Hassle-free motoring in Europe

Taking your own car abroad on holiday can help you save money on your trip, and offers practical benefits as well.

Car ferries and the Channel Tunnel normally charge by the vehicle rather than the number of passengers, so your travel costs could work out cheaper than flying, especially if you’re taking a whole family.

When you reach your destination, you won’t have to spend a few hundred pounds hiring a car. You’ll also face much less strict limits on the amount of luggage you can take with you – or duty-free you bring back.

But if you are taking your own vehicle to Europe this summer, preparing properly can save you hours of hassle, not to mention a few pennies too. This means making sure you’ve got the right level of car insurance, as well as finding out about traffic laws in the countries you’ll be driving in.

What cover do you need?

Many motorists mistakenly believe their UK insurance policy automatically extends to the continent: but this is not necessarily the case.

European laws mean that UK insurers must provide third-party cover to customers who drive abroad. But this is the bare minimum, and it means you could end up seriously out of pocket if you have an accident during your trip.

Third-party cover will pay out for any claims from other drivers for damage you are responsible for. But if your own vehicle needs repairs as a result of an accident that was your fault, you’ll have to foot the bill.

Some insurers do extend their comprehensive cover to customers while they are on overseas trips, but this varies from company to company so check your policy documents or give your provider a call.

Even if your insurer does offer European cover at no extra cost, it may be limited to just a few weeks every year, so make sure you know what level of cover you have and top-up if necessary.

Get in touch before you go

In any case, you should contact your insurance provider before you travel: they will issue you with a green card, which is a motor insurance certificate widely recognised in Europe (although this is no longer a legal requirement as it has been in the past).

Your insurer will also be able to tell you what you need to do in the event of an accident, depending on the country you are in.

If your provider does not extend your UK cover as standard, you’ll be able to buy an add-on European policy to cover you for the length of your stay: this will typically cost around £15-£20 a week.

It’s always worth paying for your cover to end a day or two after your trip is scheduled to end, just in case you are delayed for any reason.

How else should you prepare?

Breakdown cover is even more important while you’re abroad, because of the potential cost of getting a broken-down vehicle back to the UK.

Again, you will be able to buy a European breakdown policy that covers you solely for the duration of your trip. But also look at the cost of buying a year-long policy that includes a certain amount of European cover – it may not be much more expensive, and could work out better value.

Insurance aside, there are a few other things to bear in mind before you go.

It’s a good idea to check up on traffic laws in the countries you’ll be driving in: things like speed limits and drink-driving laws may be very different to the UK.

The AA has a lot of information on rules of the road, fuel prices across Europe, plus the items – such as warning triangles and reflective jackets – that you may be required to have in your car in case you break down.

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