Buying a Car in France

Buying a car in France is a relatively straightforward process, but like in most countries, a fair amount of paperwork must be completed, and expats must be able to prove proof of residence, a feat usually accomplished by providing a certificate of residence (certificat de residence) – a document obtainable from your local town hall (Mairie). 

Those in the market for a new car will find that, much the same as anywhere else in greater Europe, the dealer takes care of all the administration. Prices of new cars appear to be roughly in line with those in greater Europe, so there seems little point in buying a car abroad and then shipping it to France if you’re anticipating a move.

Furthermore, importing a car to France is a hassle, and it’s often easier to sell your car in your home country and buy another in France.

Buying used, or pre-owned, cars in France can, on the other hand, be very expensive, compared to say, Britain. On the other side of the argument, a second-hand car will maintain a high resale value in France.

Which make?

The French are amazingly loyal to their own local automotive brands - the roadsides are littered with Renault dealers, and to a lesser extent Citroen and Peugeot. Not to mention, if you purchase a local make, you’ll easily be able to find service centres and spare parts.

That said, international dealerships are also plentiful in France, though,  if you live in a more rural area, the dealer of a foreign brand is not likely to be in close proximity, and there won't be as large of an international selection of second-hand cars either. 

Also, the number of garages that will stock the parts that you may require when you have your car serviced will be considerably less. 

Having said that, there are noticeably more foreign brands on French roads these days, so if you have your heart set on a particular make and model, you’ll likely be able to find it with a little extra leg-work.

Buying a car from a dealer or private seller?

As mentioned, buying from a dealer is very easy, and as a foreigner unfamiliar with the purchasing process, it can greatly reduce the administrative burden attached to buying a car. Expats should note that many dealers seem to be closed between 12pm and 2pm.

On the flipside, most of the time it’s more expensive to purchase from a dealer. Thus, if you have the time and are willing to put in the extra effort, consider buying a car from an individual seller. 

Like most things in France, buying a pre-owned car is a highly-regulated process. As a result, it’s unlikely you’ll be scammed or sold a stolen car.

Still, it is a good idea to avoid looking too gullible, and also to be aware of the obligations of the seller. 

Buying a used car in France

Once you’ve decided on the make, model and features of the car you’d like, peruse a few of the “book value” web sites to get an idea of costs.

Next, consult online classifieds, virtual marketplaces and used car dealerships to find your ideal vehicle. 

Keep in mind that all used cars in France over four years old must pass a garage inspection before they can be rightfully be sold. This inspection is known as a contrôle technique, and it must have been conducted six months prior to the date of sale. Successfully inspected cars will have a sticker in the corner of their windscreen.

If no sticker is present, don’t be afraid to demand that the vehicle be inspected. 

Once you’ve finalised your decision, you can start the transaction process between yourself and the seller. If buying from a used car dealer, they will likely manage most of the paperwork; however, if buying from an individual you will need to make sure they provide you with the following, all of which are documents available at the local Préfecture:

1. Carte grise barrée: this is the vehicle registration document. The seller will need to cancel the old carte grise, and can do so by simply writing in indelible ink the words "Vendu le..." and the date, or "Cédée le..." and the date. Make sure that the series number stamped on the car matches that in the registration documents of the seller. The seller must sign this document.

2. A certificat de situation administrative (commonly known by its old name of certificat de non-gage), which certifies that there are no unpaid fines associated with the car. It also proves that there are no outstanding loans and that there is no judicial opposition to the sale (valid for two months). 

If you have the old carte grise of the card, you can print this form out online after you’ve entered the relevant details. 

3. A certificat de cession (certificate of transfer and document of sale) One copy is needed for the buyer, one is kept by the seller and the third is sent to the Préfecture after the sale is complete. 

After all the paperwork is in order, you can pay the seller, account transfers or personal cheques accompanied by multiple forms of identification are often accepted. Then you’re ready to register the car in your name accordingly. 

It’s often best to have signed-up with an insurance provider prior to the transaction, as proof of insurance will be needed to register the car.

Registering your car

Within one week of purchasing your car, you need to visit the Préfecture or Sous-Préfecture of your area to register the car in your name. You will need all the documents above plus:

  • Proof of residence

  • Proof of insurance

  • Proof of identity for each registered owner (passport)

  • Money to pay the fee for the new carte grise. 

The fee varies depending on the horsepower of the vehicle; costs are listed on the website of the Préfecture, but it’s best to allow for around 300 EUR.

In 2009 the law changed in France from a system where number plates were specific to a person at a particular address, to a national number plate system where the number plates stay with a car for its life.

If you are buying a second-hand car which hasn't changed hands since October 2009, you will also have to have new number plates made. 

When your provisional carte grise is given to you at the Préfecture, the immatriculation (or registration) number will be different from the number plates on the car, so you will need to have number plates that match the immatriculation number made.

Any garage can do this for you, and you can also order them online, it shouldn't cost more than 30 EUR. As time passes, the chance that you will need to be responsible for this process will be smaller and smaller, as most cars will have already had their number plates adjusted. 

Driving your car

The French seem to have adopted a slightly different attitude toward their vehicles than that of most Westerners. The amount of cars that drive around with dents and scratches is quite noticeable, and the locals seem satisfied that this is a likely destiny for their vehicle.

Regarding driving practice, indicating seems to be optional, as does stopping at minor red lights. As for drinking and driving, there are still many instances.

Expats should remember is that it is a legal obligation to keep the carte grise in your car, as police can stop and ask you for it at any time. It is also a legal requirement to keep a warning triangle and a fluorescent yellow jacket or bib in your car, in case of an accident. These are not supplied when you buy a car.