Buying a car in France

This week we celebrate the 200,000 kilometres of our 8 year old Renault Megane Scenic, with the real and imminent prospect that we do actually need to replace it, and soon.

It’s had a good run – including a rather dramatic leap across a ditch about 5 years ago when Mrs B drove too fast around a wet corner  – but cold damp mornings are a bit too much of a challenge for it now – it really prefers not to start, which is a problem when you do school- run lift-shares…

It is about seven years since I paid any attention to cars, and now we need to buy one. The research has begun, and we’ve visited a few garages to see what’s available. Things are complicated by the financial crisis, and the very real possibility that car prices are going to fall a great deal in the next 12 months. Unfortunately we can’t put it off any longer. Grrrr.

The car buying process is hindered by my unnatural mistrust for car salesmen. If one approaches with a perfectly pleasant ‘Can I help you?’ I take it as a personal affront…and if they don’t, I take it as an insult that they ignored me. Throughout the visit, I frown and look completely disinterested, as if I just happened to find myself in the showroom by chance with no actual interest in the cars themselves.

I’m not quite sure if we’ll buy new or second-hand, although I get the impression that the offers on new cars are such that buying second-hand is not a great option at the moment. Whether I am able to extract these offers from the salesmen is another matter, although one garage (for a leading French brand) positively rushed to offer a 15% discount on new car prices, which is a good sign.

One thing I have learned is that if you are buying a second hand car in France you need to get the magazine L’Argus (from normal newsagents) which has lots of car reviews, but also has the price that you might like to pay for a second-hand car (sorted by year rather than car make). I think that given recent events in the world the Argus prices are a bit on the high side. Other sites that are quite useful if you are buying a second hand car in France include:

Note: these sites have pretty good search facilities for second-hand cars in France, for all  brands not just their own, and you can specify where you live, how far you can travel to find the car etc. Both worked pretty well, and I imagine other manufacturers do the same (search in google for the make of car and ‘occasion’ – the French word for second-hand eg ‘toyota occasion’)

Our current shortlist seems to include a Clio Estate, Peugeot 207SW, and a two year old Toyota Prius that caught our eye. Mrs B liked the look of a Honda Civic. Our criteria relate more to the environment than to speed, but we do need a boot big enough to carry three lycée students suitcases every Monday morning.

But really we don’t have any idea what we should be looking for, how big a discount to try and negotiate, or even whether we want diesel or petrol (diesel is currently 25 cents a litre less expensive than petrol, which is quite a significant difference). If anyone reading this has the slightest knowledge of cars please do post any useful suggestions below.



  1. tom cupples March 3, 2009 at 11:49 pm |

    Given the amount of miles you do I would consider a relatively new second-hand car and get it converted to LPG – a lot cheaper than diesel or petrol.

    Also – if I was buying a car (new or second hand) I would first look at the web site below because not only does it give you a road test/review of the car but also lists the known faults in the car-by-car section.

    (sorry, website removed by Boris – when I asked the question about LHD cars on the forum mentioned, referring back to this thread by way of explanation, they said ‘please don’t try and plug your website on here without first asking permission from the owner. You can of course discuss advertising rates though…‘. Seemed rude so I don’t think I’ll allow their link on here either.)

  2. Boris March 4, 2009 at 7:14 am |

    Thanks Tom. You also reminded me of another issue – people have told us that travelling to the UK, buying a LHD car, bringing it back to France and re-registering it as French can actually save quite a lot of money at the moment, because of both lower car prices in the UK and the weak pound. Maybe I’ll ask about that on the site you suggested.

  3. Steven March 4, 2009 at 11:14 am |

    We’re in a similar sitation at the minute. We have a 5 year old Fiat Stilo and it failed to start in the morning twice over the winter, despite a service. That left me rushing from work in my ever reliable 12 year old Citroen to get the kids to school. This weekend we will be looking at a Citroen C4 and Peugeot 307, both 1.6 diesels and both 2008 models. The small French HDi diesels take some beating both in terms of economy and reliability. Here they also benefits from very low road tax. They can cover immense mileages with no difficulty as well.

    I share your mistrust of salesmen, having been done up like a kipper years ago when buying a new car. Commit to nothing until you are absolutely positive that you can’t squeeze another penny (cent) out of the bugger.

  4. Steven March 12, 2009 at 11:20 am |

    OK, our visits to the dealers. Basically Citroen are keener to sell a C4 than Peugeot are to sell a 307. The discount offered on a C4 makes buying a 2008 model pointless. We could have had £1500 off the list price and a good price for our trade in. Peugeot wouldn’t offer anything close.

  5. Boris March 12, 2009 at 11:59 am |

    Thanks for keeping us informed Steven,although Peugeot did manage to offer us 1500 euros (just under 10%) off the list price.
    We didn’t try Citroen but your story seems pretty consistent with ours
    We’re holding off deciding until we see the new Honda Insight later this week (18000 euros after eco-bonus, very efficient hybrid car, with good reviews so far).

  6. angela April 8, 2009 at 12:55 am |

    Hi all, When i purchased my new car in UK I used an online broker and saved several thousand compared to the dealers price. Do any of you know of any websites using brokers in France?

  7. Graham April 11, 2009 at 7:40 pm |

    Hi. I echo angela’s reply having used an online broker to buy a Peugeot 207SW last week and we saved a bundle; it was not an awful lot more than a year old car with its unknown history. Key car broker into your favourite search engine! BTW I spent several months checking mgz such as Top Gear and What Car reviews before deciding on the 207SW. The 207?? well the petrol engine (used in the Mini), is silky smooth, the looks are cool, the load bay is flat, boot has plenty of suitcase space. The only caveat I would say is that the 207 is a ‘small’ car meaning that if you are big, you will need to push the driver’s seat back and not leave much leg space for people in the back. I certainly recommend you checkout the magz above; there are so many cars that they will help.

  8. Boris April 11, 2009 at 10:07 pm |

    Hi Graham, thanks for all the good advice – in fact it was rear legroom problems that stopped us buying the 207SW, because we do a lift share to lycée every week with teenagers in the back and it just wasn’t big enough. Tried the Honda Insight – and couldn’t even sit up straight in the back because the roof was too low, never mind leg room. We ended up with a Honda Civic sport at quite a good price and it’s a great pleasure to drive, plenty of space etc. Whether we paid too much and could of paid less through a broker is a question I’ll avoid looking into for the moment!

  9. Steven April 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm |

    Just to update this further. After much deliberation we bought and collected our new car at the weekend. It’s a Chevrolet Lacetti 1.4 SE. The list price is just shy of £11000. We bought a pre-registered (Jan 09) one for £6400. It had 12 miles on the clock, it’s roomy, the rear leg-room is impressive, it’s reasonably economical and I think it’s a bargain. The discount we negotiated on this car made paying more for a diesel irrelevant. I’ve never considered a non-European car before, but the deal of a new car with 3 years warranty, 3 years servicing amd 3 years AA was too tempting to resist.

  10. Boris April 20, 2009 at 9:14 pm |

    Sounds like a great bargain Steven! That’s somewhere in Britain presumably? I’m not sure where our nearest Chevrolet garage is – don’t see many of them round here.

  11. Stuart Anderson February 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    New car prices are higher in France than in most other European countries, although lower than those in the UK, and many French people buy their cars in Belgium or Portugal, where most new cars are up to 20 per cent cheaper than in France. You should make sure, however, that the local French dealer of a car purchased abroad will agree to service it under the terms of the warranty. Since 1st October 2002 dealers have been allowed to operate anywhere in the EU and price differences should largely disappear within a few years. Personally importing a car from the US is usually much cheaper than buying the same car in France or elsewhere in Europe but you must ensure that it’s manufactured to French specifica­tions or it may not be approved by the DRIRE.

    Making comparisons between new car prices in those countries which have adopted the euro currency is easy, but attention should be paid to the different levels of standard equip­ment and warranty levels. Most dealers will offer one or two extras free of charge, giving up to a 10 per cent discount on the list price, and some offer ‘cash back’ deals; you should shop around for the best package. The French government occasionally provides a subsidy (e.g. up to €760) for owners of old bangers who buy new cars (designed to help French car manufacturers), and some dealers offer a hire purchase option ( vente à crédit).

    All new cars sold in France must now be labelled with their ‘energy efficiency’ (i.e. the amount of carbon dioxide their engines emit for every kilometre travelled), with colour codes ranging from dark green for the most environmentally-friendly models (emissions of less than 100g/km) to red for the most polluting (over 250g/km) and there’s a surcharge on the cost of a registration document for high-emission cars.

  12. Pete Watson November 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm |

    I think you will find that new car prices are considerably cheaper in the uk than in France. I am talking about the price you will actually pay in the UK, not the list price. Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots can usually be bought for at least 10% and up to 20% less than in France taking into account the current exchange rate (£1 to 1.15 euro)
    and this is from a main dealer. If you use one of the many brokers in the UK then an even better deal may be possible.