Are you properly covered?

Car insurance in FranceAll of us Brits have traditionally traded information on such a range of exciting topics,like mortgages,interest rates,health & home insurance, but possibly the most emotional of all is good old car insurance!
We have to have it, we want the best cover for the least outlay and we all hope and pray that the confidence we place in our chosen ‘Assureur’ is amply justified when we are in trouble!

My main purpose for recounting our recent experience is to encourage anyone living in France and driving car(s) with french plates, to dig out their policy documents and check what your aimiable Assureur would do in the following circumstances.

From time to time we all like to take the car out of France, perhaps to Spain, maybe Italy although most likely to be the UK for a family visit. As England is part of the EU there are no additional papers required, no need to tell your insurer that you’re taking the car out of France and because you have insured yourselves ‘TOUS RISQUES’ and breakdown cover is always included, you feel quite relaxed about the whole thing.

We were in the UK for a 10 day Xmas break, seeing family and doing a bit of shopping and had taken our large estate car which was crammed full. On the 21st December, the second day of our trip, we were involved in a multi car accident in Dorset. Fortunately I had managed to avoid the actual pile up and not hit anything or anybody but a driver following behind at too great a speed to see what was unfolding up front hit us in the rear tailgate at about 50 mph – thank heavens for estate cars! Everyone was OK but, after being cut out of our car by the friendly fire brigade, it was immediately obvious that our car was a write off. At this point confusion normally reigns but we were well looked after by the authorities, our car was craned off the roadside and taken to the local breakdown contractor’s yard where we were given tea & sympathy and forms to fill in!

The boss then asked me if I had comprehensive insurance (yes) and that was the end of it, or so I thought. I have been driving for 37 years and have never been held responsible for an accident either wholly or in part and I have always believed and had it confirmed countless times that if you are ‘rear ended’ through no fault of your own then you have nothing to fear, your insurance company will take care of you. As it was now about 8 pm there was not a lot I could do about contacting my french assureur to ascertain the next step and, as luck would have it, my family were able to make the 3 hour round trip to collect us and all our stuff. We had tried for taxis but everyone was booked for pre-xmas partying and, of course, the car hire companies were long closed for the night.

The following day I started the phone calls to all the appropriate places to try and get mobile again and make a preliminary report to our Assureur and this is when the true picture of the “Tous Risques” policy revealed itself:

1. You can only have a hire car to get you home – a maximum rental period of 2 days and you cannot take a UK registered car onto the ferry.

2. French breakdown cover tends to have a ceiling of approx £140 – our recovery and subsequent storage charges whilst awaiting the assessor (about 3 weeks later) amounted to approx £930!

3. We were continually asked to pay this in advance of any insurance settlements and when I refused, my insurer deducted it from the write off value of the lost car! (we assume we will get this back but have no guarantees)

4. All the important phone calls and demands for action were made by ourselves – our French Assureur has done virtually nothing to ease our stress and ongoing problems.

It’s now over 2 months since the accident and we still have no replacement car,no refund of any of our expenses and the likelihood of having to chase after an English insurance company to do what our agent should be doing. We were,in a way, lucky in that we had friends & family in the UK to pick us up, run us around and allow us to rack up their phone bills. If you were just touring around for your holidays and you lost your transportation on day 2, where would YOU stand with your French Insurer?

I have recently discovered that there are better policies than just ‘Tous risques’ but of course they are more expensive and still MAY not cover all eventualities. For example, I have found an insurance company in Cahors who provide, for an extra 40 euros per annum on the all risks policy, a hire car for up to 14 days following accident or severe breakdown.

Of course in any saga such as this, there is much more to tell but the basics are here and I strongly advise anyone planning a trip by car away from France tro read their policy documents including the small print (not easy in French) or, even better, choose a French Insurance company with English speaking staff with whom you can sit down and fully understand what you think you are buying.

© Martin Gilliam 2007


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