seen. When I am a man tells me that he hasn't a clue where the chassis number is, but phones Jaguar Paris, who tell him it's underneath the rear bumper (which I've since found out isn't true, it's in the boot!). I dash back to Dekra and arrive at 5.25pm to find the large gates closed and bolted, with a sign on the gates saying opening time 0730-1730! I ring the number on the gate. No reply.

Back to DRIRE again

So, I'm still fuming the next morning, when I drive to Dekra and the DRIRE office again, arriving at 7.30 am, thinking I'll catch the bloke early, he can check the number and give me the certificate. Wrong! I'm told that the man is only there on Wednesdays for cars, and I have to ring and arrange another appointment. I go home and do that, to be told that I must wait for a letter through the post, which came about a week ago (as I write, it's Feb 27th). The appointment is for March 9th, ten days away. By the way, you have to take a cheque for 86.90 Euros to DRIRE, for this "inspection" plus a stamped A4 envelope with an 6.06 Euro stamp on it, so I can only assume that when I am through with all of this, DRIRE will post the certificate to me, with, no doubt, another three-week wait.

Time taken to register a car in France - three months and counting?

It's now three months since I started trying to register this blasted car in France. The rotten car now stands me at over 14,000 Euros, but I'm so fed up with it, I just want rid as soon as possible! However, on the "up" side, I met a bloke the other day who did this same procedure through his local mairie and it took him eight months!

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Car Insurance in France
Driving in France
Second hand France

About the author

The author of the above article is Robin Tumman, who says he is now looking now much older than his 63 years!

*** An update from the author ***

Things have progressed, I finally got approval by DRIRE, but not before two more visits! The person at DRIRE neglected to tell me the first time that reflectors on the back bumpers are not allowed in France, so I had to have them painted black, spoiling the appearance of the car completely. And when I finally registered the car in my name at the Prefecture Béziers, it cost me 889 Euros (because the car apparently is worth quite alot of money!). This vehicle is now for sale on Ebay. Incidentally, in the future I have decided I will stick to buying second hand cars here in France, rather than going through all of that again.

your comments...

1. A visitor to the site comments on his very different experiences (added 27/12/12)...

You seem not to have done your homework. I purchased a 2002 XKR Convertible. I Phoned Jaguar UK and got a Cert of Conformity within days. Took two household invoices plus passport to the Prefcture in Saintes. Also Controle Technique with head lights done with two templates purchased from Black Country Jaguar dept 17. Paid 1000 Euros for the Carte Grise and got my registration within two hours.

I have also done this with a Grand Cherokee jeep.

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