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A 46er at last

I had been told that patience is required when registering English cars in France but, even so, there have been times recently when I've stamped my size six foot in sheer frustration.

We imported two vehicles when we moved to France last September: my trusty 'shopping basket' 1996 Citroen AX, and our elderly but very cherished camper van in which we have travelled many happy miles.

The Citroen

The Citroen was fairly straightforward, if you forget about the waiting around for the various bits of paper to come back from DRIRE and the prefecture. DRIRE very kindly offered to give me an attestation de conformité, which cars sold before 1997 don't have, but the form I had to fill in, 'demande d'identification d'une voiture particulaire importée neuve ou usagée', involved me discovering parts of my car and service manual I never knew existed.

Yes, yes, I know - typical female! But on that day I had had an altercation with my dear husband (DH), so was determined not to ask for help and crawled around under the bonnet looking for a small metal plate that, so my form said, carried vital information. The cost of the attestation was €67.38 which seemed quite reasonable - but that was only the start!

As the car was over four years old, it needed a controle technique. But before it could have that I had to replace the headlamps. This is where the costs began to rise. The local Citroen garage was very helpful and fitted them the day I wandered in to ask about a rendezvous. However, the mechanic was concerned that I seemed to have a missed a service.

Ignoring mutters from husband about forgetful women, I booked in for the next day and - as I had read a leaflet while I was waiting for the headlamps and knew I could have a free pre-controle technique check - I asked for that to be done at the same time. After shelling out €224.08 for headlamps and €72.48 for the service, I felt able to go and book the controle technique. I thoroughly recommend the DEKRA operation at St Cere - charming chaps and I got a free umbrella! Another €55.50 though!

Now it was just a case of getting a photocopy of my passport (25 cents) and finding the original bill of sale which, amazingly, I had kept. Not from any kind of sensible system, so much as that I used to stuff everything into my desk and hadn't thrown it away. Thanks to my much more organised DH we had sent off our VO5 documents to Swansea before leaving the UK and I therefore had my certificate of permanent export. I copied it, twice (50 cents) in case it got lost in the post.

How Many Chevaux?

Despite having yet another form to fill in just to ask for the re-registering to be done which I've forgotten the name of (and it duplicated almost everything on the attestation,), I still needed to know how much it would cost me to actually register. I rang the prefecture in Cahors and was told €27.50 for 'un cheval'. We decided the AX must be 'un cheval'. (Wrong!) The documents went off with an accuse de reception, €4.50, just to make sure it got there.

Then began the saga of the incorrect cheques. First everything came back, with a note that I should have paid €110 as it is €27.50 per cheval and my car was four chevaux. I still have not managed to work out why exactly. Also, the price was due to go up in February 2005 but no decision had been made exactly when.

It was still January, so I bunged the whole lot off again with a cheque for €110 and €4.50 for the accuse - and it came back to say it had gone up to €120!

That's when my size six went down hard! Off to the prefecture again, with me feeling that by now I had shares in La Poste, but finally, on Saturday 26 February 2005, my carte grise arrived.

There then followed a quick dash to our local Auto Leclerc for my new plaques but - dommage - they were out of film and I had to wait. A week later they were still out. Desperate to parade my new French number plates, I asked for the nearest garage who could do them for me and they sent me to another place nearby.

So, €28.50 for three plaques, (we have a remorque), €5 for fitting them and finally I could blend in with all the other French traffic on the road.

Cost? €588.81 or about £418 and worth every penny.

The Citroen garage mechanic had a grumpy sidekick who said I should drive a French car in France (ie: left-hand drive) but I'm used to my car and in a world where everything in our lives is new the comfort of driving the car I know is immeasurable.

The Camper

Meanwhile, on the camper front we are still waiting. It will be four weeks come next Tuesday. The process so far has been much the same as for the car but with one major exception.

We wrote to Fiat for the attestation as the service des mines couldn't find our camper on their list - an Eldiss Autoquest on a Fiat Ducatto chassis. (see how technical I can be when necessary?). We changed the headlamps with our new best friends at the Citroen garage who had ordered them for us and passed the controle technique at St Cere, where we received our second free umbrella.

The major difference is that we had to have the camper inspected by the bureau veritas. The service des mines very helpfully gave us two addresses but both were a long way off, and one was even in another department. However, for an increased fee, the chap would come to us. So that's what we opted for.

The Inspection

One very cold morning in January he finally arrived in his van, having rung me from the other end of the commune as he had got lost. We stood around nervously as he poked around under the bonnet and the bunks. His task, we had been told, was to check out the electrics and gas to make sure they were safe and serviceable. The gas supply passed muster but he was unhappy that there was no label on the inside of the gas locker door saying 'butane'. This, despite there being a large sign on the OUTSIDE of the same door saying LPG plus a picture of a gas canister...

He fiddled with the wire from the camper battery (as opposed to the battery for the engine) and insisted we fix an inline fuse. My DH pointed out the existing fuse tucked into a corner, but to no avail.

At this point I tried to pour a little oil on the situation. The DH may not speak much French but his face spoke volumes. Monsieur Veritas and I had a fervent exchange about how important 'la securité' is. The DH relaxed a bit.

Back inside the camper we were told we must change all the sockets for French sockets. Luckily I was the only one who heard and understood the DH's muttered aside that at least the English sockets were earthed!

Then came the piece de resistance for our inspector. After entering and exiting our shower/toilet several times he turned to us both and heaving a sigh told me 'Problem, Madame, grand problem!'.

We waited for him to explain. Our toilet window was apparently too small to evacuate out of in the case of our fire creating an 'incendie'. The said fire is to the left of the toilet door and the door opens to the right, therefore to exit the shower/toilet you would have to pass in front of the fire and therefore the conflagration! 'Grand problem'!

We all trooped outside and he showed us how we could enlarge the window. I could see my husband was at this point considering abandoning the camper to its fate. Enlarging the window would be quite a job and we also had a ladder across it. Back inside we all looked at the way the door was hung and our chap suggested that rehanging the door would satisfy regulations. I asked if they had changed the regulations re toilet doors in the EU recently but he replied that it had always been thus. I knew our camper was old but not that old!

Then we had our biggest surprise. Filling out his form and asking us for a cheque, Monsieur Veritas announced that as soon as we let him know we had made the changes he would forward our document to us for the prefecture. My husband asked if he wanted photos to prove we had changed things. Monsieur looked bemused at the idea and replied that a letter would do.

He declined a coffee and wished us good day and drove off, we assume, to worry some other poor campers.

Exhausted, we set off to the Brico to find the various bits and pieces. That afternoon my DH changed everything, including the door (what a nuisance it is now!) and took photos to prove he had done the work as he is a man who likes to be seen to be doing things properly. In a couple of weeks the document arrived. A cool €209.62 worth of proof that the camper is fit for the road.

The Wait

And so we wait... True to form we've sent it off the requisite three times and paid the accuse each time. The first return was because my husband forgot his proof of identity, the second time because the cheque was wrong (déjà vue!). But at least as the camper is over 10 years old we only have to pay €110 despite it being a 10 cheval.

Three weeks and counting. Maybe it will arrive tomorrow. But I'm not holding my breath...

Copyright © Lynne Peacock 2005