£250 car update: Recycled Home-Made Cupholders

I made these cup holders by recycling some cylindrical containers (they used to have Timmy’s Pro Fibre supplement in), which I painted gold:

Johnstone's metal paint gold car invoke delight and inspire

home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Home made cup holders part-way through being painted.
home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Waiting for them to dry.

Once they’re finished I’m going to drill holes in the plastic around the dashboard and screw them to it with small screws. No car should be without cupholders in this day and age, and mine has literally none!

£250 Car Update

So, remember how a few days ago I bought a car for £250? Yeah well I promptly fell in love with the little rascal and of course it’s got a lot of problems. Here’s what’s happened this week so far:

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Update Monday:

Biggest thing it needed was a new fuel tank. My usual garage was fully booked, so I took it to a Big Chain. BIG MISTAKE. They’ve had my car since Thursday, I even phoned ahead and told them exactly what was wrong with my car before I took it to them, because I only wanted to drive it once to get the fuel leak fixed. Well they basically wasted three days umm-ing and ah-ing and they kept telling me they’d call back within half an hour, and every time I phoned an hour after they said they’d call (every time, literally about 6 phone calls over 4 days, I paid for every one because they couldn’t be bothered to call me), a different person stated the bloody obvious – that my car needed a fuel tank. I was like, hello? I told you that on WEDNESDAY EVENING when I phoned ahead to make sure you could fix my car, because it didn’t say anywhere on their website that they could do this job and I wanted to check I wasn’t wasting my time before I brought it in. I could have taken my car to a different place and had it repaired by now. I’m still waiting for them to even give me a quote on a fuel tank, and all this time, they’ve had my car (and they’re baffled on the steering)!

Their excuse on Thursday was that it was the end of the day (they’d had it 4 hours by then), their excuse on Friday was they were short staffed. On Saturday, they couldn’t get a price from the dealer (didn’t they know that on Friday? Because on Friday they promised they’d have a quote on Saturday). They were closed on Sunday. Now it’s Monday. At 7:30am I managed to get hold of Fiat and get a quote on a Seicento petrol tank. It’s a shocking £550 for replacement fuel tank and lines from Fiat. That will have a £250-ish service charge added by the garage. I’m still waiting for Big Chain Garage to do what they said they’d do by Thursday and get back to me about this.

I’m pretty sure they’re not really this disorganized.

You know why I think they’re messing me around? It’s an old car. They don’t like fixing old cars. Old cars get bumped to bottom of the list of priorities, because they think they can’t make as much money out of you as they think they can make out of a newer car owner. Garages literally decide how much you can afford to pay based on your car. Sometimes, as an old car owner, they’ll quote you a crazy high price to make you go away. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re going to do next with my Seicento.

I’ve been on the other side of this when I had a top of the range VW Golf. Every service at Evans Halshaw (had to have them to keep the warranty valid) came back with £500 of fake repairs. Every time. Of course, joke’s on them because it caused me to get rid of the car, and now that I don’t have a warranty with them, I’d never buy another car from them or their affiliates, and I’d never take out a warranty with a national car chain ever again.

I’ve been up all night stressing about this damn problem – I have to go to Oxford University on Thursday for a conference and I don’t even know if my car will be back from the garage by then. Of course, if I’d known my car wouldn’t be functioning (and there was no reason for this situation, it’s a couple of hours to change a fuel tank, I’d do it myself if I didn’t have three huge projects due next week that I need to finish early due to that conference), I would have bought train tickets. But now tickets cost £100 instead of £40 because it’s less than 7 days before I need to travel. If Big Chain Garage hadn’t messed me around, I could have taken the car to somewhere else, got it fixed, or I could have drained the fuel tank, kept the car on the drive while I waited to take it to somewhere else and bought train tickets. Instead, my petrol’s pouring onto their forecourt (CLEARLY not safe) and I’m STILL without a car.

They’re ticking quite a few boxes on this dodgy garage checklist already.

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Monday afternoon:

Long story short they told me they couldn’t get a petrol tank (lies; I phoned the parts place and they had one, it was just ludicrously expensive. I think Big Chain just really didn’t want to work on my elderly car), then refused to let me have my car back (it was “unsafe” for me to drive it, but they were happy for “some guy they knew, who could fix my car” to collect it without telling me who or where), so I ended up conning them out of my own car by turning up and telling them I was taking it somewhere for someone. It was disturbingly easy to steal my own car; security is distinctly lacking. Poor car.

The lack-of-power-steering problem that Big Chain Garage couldn’t find in 4 days? They told me they thought the power steering unit had been removed. I was certain it never had one, Seicentos have electric steering assistance rather than true power steering (but what do I know? I only read the owner’s manual and checked online for Seicento power steering issues, after all). When I got the car back, I looked under the bonnet and saw, right beside the battery, a fuse or relay with a picture of a steering wheel on it. Well clearly that can’t be anything to do with my steering issue.

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Update Tuesday:

I got a petrol tank delivered by next day delivery from eBay and took it and my car to a garage this afternoon. I think my car may be at a Mafia chop shop. This place doesn’t even advertise that they do car repairs, they’re allegedly a car wash, but they will fit parts that you’ve supplied, so I hope they don’t wreck my car. I’ll find out in the morning as they’re keeping it overnight.

I did also ask them to look at the oil pressure switch for me, but I’m not sure if they will or not. The engine block is literally covered in oil, and more disturbingly, the engine says “Renault Clio” on it. My car is a Fiat Seicento. The usual little plaque in the car (telling me the VIN and engine number) isn’t where I expected, so I’m a bit unsure as to whether this car is legit or not. Good job it’s getting fixed at a garage that literally asked no questions.

Normally these are things I would check when buying a car, but this was a £250 car, a full £120 less than my previous cheapest ever car (that one got 10 miles down the motorway then the engine exploded. I don’t have high hopes of this car getting me to Oxford on Thursday), so I really don’t have any expectations.

Car still also needs new tyre on one side as the tyre wall is cracked. Acquiring cheap tyres is a bit hit or miss; sometimes car places will do them for free, sometimes they’ll charge you £80 per tyre. I don’t know how to tell between the repair places who will do the latter and those who will do the former. I’ll sort the tyre out when the car isn’t leaking petrol and oil.

This saga will continue, I’m sure.

Fun Day At The Office (Not)…

I’m taking the rabbits to the vets tomorrow in the pushchair I modified for them for our wedding. I’ve just sold my beautiful car for £240.  I won’t be able to afford a new one for a while.
I took a carload of stuff to the tip earlier today to make it easier whenever we emigrate.
And apparently my latest book is on hold until I find out categorically whether or not it can have (plot critical) dinosaurs in it.  Early indications suggest not.  Stalled, at 70,000 words.

Le sigh.  I currently feel like the Von Trapp family, only no-ones letting me on the stage to do the musical number and the Nazis are getting closer with every minute.  I feel like I have no choice but to keep my blog going, keep being bright and cheery, keep writing random beauty articles, and keep writing my books, as if there’s nothing wrong, whilst outside in the big wide world people are like “your last name is foreign, why are you in my country?” and inside I’m flipping between male and female like nobody’s business and at home I’m trying desperately to work out how to get my 5 rabbits out of the country before someone legislates that I can’t own property or something else ridiculous.  Think this vote thingy was nothing to worry about?  Try having a Polish last name in England right now.  Work’s mysteriously dried up, when last week I was being inundated with calls and emails about “the busiest time of year.”  On the plus side my most recent book has now almost sold 500 copies (490 as of two days ago, sorry I can’t link it from here it’s strictly NSFW, email me if you want to know, good job I use a pen name and it’s mostly marketed in the USA), and the guy who bought my car has just come back to return the sunglasses I left in the door.  Which is good because I broke 2 pairs of sunglasses this week and only have that pair left.

The depression and PTSD keep rearing their ugly heads, and today I lost the fight with them again, resulting in them trying to convince me I had PMS cramps, failing, then choosing to attack me with a painkiller-resistant migraine.  I spent 6 hours writing an email today.  Srsly WTF.

Review: We Buy Any Car (why I chose to sell privately despite being out of time)

This is a review of We Buy Any Car, discussing why I sold one car privately and scrapped the other car after trying to use We Buy Any Car.

I am writing this on my website because We Buy Any Car has fiddled it so that you have to post an invoice number to review them on Trustpilot (the allegedly trustworthy review site). Of course the problem with that is that only the people who will actually agree that the service was OK enough for them to sell their car are people who will get an invoice number.

I absolutely wouldn’t mind them valuing cars at well below market value if they STARTED with the price they actually intend to pay you for your car when they quoted you online, and you had a clear and transparent decision to take or leave that price, but that’s not what they do, and that’s what I have an issue with.

Basically, We Buy Any Car is a car-buying website with aggressive advertising and tactics which claims to to buy your car regardless of the condition it is in. Obviously we all know they’re going to give you a price below market value, this review isn’t so much concerned with that as HOW they arrive at it and the lack of transparency, coupled with the fact they’re fiddling their reviews to make themselves look good. I tried to use them in 2014 and again last summer and both times I found their whole set-up to be absolutely shocking.

Firstly there’s the fact they claim they guarantee to honour the price they quoted, if the car is in the condition you say it is. Of course, when the guy actually inspects your car, he makes up a bunch of crap that’s allegedly wrong with your car that is untrue, so you can either accept a vastly lowered price (after being promised a quick and easy sale) or have to advertise your car privately.

My 2006 VW Golf was originally valued by We Buy Any Car at £1850. In late 2014, £1850 was about 60% of the market value of my car, but I wanted a quick sale so thought I’d take that. Despite being female I’m not an idiot when it comes to cars, and I knew full well that my car was worth over £2000 so £1850 was pretty much as low as I was prepared to go but I was lured in by their promises of a quick easy hassle free sale (all lies). When it came to it, We Buy Any Car weren’t actually worth the time of day because, despite claiming they won’t haggle over the price, they really, really were doing and it wasted half a day of my life plus the time online in the first place and the fact I had to wait a week to even get that far because they were fully booked. That’s a week I could have been selling my car. If I hadn’t been 100% confident in my self-defence abilities, I could easily have felt intimidated enough by the way they were treating me to accept their offer (they were being very intimidating with the way they spoke to me and were trying to make me feel like I didn’t know my own car).

An example of the things they found “wrong” with my VW Golf:

1. The man was sitting in my car on a blazing hot summer’s day, running my engine and wasting my petrol, so he could sit in front of my air conditioning for over 40 minutes and cover my driver seat in disgusting sweat, while someone on the phone was telling me that my car didn’t have air conditioning.

2. They found scratches and dents on the car that didn’t exist. For example, on the driver door they claimed there was a scratch when it was actually a smudge from the man’s own dirty fingers.

3. The “it’s time for a service” light was on. I had disclosed this. They said this meant the car had an imminent engine failure. It actually means that the car needed its annual service. The picture of the engine, of course, being the “engine failure” light, not the picture of the spanner. Despite the fact I had disclosed this, they decided to further reduce the price because of it.

4. They said my car hadn’t had a cam-belt change, despite the fact I was waving the receipt for it in their faces the entire time and it was also written into the service book for 80,000 miles (which is early on a Golf), having just hit 100,000 miles (hence the picture of the spanner).

5. They said I hadn’t disclosed the one piece of damage to the car, despite the fact that I’d printed out the form I’d filled in and could clearly prove that I had, in fact, disclosed that dent. Then they said that the dent meant the car needed a total respray and used it to further reduce the price.

They amended their quote to £1050, but because I stood my ground and argued with them for over half an hour, I got it up to £1675, proving how little confidence they really had in the “issues” they found with my car. I walked away from that “deal” and sold my car privately, so I don’t have an invoice number for We Buy Any Car, so I can’t add my review to Trustpilot. While measures like this are intended to prevent spammers and fake reviews, all it’s doing in the case of We Buy Any Car is skewing the reviews so that nobody gets to hear the bad stuff. I just reviewed my car insurance on Trustpilot and they didn’t want an invoice number (or other proof) for that. In the end, I got £2000 for my VW Golf from a private buyer via Gumtree, which produced a lot of time wasters but did get my car sold quickly. If I’d held out for full market value, I think I would have got it but I was in a hurry to get the car off my driveway so I could park my new one.

The second time I dealt with We Buy Any Car, they actually refused to buy my 2004 Citroen Xsara Picasso just before Christmas, no reason given. It didn’t start, didn’t work, but had a very clean interior and no damage to the outside. I got the £20 scrappage instead. So “We Buy Any Car” is also false advertising, and I now have 2 bad experiences with a company and no invoice number to write a review on Trustpilot.

The fact of the matter is, We Buy Any Car are misusing spam measures on online review sites to try and improve their poor image. Most of the customer experience takes place BEFORE you accept their offer to buy your car. I would bet that 50%, possibly more, of the customers of this company don’t actually complete the sale due to their shocking tactics. The beauty of this scam, then, is that you can either be ripped off for hundreds of pounds so you can write a review on an “independent” review site, and tell other people about your experience (not to mention giving We Buy Any Car more money when they resell your car to a dealer at profit) or, technically, you’re not a verifiable customer, because no money has changed hands.

The fact that Trust Pilot is complicit in enabling We Buy Any Car to mute legitimate reviewers casts doubt on the trustworthiness of its other reviews. Are they really representative of the customer experience?  Having an invoice number is no guarantee of legitimacy anyway – you can’t prove that companies are not just taking customers’ invoice numbers themselves and getting their staff to write glowing reviews, so requesting an invoice number is no guarantee of authentic reviews.

So the real questions are: Is Trust Pilot really that trustworthy as a review site? and, why does Trading Standards only intervene if you’ve bought something that’s not fit for purpose? They wouldn’t get involved even if you take the obviously dodgy deal being offered by companies such as We Buy Any Car? because you accepted the money after being browbeaten into it by their staff, to avoid having to start the whole car selling process again from scratch.

I think Trust Pilot need to make it harder for companies like this one to falsely skew their results when the rest of the internet will tell you how crap We Buy Any Car is, and I think the law needs to change so that companies like this have to operate in a more transparent way.

 

Why I’m Not Converting Another Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Car Camper

I really loved my Citroen Xsara Picasso as a campervan, especially because you can pretty much do anything to kit it out, and not worry about wrecking it. In December, the famously unreliable French mechanical engineering let me down when the Picasso’s gearbox and engine broke so I had to give it to the scrap merchant for £20, and I bought a Rover 75 because it was cheap. Some plans I’d had for this summer for the Picasso were to put vents in the sides (by drilling holes in the non-petrol side) and to fix the storage situation.

I want to talk today about why I did my car camper conversion the way I did it, why I will probably not buy another Citroen Xsara Picasso to camperify (it was great for what I wanted but it does have a lot of limitations) and I also want to go through some of the considerations you need to think about whilst planning your camper conversion.

When I bought the Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert back in 2014, nobody had done such a thing before and the only mentions of it on the internet were people joking about what a stupid idea it was. I feel proud that I started something that (it turns out) so many people are interested in doing, and I am glad that my posts about how I converted the Citroen Xsara Picasso and my review of the Picasso are helping other people achieve their dream of having a car camper. This did mean though that when I did mine, there was absolutely no information specific to the Citroen Xsara Picasso to give me any idea about how to go about converting it. I took inspiration and ideas mainly from Toyota Previa Delica Lucida conversions, obviously the Citroen Xsara Picasso is much smaller and there’s a limit on how much space 2 human beings (6’2″ and 5’6″ respectively) need. If you are 5’4″ or under, you can convert a Citroen Xsara Picasso and have acres of space because your clothes, shoes, sleeping area etc all take up less space. Even in the most practical Previa Delica Lucida conversion that I’d admired and used as guidance, the tallest occupant was 5’8″, so perhaps car camper conversion is a sport more suited to shortarses rather than longshanks.  We had great times in it, although in hindsight I think we would have had a better shot at a more complex conversion in a Previa Delica Lucida (a Toyota’s a Toyota).

The main stumbling block I came up against (I did everything myself) was we were just too tall for this vehicle to be our ideal camper conversion. Yes, you can fill the back of a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a wooden framed bed, a nice coloured fitted “kitchen” unit etc, but you won’t actually have enough headroom to use this stuff because human beings bend at the middle to sit up. I measured us. I need 83cm to be able to sit up in a vehicle, and my husband needed 91cm. Since my husband is 6 foot 2 inches tall, we needed that length to sleep in, so the Picasso was not long enough for us to add a kitchen unit at the back (so you can cook with the boot open) either. From a ventilation and safety point of view, there was absolutely no point in fitting a kitchen but again if you’re short or single you won’t have this problem, you can kitchen away.

Add to that, when you’re not actually camping (which is most of the time, unless you’re retired, in which case you probably aren’t going to convert a Picasso when you could drive one of those hulking great motorhomes at 20 miles an hour around the Derbyshire Dales), having a kitchen unit in a Picasso is generally stupid for most people. It adds weight and stops you from a) carrying people in your people carrier when you want to and b) using it as a van to transport large items.

The main thing I really loved about the Picasso was its sheer versatility. There was the time I gave a ride to three people with a sick cat they found on the street, who needed to get it to a vet’s across town. There was the time when my dad died 400 miles away and, because his sister has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought it was all about her, I had to clear his flat in the dark on a Bank Holiday (when all the van rental places were shut), and if I hadn’t had the Citroen Xsara Picasso I would not have been able to save my antique 1920s wardrobe (four foot wide, six foot long, two foot six inches deep) from my bedroom, the only thing my dad ever bought me; it would have been taken to landfill by the council instead (crammed it in on its side, filled it with mementos, photos etc that we salvaged). There were the (countless) times I needed to take garden waste to the tip, the time my husband decided to take 500 bricks off someone’s hands (thanks Freecycle), all the large pieces of wood we transported home for furniture projects, that all made the ability to have a completely empty loading area an absolute essential. To put it into perspective, last week we bought some new fence panels and had to walk home with them because the Rover 75 blatantly couldn’t fit them inside or on top. If we’d still had the Picasso, we could have either attached them to the roof with rope through the windows (put a big towel on your roof, nothing gets scratched) or crammed them into the back to get them home. If we’d put fixed furniture in the Picasso, its storage space and passenger capacity would have been more limited.

I’d like to add something about effort vs benefit because a lot of people lose sight of this when they’re spending 6 months to a year converting a vehicle (during which time they don’t go anywhere on holiday in it). Allowing for the possibility that there are people in the world small enough to fit in the vehicle afterwards, it still takes a lot of effort to build a bed/storage unit and a kitchen/storage unit because you have to custom size it all to the vehicle and it has to be safely attached somehow so you don’t kill everyone in the vehicle in a crash.  Unless you very specifically want that exact vehicle for many years to come, you are putting a lot of work into making custom camper furniture for a car that you probably won’t be cooking in very often, or storing camping equipment in, compared to the number of times you will drive it to work (in our case we had it for 15 months, August 2014 to November 2015, and used it for four different long-distance holidays, where we slept in it for more than two nights apiece. We would have used it for more trips but I was a bit preoccupied with my parents both dying last year). I decided that since we bought the Picasso as an experiment in the fusion between Bangernomics and Campernomics, and that it was only going to run to its next MOT, there was no point in going to that much expense, effort, and time, to do something to a vehicle that was going to be scrapped in a year. I did want to work out how to put air vents into it before I scrapped it, but I was very ill at the time, in and out of hospital, so that never happened (2015 was a shit year. But I did buy the plastic air vents from Homebase and find out how to do it, although there’s no schematics to confirm that I wouldn’t have drilled through a wire or something). I also wanted to put a roof rack on top, but when I tried to get one fitted on the day I had to clear my dad’s flat, Halfords kept me waiting for ages then said it was too late in the day and that I should come back tomorrow. The store was empty of customers the whole time. I got let down at a time when something terrible was happening, so I didn’t bother going back. I’ll spend my money elsewhere thanks.

Other important considerations are a) the law b) visibility c) weight distribution/fuel consumption and d) access to and from doors.
a) I have talked about international window tinting laws for driving around the world previously. They haven’t changed, and they do also apply to any obstructions to visibility. I drove my car camper to Rome and this year I’m going to drive (whatever vehicle I end up with by July) to Spain. For me, putting anything in the back of the Picasso that would affect visibility is a hard “no.” Additionally, there’s no point making a camper that sleeps more people than it seats with a seat belt. Where are these extra people going to come from? How are you all going to breathe?

b) Visibility. The positioning of those front driver pillars (and the fact that there’s two of them) is really stupid. The car looks lovely from the outside but from the inside? Really hard to see where you’re going. In the blazing sun in Italy, the reflection from the top of the dashboard made it virtually impossible to see out of the front window. The heat was over 40 degrees celsius and my car’s fans were blowing even hotter than the ambient air because my car was a scrapper. If I hadn’t been able to see clearly out of my back and side windows, I would have had an accident. That means the only place to put a fixed kitchen/storage unit would have been behind the driver’s seat (where I can’t see anyway) and it would have had to come no higher than the window for aforementioned legal reasons.

c)The petrol tank is on the driver’s side, then it goes under the vehicle on that same side. It takes 40 litres. If there’s a fixed heavy piece of furniture behind the driver, that’s another 10-30 kilograms of weight on the same side. An uneven load distribution, being driven around in the same place all the time, in addition to anyone or anything else you put in the car, is going to affect the car mechanically.

d) I wanted all the doors to be openable and to permit access to the vehicle. This meant I wasn’t limited about how/where I parked and there were two examples of this being invaluable: firstly, when I couldn’t stop vomiting on my first day in the Highlands in August 2015, I was *really* glad of this because I could just open the door, do my vomiting, close the door, without having to disturb my husband who was trying to get to sleep. Secondly, when we came across an unexpected nudist beach in Belgium, we were able to park the car and change into swimwear whilst avoiding getting our shoes in the back of the car by opening the door behind the driver seat.

Another thing to be aware of is cabin fever, especially on a long trip to Europe or further afield. You will want to be able to go to sleep with more than two inches between yourself and the person next to you.

I think when looking at converting a Citroen Xsara Picasso, or any other smaller vehicle, into a campervan, it’s important to keep perspective of the best possible function and use of the vehicle, rather than being able to go “ooh ooh look at me it looks like a real caravan inside I designed it to be popular on PINTEREST” (seriously, why do people do this) whilst compromising on the most important things in any vehicle you sleep in – bed length and comfort, privacy and safe air flow.

Things I didn’t like about the Citroen Xsara Picasso:
1. There’s nowhere to put a freaking drink on the driver’s side, and seemingly nowhere to attach a place to put a drink because every surface is curvy and “futuristic” (from the Picasso’s design vision in the late ’90s).

2. Ours was petrol. I liked the 1.6 litre engine, but I disliked the really tiny petrol tank that was NOT designed for long distance journeys, and I really disliked having nowhere (in the curvy futuristic exterior of the vehichle) to store a jerry can. Add to that, some countries don’t allow you to carry petrol but everywhere lets you take diesel. You don’t want to sleep in the vicinity of a petrol can (I’ve done this, it’s horrible) leaking fumes everywhere, so it has to go outside the vehicle, but there’s nowhere on the Picasso to put it. This means you’re forced to fill where you can, which means sometimes you’re pushing the car to the petrol pump, and always you have the knowledge that you didn’t get a good price on fuel.

3. The lights on the Picasso we had just never worked properly. By the time I scrapped it, one headlight would not even do a side light let alone anything else and the suspension was terrible. Yes, you can fix these things, but there’s only so many times you can get it “fixed” before you just want a different car.

4. The spare wheel being under the boot seems like a great idea but it reduces the ground clearance – which in general was not shockingly bad (not a lowrider) but wasn’t fantastic either.

5. The fans blowing air didn’t work at all and the temperature control didn’t work, so when the ambient temperature was hot, the car was hot, and when the ambient temperature was cold, the car was cold. You may remember cars of the 80’s often had this problem, and this might make you think “who cares?” but when it’s 40 degrees in Rome when you wake up and sub zero in the Alps when you go to sleep, it really is important to have some sort of controllable warm/cold air coming into the car.

6. The off road capabilities were less than impressive, the cruising speed was sub-par which especially pissed me off in Germany where I wanted to be going at over 90 mph and was stuck at 75, and the brakes were nowhere near as good as on the VW Golf.  Adding weight of a full-on camper conversion to make it look like a Citroen Romahome on the inside will ONLY make this worse.

I did a hell of a lot of research into a lot of different vehicles before I bought the Picasso, and it was the perfect car to get some experience of campering with.  If you’ve never converted a vehicle and you’re not tall and you don’t buy a £600 category-C write off, you’ll probably have many happy years in this.  As for me, I am hoping that this summer I can buy a Land Rover to convert, so I’ve got a vehicle that’s a) wide enough for actual luggage storage and b) has 4 wheel drive capacity for when we’re campervanning in the snow or end up off-road both of which happened in the Highlands and in Austria. I want to take it to the Sahara (amongst other places), after all, and a Picasso was never going to be appropriate for that.  I also like the fact the Landie has a flat roof with excellent potential for luggage storage.

How To Drive In Europe: The Basics

Ever wondered whether driving in Europe is different to driving at home? Are you planning a trip that will involve you driving in Europe? This article is an explanation of everything you need to know to drive safely in Europe (including the UK), broken down into key aspects so you can drive safely and confidently on your next European Road Trip.  This is very comprehensive but I’ve written it as concisely as possible from both my own experiences and research I’ve done to check current driving laws around Europe; I have this article saved to my computer to print out to take with me whenever I drive in Europe.  Feel free to do the same.

Contents:
Side of the Road,
Roundabouts,
Multi-Lane Roads,
Indicators and Overtaking,
Smoking in Vehicles,
Things You Need In Your Car,
Tolls and taxes,
Speed Limits,
Carrying Hazardous/Dangerous Items in Your Vehicle,
Further Reading.

 

Side of the road:

1. In Malta, Cyprus Ireland and the UK (excluding Gibraltar), you drive on the left.

2. Everywhere else you drive on the right.

Roundabouts:

Roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights where roads intersect each other.

Where you drive on the left (in the UK etc):

Go around the roundabout in a clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the right hand side and ignore traffic on the left (unless it’s cutting you up in which case peep your horn at them to warn them of your presence). You can imagine most roundabouts as a complicated type of crossroads, and some of them have traffic lights on them as well. You indicate as you approach the roundabout to inform people that you are either not getting off the roundabout yet (indicate right, for right turns or straight ahead) or you indicate to inform people that you are getting off the roundabout at the very next exit (indicate left, for the very next left turn). If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane, people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout so always check mirrors and blind spot before changing direction unexpectedly and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Where you drive on the right (in France etc):

Go around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the left hand side and ignore traffic on the right (unless they’re cutting you up in which case slow down). To indicate, do so whilst you are on the roundabout (or two or three cars away from joining it) and indicate left (staying on the roundabout) or right (getting off the roundabout), EXCEPT in Slovenia where you only indicate to show when you’re leaving the roundabout. If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane be aware people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout, so check your mirrors and blind spot before changing lane unexpectedly, and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Multi-Lane Roads:

Where you drive on the left (UK, Ireland etc):

Stay in the left hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on a motorway (3 lanes or more) you may see big blue signs showing that the road is going to split into two new roads. When this is happening, pick the lane that follows the correct blue sign to where you are going. If in doubt, keeping right at a fork is usually to stay on the road you’re currently on. As soon as you are on the new road or as soon as you have passed the fork or new road split, return to the left hand lane if it’s safe to do so.

When overtaking, it’s good practice to pull back over to the left after you’ve overtaken, however, because other people don’t always do this, and because people don’t leave a sensible amount of space between themselves and the cars in front, it can sometimes be more efficient to stay in the right hand lane if you know you need to overtake again soon, because it can be very difficult to rejoin overtaking traffic once you’ve had to slow down. If you see a police car, pull into the left hand lane because it is now illegal to just drive in an overtaking lane (which is every lane apart from the left lane), although nothing’s changed in terms of how people drive because UK police don’t appear to be enforcing this OR the new law against tailgating.
In Ireland, there are a lot of elderly drivers but people seem to be more mellow and courteous on the road, so I always pull back to the left after overtaking although not everyone does. Ireland doesn’t seem to have the same horrific traffic congestion as the UK does, probably because people drive with courtesy and are more tolerant of mistakes (such as being in the wrong lane).

Where you drive on the right (France, Germany etc):

Stay in the right hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on an Autoroute or Autobahn or Autostrada (freeway, motorway), the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. If you need to overtake someone, check your mirrors (especially in Germany where there’s no upper speed limits on some routes) and only pull out where there’s no-one approaching at speed – if someone’s passing you at 150 miles an hour and you’re pulling out at 60, it’s not going to end well for anyone. When you are done overtaking, pull back in, and remember to overtake EACH VEHICLE INDIVIDUALLY. In the UK people have a tendency to stay in the overtaking lane when they shouldn’t, because they can see another car ahead that they will want to overtake in a couple of minutes – in Europe, this can get you pulled over by the police, but not before a VW Kamper has tailgated you for a couple of miles flashing his lights at you to draw your attention to the fact that you’re in the wrong lane. Once you’re done overtaking, get out of the overtaking lane.

Near some European cities such as Florence (and Glasgow), there are now moments when you will either get corralled through the city on a motorway that avoids all the junctions, or you will be moved onto a motorway that HAS all the junctions. It is critically important here that you are aware a) how long you will be on a no-junction motorway and b) whether you will miss your exit. We didn’t understand the signs because the with-junctions motorway was signposted with suburbs of Florence (which should have been closer than our exit), and the without-junctions motorway was signposted with Milan, which was a VERY long way away compared to where our exit was. We were trying to get to Verona. We chose the Milan motorway, thinking the other was a ring road type system around Florence. Big mistake. We were shuttled 50km north of our starting point, all the time in slow moving traffic in 40 degree (Celsius) heat, with no air conditioning and a thick fog of petrol fumes surrounding us; we had realized as we passed the exit to the other motorway that we were on the wrong road. We then spent three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling until we FINALLY reached the first exit off this road which was far, far beyond the exit we had needed. For the first forty minutes on the shuttle road, our road was directly alongside the road we should have taken, and there was no way to get to it. We had to turn around at the first exit 50km later, and then we had to sit through another two hours of traffic to get back to the place where we could turn around again to choose the correct road because it wasn’t reachable from the other side of the road. Many road signs in Italy make no sense and I would highly recommend you get a sat nav as well as a paper road map if you intend to drive in Italy (and don’t rely on the Google sat nav on your phone because a) you’ll wear your battery down by charging it and using it at the same time and b) it’s dependent on you getting a phone signal as well as a GPS one). The moral of the story here is to be aware of these shuttle roads (I don’t know if they have a fancy name) if you plan to drive anywhere in Europe.

Indicators and Overtaking:

In every European country, you must not overtake a school bus while it is stopped to let passengers on or off. In the former Eastern Bloc countries (such as Serbia) you may not overtake any buses that are stopped. Use your common sense – if the rest of the traffic has overtaken the bus, or if the bus is clearly stopped for a lunch break, it’s probably safe to overtake if you take care and do so slowly, so you don’t hit any pedestrians crossing in front of the bus.

On autoroutes/autobahns (motorways, freeways) some nationalities continue to indicate even after they’ve maneuvered, until they have pulled back into the right hand (non-overtaking) lane. This might seem strange to people who have driven in the UK where many high end cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes etc) don’t actually appear to be fitted with indicators since their drivers just pull out without warning. It is not compulsory to indicate with the expressive gusto of drivers from Luxembourg, but it is compulsory to use the correct indicators to inform other traffic that you are changing lane or turning.

On roundabouts in Slovenia, you do not indicate when entering a roundabout, you only indicate to show that you are leaving the roundabout.

Smoking in Vehicles:

It is now illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are passengers in the UK.  It might be illegal to NOT smoke in any vehicle in Montenegro (joking; the UK one is true though).

Things you need in your car (by law):

Some things are needed everywhere in Europe, other things are needed only in one country. In general, the Eastern European countries require you to take more stuff than Western Europe. As far as enforcement goes, unless you get stopped by the police and your vehicle checked for some reason, you shouldn’t really have any problems, so if you’re a flexible good driver (as opposed to one who inflexibly follows every letter of the highway code regardless of situation) you will probably never need to prove these items are in your car.

The UK:

A spare wheel.

Most countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia:

Warning triangle (always 2 in Spain, 2 in some other countries IF you’re towing a caravan)

Hi-Viz vest

First aid kit

Spare bulbs

A spare wheel

A bumper sticker showing which country you have driven from (eg. GB sticker) unless your registration plate states a country code on it.

Countries where it gets very cold and snowy, including Austria, Scandinavia and most of the former Eastern Bloc:

Your vehicle MUST be fitted with winter tyres, usually between October and March. Check each country’s requirement on the AA website before taking your vehicle.

Countries where it is very hot:

In Spain, most window tinting is illegal.

In most hot countries you are not allowed to carry spare petrol, but you are generally allowed to carry diesel.

Former Soviet-Bloc countries (Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, but not Greece):

These are the countries which will often check at the border whether your car has all the correct items, so if you’re travelling to or through any of the former USSR countries, you need to tick all the boxes because they still have a culture of bureaucracy at border checkpoints.

Spare bulbs,

Spare wheel (this must be the same size as the wheels fitted to the vehicle),

First Aid Kit,

Reflective Jacket,

Tow rope and tow bar (or loop e.g. on the Citroen Xsara Picasso),

Warning triangle (two if towing something),

Winter Tyres between November and April (with a minimum tread of 4mm, or 6mm in Ukraine),

Additionally, in all of the former Soviet Bloc countries, you must get the border control officer to certify in writing any damage to your car (dents and scrapes etc) before you enter the country, otherwise you may have serious problems when you try to leave. This is to prevent people from having accidents in these countries then fleeing without prosecution.

It is NOT compulsory to adjust your headlights from a left hand drive to right hand drive country (or vice versa) the laws all state that you must not DAZZLE oncoming traffic. Often this means a headlight adjustment but the law is clear it’s the dazzling that’s the problem, so dip your headlights enough and you will actually probably do a better job at not dazzling traffic than those people who incorrectly use the headlight adjustment stickers.

Tolls and Taxes:

Tolls:

Most freeway type roads (autostrada, autoroute etc) charge a toll.  The exceptions are Germany’s autobahns, which are currently free, and the countries which require you to pay road tax or a vignette.  Tolls in Italy are generally fairly reasonable (usually under E5 every 50-100 miles-ish) and tolls in France are utterly arbitrary (we paid E16 to drive 25 miles at one point and E3 to drive another 40 miles).  This is where buying a roadmap comes in handy – the one I had detailed which roads were toll and which were not, along with the location of the toll booths, so we knew which roads to avoid in France after getting robbed by a toll booth.  The map doesn’t tell you how much the tolls are, but most toll motorways have a non-toll smaller road running next to it which will take you longer, but won’t cost as much in tolls (whether this increases your fuel consumption is another matter).

On trying to enter Eastern European countries, I’ve heard of some drivers being charged a car washing fine for an official to throw a bucket of water over their car because it was too dirty to continue.  This was apparently in Slovenia, although it is definitely illegal to drive an unwashed car in Romania so budget for a car wash every so often.  Then you won’t get charged a E150 fee to enter any of these countries.

Car Tax or Vignettes:

The countries which charge longer term for you to use their roads are:

Austria (the road from Italy to Innsbruck still costs E9 on top of the vignette) which requires a relatively cheap vignette (pronounced vin-yet) which you can buy at petrol stations approaching the Austrian border (say: “eine vignette fur Osterreich bitte” to the clerk then how long you want it for.  “Funfzig tage” is fifteen days and “dreizig tage” gets you thirty days, sorry about my spelling for any native speakers).

Switzerland requires a vignette that in 2016 costs 40CHF (one Swiss Franc is usually worth roughly the same as the Canadian dollar on the exchange rate) and runs from 1st January to 31st December.  If you are travelling during January or December you might get ripped off.  They don’t do smaller units of tax in Switzerland.  According to the Swiss government website, non-EU citizens can buy Swiss road tax online here although I’d get it when approaching the Swiss border to be sure it arrives (and because that exchange rate on that website is very badly messed up).

The UK has a very complicated vehicle taxation and roadworthiness system that I’m not going to go into, because if you’re only there for less than 28 days you can ignore it completely and if you’re there for longer you can consult the British DVLA.

Speed Limits:

Speed limits are signposted very clearly everywhere in Europe, it’s really easy to follow the speed limit and we found there was a way to change the mileometer on the Picasso so it showed the speed in kph.  Germany has very clear speed limits except on the Autobahn, where there is no upper speed limit, only a suggested speed limit in adverse weather conditions.  This teaches you to look at the state of the road, the congestion, the road surface (e.g. is it icy, wet or dry) and use your own judgement.  If you lack this judgement, or if you’re a new driver, stick to 70-80 miles per hour and you’ll generally not be out of place amongst the traffic.  Remember, it’s illegal to take a slow moving vehicle on a motorway or freeway in most European countries so you MUST make an effort to keep up with the slowest moving flow of traffic on the road.

Carrying hazardous/dangerous items such as weapons in your vehicle:

Check the individual country’s requirement as it ranges from 100% legal to hold it whilst driving (swords in Poland) to 99.9% illegal to have it in the car (guns in Britain).  Each country has it’s own definition of what is hazardous or dangerous, just to complicate matters even more.

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles I’ve written to help you drive in Europe and beyond:
Buying petrol in Europe
International Window Tinting Laws Around the World
Travel Money Guide a helpful article explaining how to access your money and what sort of money to take when travelling in Europe, including answering questions about working in Europe, using credit cards and ATM machines. Essential reading if you’re planning a European road trip or driving in Europe.

Coming soon:  Driving with your pets in Europe, and pet-transport laws.

Travel Tuesday: Travel Money Guide

Copyright notice:  This post is copyright to Invoke Delight.  If you are reading it at a site other than https://invokedelight.wordpress.com then you are reading stolen content that is taking my hard work and presenting it as their own so they get the amazing Google search rankings that I have worked very hard to optimize.  You should redirect now.

It’s Travel Tuesday so in an attempt to get back to my usual posting schedule I have decided to put up this article, which is not an exhaustive guide but should help point you in the right direction for travel money for short and long term travelling and trips.

Cash machines, banks, travellers cheques, pre-paid credit cards. You have loads of options.

Most people take their money out at a bureau de change (or travel agent) before they leave their hometown. Some people do it at the airport before they depart, or on the ferry. The exchange rates on both are poor and you tend to get very little for your money. There are plenty of other options for sorting out your money abroad, as I found last year when I drove from York UK to Rome Italy in my car.

A laid back attitude can save you loads in exchange fees, and don’t worry, if you can’t find an ATM, most places (including every toll road between here and Rome, every petrol station we went to, and every hotel we stayed in) take credit and debit cards, they’re not baffled by chip and pin, and when you’re at the till, facing a helpful attendant, you’ll probably find trying to articulate your petrol pump number more difficult than the actual paying part. That was my experience, anyway.

When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my bank hadn’t charged me all those crazy fees they scare you with for using your cards abroad, either. I used both my credit and debit card, depending what I felt like at the time. I was working for minimum wage at a supermarket at the time so I wasn’t well off and bank charges were my biggest worry. Banks love to charge you for accessing your money abroad.

Here’s what I found out about your money options when you go abroad:

1. Cash machines.
The absolute easiest thing to do these days is to just put your card in a cash machine when you get abroad and take some money out in the local currency. I take mine out in blocks of about £200 to make sure I’m making the most of currency charges. I’ve found this to be a LOT cheaper than any bureaux de change either here or on the ferry, and it’s more convenient than carrying round all the money for a longer trip. If you’re staying for a month or two, a foreign bank account might be worth opening. You usually need your passport, proof of address, proof of UK address, and sometimes they want a signed reference e.g. from an employer or college at the country you’re staying in. Check with individual banks for details.

2. Travellers Cheques/ Cheques de Voyage
Nobody uses/accepts these any more, and places probably shouldn’t be issuing them nowadays. It’s like the financial equivalent of a gramophone.

3. Pre-paid credit card
If you’re venturing off alone for the first time, these are a great idea, because you can leave your main bank cards etc at home, so if you get pickpocketed or held up at gunpoint, you can feel safe in the knowledge that your Boots Advantage Card is safe in your house. Unless your house gets robbed. Personally, I would take my usual card with me because one call to the bank gets it cancelled anyway, but it’s up to you because confidence is really important when travelling (especially if you have anxiety) and if this makes you feel more confident about venturing abroad, then go for it.

4. The following banks have branches outside the UK: HSBC, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Deutsche Bank (obviously, this is a German bank, but they have a few branches in the UK so you could open an account here before you go abroad and would be an excellent choice if moving to Germany for more than a few months as they have branches EVERYWHERE). Citibank offer a service where you can open a 2nd account in a destination country before you leave the UK if you have a UK account with them (their branches are all in London), and they’re fairly well represented across Europe, so could be a good choice if you are looking to work abroad for a while – especially since you can transfer up to £50,000 instantly between your UK and foreign Citi account, perfect for trips home. All these banks are mentioned because they have branches in several countries across Europe. Outside of Europe, you are probably looking at Barclay’s or HSBC, although they tend to only have branches in capital cities. HOWEVER accounts tend to be country specific so there is generally a more limited range of things you can do in your own bank abroad, check each bank individually to see which ones would be most useful if you’re going abroad. If you’re spending more than a couple of months abroad, it’s well worth opening a foreign bank account and if it’s with your own bank that you bank with in the UK, you should be able to transfer money between accounts and currencies more easily, and some will even do it for free (although this varies, so check).

Here’s a handy link for a list of banks in every country in Europe (and some countries that are clearly NOT in Europe, such as Azerbaijan; thanks Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banks_in_Europe

Those are the travel money options (unless you want to take a flock of chickens for bartering instead). What do you do about money when you go abroad?