Driving in France

Taking a hire van to France? Don’t fall foul of these driving laws

Driving in France

Driving in France (courtesy of Shutterstock / Alfio Finocchiaro)

The French government is determined to reduce the number of accidents on France’s (excellent) road network and has introduced a number of new laws this year.

Most of these don’t apply in the UK, so you may want to read on if you’re planning a quick trip over the Channel in a rented van (or in your car).

Here are some of the main highlights:

  • Speed: The speed limit on secondary (‘D’) roads has been cut from 90kph to 80kph. This is equivalent to a reduction from 56mph to 50mph. According to the RAC, drivers could face fines of up to £670 if caught speeding. And EU speeding fines will now follow you back to the UK, so you can’t leave them behind in France.
  • Mobile phones: French rules ban the use of any kind of hands-free headset or headphones while driving. If you want to use a handheld mobile to make a call, you must park in a designated parking space and switch the engine off.
  • Emergency services: If you need to call the emergency services while in France (or anywhere in the EU) the number to call is 112.
  • High viz, warning triangle & breathalyser: When travelling in France you need to carry a high viz vest/jacket for each person in the vehicle. You are also required to carry a warning triangle and an alcohol breathalyser. This must be an approved ‘NF’ type.
  • Documents: If you’re in your own vehicle, you will need proof of ownership (V5C) plus current MOT and insurance certificates. If you’re in a hire or fleet vehicle, you’ll need a VE103B ‘vehicle on hire’ certificate to prove you have the owner’s permission to take it out of the UK. Your rental company should provide this if you’ve booked a van to take abroad. If not, ask. You may need to arrange this in advance.
  • Glasses: If you’re like me and require glasses for driving, make sure you carry a spare pair with you in the car.
  • Low emission zones: Finally, like Germany, France has set up low emissions zones in a number of cities. At the time of writing these include Paris, Lyon and Grenoble. Even if your vehicle is compliant, you’ll still need a Crit’Air vignette to prove it. Otherwise you could be fined. You can find full details of the Cirt’Air scheme here: https://www.crit-air.fr/en.html

These aren’t the only rules that apply to driving in France, but they are among those which might not be familiar to UK drivers. For more comprehensive guide, check out the AA Driving in Europe guide.

You might also want to check out our driving tips for Europe.

UK van registrations July 2012-18

Is van hire to blame for July’s 5.9% drop in van registrations?


New van registrations fell by 5.9% in July to 23,309 units, according to new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The fall — in comparison to July 2017 — continues a trend that’s seen the number of new vans hitting the road drop by 2.7% to 204,005 so far in 2018.

This news isn’t completely unexpected, as I’ve commented before. New registrations still remain at fairly high levels, historically.

UK van registrations July 2012-18

UK van registrations July 2012-18 (image courtesy of SMMT)

Ford is still on top

Ford retained its stranglehold on the new van market in July. Of the 23,309 vehicles registered, 5,707 were either Transit Custom or Transit models. In addition to this, the top 10 best seller list included 1,048 Ranger pickups and 1,031 Transit Connect vans.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter failed to make it into the top 10, as did several other popular models, including the Renault Trafic.

Why van hire demand could be slowing

The van hire sector remains a major buyer of new vans, helping to underpin production plans for popular models. But at least one big hire company, Northgate, has announced plans to keep vans on its hire fleet for longer than it used to before selling them.

With more than 40,000 vans on hire in the UK, any changes to Northgate’s purchasing patterns could affect overall demand, especially if its changes are echoed by other big rental firms.

Although Northgate remains a major buyers of new vans each year, it could be that this is one factor contributing to a slight reduction in demand for new vans.

Disclosure: The author owns shares of Northgate plc.

Questor Insurance logo

Exclusive August discount code for Questor Insurance

Questor Insurance logo

It’s been a while, but we now have a brand-new, exclusive discount code for van hire excess protection from the good people at Questor Insurance.

As I’ve explained before, the excess liability when you hire a van can be surprisingly high. So we recommend some kind of additional protection to reduce your excess.

If you’re considering buying from Questor, then this discount code should help. Here are the details:

  • Offer: SAVE 10% on van hire excess insurance
  • Valid from: 6 August 2018
  • Valid until: 19 August 2018

Buy Questor Insurance



(T&Cs may apply – see Questor website for details)

This post contains affiliate links. This means I get paid a small commission if you buy something after clicking on the links. This money helps to pay for the running of the website.

An online scammer

Buying a used van? Don’t fall for these common scams

An online scammer

Online used vehicle scams have “really ramped up” since May, according to CDL Vehicle Information Systems.

If you’re considering buying a used van, my first suggestion is that you should check whether it might be cheaper to rent! With used van prices at record highs, this isn’t as daft as it might sound.

However, my mission today is to flag up three ‘popular’ online scams being used to target used van buyers this summer.

According to Mike Bailey at CDL Vehicle Information Systems (who run mycarcheck.com), the number of online scams targeting used vehicle buyers is “off the chart this summer”.

A typical scam is designed to get you to pay out money without receiving a vehicle. It’s usually very hard to get any redress, so your cash is often lost forever. According to CDL, fraudsters will often setup fake dealer websites with stock that looks genuine and other convincing details.

However, the good news is that most of these scams fit three common patterns. They’re quite easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. It’s too cheap. If a van (or any other vehicle) is being sold much more cheaply than similar models elsewhere, you need to ask why. Clue: it’s probably because the seller has something to hide. They hope that your greed for a bargain will overrule any suspicions you have. Don’t be that person.
  2. Your calls always go to voicemail: Calling up the seller is often a good test. If your calls always go to voicemail. be suspicious. A reputable dealer is usually quite happy to talk on the phone. If the voicemail tells you to email the seller, then you should be even more suspicious. Any legitimate dealer should be available by phone.
  3. You’re offered a van that’s abroad, but can be shipped to you. This is a classic scam. You’ll probably be asked for some money upfront. Although there are some legitimate vehicle importers in the UK, most of them import stock on their own account and then sell it to you when it’s in the UK. If you’re buying a used van, then there’s no reason to buy an import unless you want something very unusual. Our advice is stick to UK vans.

Using information from police, insurers and the DVLA, CDL performs more than one million vehicle history look-ups every day. In addition to its mycarcheck.com website, the company provides used car checks for customers including CompareTheMarket, Go-Compare and Moneysupermarket.

CDL’s Mike Bailey says that since May this year, the number of fraudulent online adverts has “really ramped up”.

Mr Bailey says that if you spot one or more of the three telltale signs of scam we’ve listed above, “you are probably being lined up” for a scam. If in doubt, it’s best to walk away.

There are plenty of legitimate used vans on the market, including many thousands of ex-rental vans sold through reputable dealers each year.

X-Class 350d V6 4MATIC

Pricing announced for Mercedes-Benz V6 X-Class

X-Class 350d V6 4MATIC

Mercedes-Benz V6 X 350d 4MATIC

Prices for the keenly-awaited V6 version of the Mercedes X-Class pickup will start from £38,350 +VAT.

The German firm says that UK dealers are now taking orders for the new model, with first deliveries expected from November 2018.

As you’d expect, this flagship luxury pickup comes with a very high specification as standard. All UK models will be double cab with 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

The range-topping POWER equipment line will be fitted as standard. In fact, the POWER trim level will now only be available paired with the V6 engine. Buyers of the 200d and 250d models will have to make do with the more affordable PURE and PROGRESSIVE trim level.

Highlights of the POWER specification LED headlights, electric mirrors and keyless entry and ignition will be standard. Buyers will also get include a painted front bumper and chrome rear bumper with built-in step.

Drivers and front seat passengers will enjoy the comforting embrace of an eight-way electrically adjustable seat, that’s wrapped in leather and microfiber upholstery. The dashboard and steering wheel both get leather coverings, which should give the V6 X-Class a genuine luxury feel.

What about the engine?

Of course, the big attraction here is the engine. Merc’s V6 is a 3-litre common rail diesel unit with 258 hp and maximum torque of 550Nm. A modern single-stage turbo with variable turbine geometry is said to provide “particularly agile engine response”.

The V6 engine will be paired with Mercedes’ 7G Tronic automatic gear box and Dynamic Select controller. This will provide no fewer than five different driving modes, including Eco, Comfort, Sport and Off-road.

For more information about the new X-Class, head on over to www.mbvans.co.uk or swing by your nearest Mercedes-Benz Van dealer.

Ford Transit Skeletal chassis cab

Ford adds low-floor chassis option for bigger removal vans

Ford Transit Skeletal chassis cab

Ford Transit Skeletal chassis cab is based on the front-wheel drive model and provides a lightweight low-floor base for conversions. It should be a popular choice for removal vans.

Anyone planning to move house with a rented van may want to check if their local rental company offers a low-floor jumbo luton, sometimes known as a dropwell van.

As their name suggests, their built like a standard luton van but with a low floor that boosts the available load space for large-but-light items. Such as furniture.

Ford already dominates most sectors of the UK van market. But the company has now decided to target this niche sector of the market with a new lightweight chassis cab model that’s aimed specifically at conversions requiring a low load floor.

The big numbers

The new Transit skeletal chassis cab offers a 100mm lower chassis height than a standard front-wheel drive Transit and weighs 200kg less than a standard chassis cab. That’s a big difference in weight.

This big weight saving means that the payload of the converted van should remain competitive, even with the added weight of a large box body. Finished models will normally be built to have a maximum weight of 3.5 tonnes, so anyone with a standard car licence should be able to drive them.

Customers will be able to choose three wheelbase lengths and the model will be powered by Ford’s 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel in 130PS or 170PS power output. A choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes will be available.

Thief stealing a van

How much will I have to pay if my hire van is stolen?

Thief stealing a van

If your rental van is stolen, you might assume that as long as it was locked and secured correctly, the hire company’s insurance would cover the loss. Unfortunately you’d be wrong.

Theft protection is included in most rental insurance in the UK. But unless you’ve purchased additional protection, you will normally  be liable for the maximum excess payment on your rental policy. This is typically £1,000 – £2,000.

This very sad recent news story highlights how distressing this situation can be. 84-year old widower Johnny Feaver hired a van to move from West London to Preston, Lancashire. After loading the van it was left parked overnight outside his home, from where it was stolen.

Leaving aside the devastating loss of all his possessions, Mr Feaver has also reportedly been told that he’s liable for a £2,000 excess payment to the rental company for the theft of the van.

How theft protection works

Most rental insurance in the UK does include theft protection. But even if the van is properly secured, you’ll still be liable for an excess payment if the van is stolen.

For rental vans, the standard excess is usually pretty high. The £2,000 figure quoted in the article I’ve linked to above isn’t unusual, as these examples show:

  • Europcar: Standard excess for loss or damage is £1,500. Renters can buy extra cover to reduce this figure to £250.
  • Hertz: Standard excess on most vans is £1,000 (some models have a higher excess). Excess protection is available to reduce this figure.
  • Enterprise: Standard excess on vans is £1,150 (£1,400 in Northern Ireland)
  • Easirent: Standard excess is £1,250. Renters can buy extra cover to reduce this amount.

All figures believed to be correct as of 25 July 2018. vanrental.co.uk accepts no responsibility for errors or omissions. Please check before you buy.

This isn’t an exhaustive guide, but I hope it’s clear that if you don’t have excess protection, you can face a hefty bill if your rented van is stolen, even if it isn’t your fault. Note that if you are found to have contributed to the theft, for example by leaving the van unlocked with the keys in, you may be liable for a higher amount.

How to reduce your excess

Almost all van hire companies will sell additional insurance cover that reduces your excess, in some cases down to £100 or even zero. These aren’t bad products, but they’re often charged by the day and can work out quite expensive for longer hires.

One alternative that I’ve used is to buy excess protection insurance from specialists offering this service. This insurance will refund any excess payment you make to your hire company, subject to certain terms and conditions.

These products generally have a good reputation, from what I’ve heard. If you hire a vehicle regularly you can buy annual policies at quite reasonable prices. And cover is also available for overseas use.

To find out more (and collect the latest discount code) check out our Van Hire Excess Insurance page.

BCA van auction

Used van prices near record highs: it may be cheaper to rent

BCA van auction

BCA van auction in June (source: BCA)

Used van prices remain close to record highs, according to the latest figures from auction group BCA.

The average price of LCVs sold by BCA during June was £7,463, the fourth highest on record at the group. Average used van prices are now more than £1,000 — or 15% — higher than one year ago.

A used van probably still makes sense for van operators such as tradesmen, who need their van day in day out, but may not cover much mileage. But for van users who only need their van some of the time, I think these figures from BCA suggest a strong case for renting rather than owning.

Let’s look at some example costs to see whether renting might be cheaper.

Renting a van vs buying used

If you’re buying a van from a used van dealer, you’ll be paying the auction price plus extra to cover the dealer’s costs and profit margin. But even if you’re a savvy buyer who knows vans and buys directly from auction. our average priced van will still cost around £8,000 by the time you’ve paid your buyers fees.

On top of that, you’ll need to tax and insure the van. You might need to have it delivered, too. And it might need servicing or minor repairs.

I think it’s fair to assume that the all-in cost of getting our average used van on the road will be around £8,500. That’s quite a lot of money. How many weeks’ rental might this pay for?

I’ve got some sample results from the vanrental.co.uk price comparison engine. A week’s hire of a medium-sized van (e.g. Ford Transit Custom) seems to be available for around £160. For a long wheelbase van you might have to pay a bit more:

vanrental.co.uk price comparison example

An example set of results from our independent price comparison system.

Lets assume the average rate per week for a hire van is about £175. Remember that long-term hire rates are available if you need a van for a month or more, so it may be possible to improve on this.

At £175, your £8,500 budget would allow you to rent a van for about 48 weeks, or around 11 months. If you only need a van for two weeks each month, that’s almost two years’ usage.

And if you only need a van for a few days each month — perhaps you go to trade shows or markets — then hiring a van will mean that your average used van buying budget would stretch for years.

During this time, you’d get to keep most of the cash, on paying out on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. You should also get to drive a nearly-new van all the time, rather than an ageing secondhand model.

Another overlooked benefit of renting is that you aren’t responsible for any of the van’s running costs, except fuel. You won’t have to pay for servicing, repairs (except damage), replacement tyres, MOT tests or road tax.

Most companies include insurance too, so that’s another cost off your books. Over several years, these savings can be considerable.

And while it’s true that renting often carries extra costs over and above the headline rental fee, many of these costs are optional and can be reduced. For example, instead of buying extra insurance from you hire company, you can buy an annual excess protection policy from a specialist insurer. If you’re hiring a van regularly, this is likely to be much cheaper.

If you’re in the market for a used van that will only be used for two weeks of each month or less, I think there’s a strong case for renting instead.

I urge you to run the numbers yourself before making a final decision. By renting, you could save yourself money and avoid the headaches of used vehicle ownership! Why not give it a try?

Swansea Council electric vans

Why van hire companies may soon need electric van fleets

Swansea Council electric vans

Swansea Council Fleet Manager Mark Barrow taking delivery of 40 Peugeot Partner electric vans from Day’s Fleet’s Neil Vaughan.

Car purchasing decisions are personal and not always entirely rational.

But businesses buying vans can’t afford to be swayed by emotional considerations or the latest fashion. Reliability, cost and fitness for purpose are the top requirements. And an increasing number of organisations are finding that these boxes are ticked by electric vans.

Swansea Council recently added no fewer than 40 Peugeot Partner Electric vans to its fleet. This is one of the largest local authority orders for electric vans so far and suggests a high level of confidence in this type of vehicle.

Swansea Council Fleet Manager Mark Barrow says that the organisation had already gained experience of electric vehicles by running 10 pool cars:

“An analysis of journeys and mileages clearly demonstrated their potential viability, whilst the preferred five-year lease equated to a budget neutral position that enabled us to achieve a much greener fleet.”

It’s now well understood by commercial operators that the diesel particulate filters in modern diesel engines are not well-suited to use on short, local journeys. Clogged DPFs are expensive and inconvenient.

To prevent any risk of flat batteries, Swansea Council has been able to install charging points at various municipal facilities around the city. But this isn’t always necessary as the range available from electric vans is enough to cover a full day’s operation for many business.

Town centre businesses with urban delivery routes are unlikely to do more than 50-80 miles in a day, a range that can be comfortably covered by most electric vans without needing a charge.

Another application where electric vans are well suited is for use on large industrial or transport sites, where mileages are very low and stop-start use is typical.

Looking further ahead, manufacturers such as Ford are developing plugin hybrid electric vans offering electric operation plus longer-range use via a conventional engine. These could help reduce urban emissions while still being practical for longer-range operation.

Tax incentives are fine, but charging is essential

The government’s Road to Zero report suggests that politicians want to encourage the uptake of electric and hybrid vans and will continue to offer incentives to buyers.

Pure electric vans already enjoy a £0 VED rate and often benefit from the plug-in van grant. But charging infrastructure is still limited. Improving this — so drivers can be confident of getting a battery boost wherever they stop — could trigger a big lift in electric van sales.

Rental demand could explode

I believe the future is very bright for electric vans. As organisations gain confidence in the cost and performance of these vehicles, order sizes are likely to multiply. And as companies become accustomed to electric power, they’ll expect to be able to source replacement and surge capacity electric vehicles from their rental suppliers.

Despite this, electric vans aren’t yet widely available in the van hire market. In my view, now could be a good time for van rental firms to start taking more interest in this growing market.

UK van registrations June 2012 to date

Van sales fall 5.8% in June despite pickup boost


New van registrations fell by 5.8% to 35,182 in June, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Although the number of new pickups hitting the road climbed 4.1% to 5,019, demand for vans of all sizes was lower.

LCV registrations June 2018

LCV registrations June 2018 (source: SMMT)

Registrations so far this year are 2.3% lower than for the same period in 2017. But despite this fall demand remains close to historic highs, as this chart shows:

UK van registrations June 2012 to date

UK van registrations June 2012 to date (source: SMMT)

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, is concerned that the economic uncertainty resulting from Brexit may be contributing to lower levels of demand:

“UK van registrations have fluctuated throughout the first half of this year, reflecting variable buying cycles which are a natural feature of the market. Despite this […] the overall trend is downwards, with Brexit uncertainty and its negative effect on business confidence threatening long-term growth.”

Ford is still top dog

One thing that hasn’t changed is Ford’s popularity with UK van buyers. The company’s Transit Custom and Transit models remain top sellers the UK’s top-selling new vans by some margin, a position they’ve held throughout the year:

LCV bestsellers June 2018

LCV bestsellers June 2018 (source: SMMT)

With no sign of a Brexit deal anytime soon, the outlook could remain uncertain for some time yet. Reports suggest this is making it difficult for many businesses to plan for growth. I suspect we may see further pressure on van sales over the next 18 months.