Buying a car in France is a relatively straightforward process which requires a fair amount of paperwork. 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 other European countries. Importing a car to France is a complicated and expensive process. It's generally easier for expats to buy a car in France than it is to import one.

Buying used or pre-owned cars in France can be far more expensive than it would be in some other countries. However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that a second-hand car will usually maintain a high resale value.

Choosing a vehicle

The French are loyal to their own local automotive brands. The roadsides in most French cities are littered with Renault, Citroen and Peugeot dealers. If expats choose to purchase a local car brand, they'll be able to easily find service centres and spare parts.

International car dealerships in France are also plentiful. In a more rural area, there won't necessarily be as large of an international selection of second-hand cars or dealerships that deal with foreign brands. The number of garages with a stock of the parts required for car servicing will also be considerably lower. 

Buying a new car in France

Buying a car from a dealership in France is usually very easy. As a foreigner unfamiliar with the purchasing process, going through a dealership can greatly reduce the administrative burden attached to buying a car. However, purchasing a car through a dealership is often more expensive than a private sale would be. Expats should also note that many dealers are closed between 12pm and 2pm.

Expats who have the time and are willing to put in the extra effort should consider buying a car from an individual seller. Buying a pre-owned car in France is a highly-regulated process. As a result, it’s unlikely that expats will be scammed or sold a stolen car.

Buying a used car in France

Expats looking to buy a used car in France should first consult online classifieds, virtual marketplaces and used car dealerships to find their ideal vehicle. 

All used cars in France over four years old must pass a garage inspection before they can be rightfully sold. This inspection is known as a contrôle technique, and it must be conducted no more than six months before the date of sale. Successfully inspected cars will have a sticker in the corner of their windscreen. If no sticker is present, expats should be sure to insist that the vehicle is inspected. 

If expats are buying from a used car dealer, the dealership will likely manage most of the paperwork. However, if buying from an individual, expats will need to ensure they are provided with all of the necessary documents. These can be verified at the nearest préfecture.

Once all the paperwork is in order the sale can be made. Account transfers or personal cheques accompanied by multiple forms of identification are usually accepted. It’s often best to have signed up with an insurance provider before the transaction as proof of insurance will be needed to register the car.

Registering a car in France

Within one week of purchasing a car, expats will need to visit the local préfecture or sous-préfecture to register the car in their name. This will require several documents, usually including proof of residence and proof of insurance. The registration fee varies depending on the horsepower of the vehicle. 

Driving in France

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

Expats should remember that it's a legal obligation to keep the carte grise (registration certificate) in the car, as police can stop and ask for it at any time. It's also a legal requirement to keep a warning triangle and a fluorescent yellow jacket or bib in the car in case of an accident. These aren't supplied when the vehicle is purchased and expats will have to source them independently. 

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