Fiats and Hi-viz Vests

One of the projects over the last couple of weeks has been investigating whether it's possible or sensible to take our red Fiat Turbo with us to France. On one hand selling this car just to buy a new one over there seems like a hassle, but on the other hand importing a car between jurisdictions - even from Canada to the US - can run you into unanticipated problems.

Part of the reason for this research is the thought that we might decide to drive across Canada to Halifax or Montreal, load ourselves, the car, and the dog onto a freighter, and travel to Europe by sea. Passage alone is not much different from flying, and it's certainly more relaxing and romantic than Air Transat.

At the end of the day (after consultations with the car gurus at Car Talk, and the Driving in France forum at Complete France) I've learned a few things.

  • It's likely that there are mechanical differences between a North American Fiat and European Fiat, especially things related to local safety regulations. Probably the only way to know for sure to to ask Fiat in Canada for a certificat de conformite. The French government will also have that information, but either way it will cost money.

  • Effective October of this year all drivers in France must carry a hi-viz vest and a reflective triangle in their car. The specifics are very detailed, but also actually fairly sensible and understandable. Imagine how a Canadian government would write this.

Motorists: vest and triangle mandatory from 1 October 2008 Sanctions will be applied from 1 October 2008 against motorists whose vehicle is not equipped with a high visibility safety vest and warning triangle.

From that date, motorists who do not comply with these new obligations will be liable to a class-4 fine (€135 fixed penalty, reduced to €90 if paid within 15 days of issue).

The high visibility safety vest must be worn by a driver before he exits a vehicle immobilised on or by the roadside in response to an emergency. It must include the "CE" mark and a reference to one of two standards: "EN 471" or "EN 1150".

Upon leaving the vehicle, the driver must place a warning triangle on the roadside at a distance of at least 30 meters from his vehicle or from the obstacle. The marking "E 27 R" certifies the conformity of the triangle with existing standards.

One bit of advice though, since we will almost certainly be living in rural area, is that local French mechanics really only know French brands very well. (Just as small town mechanics in the US tend to only have a good handle on Chevys, Fords, and Chryslers.) After listening to decades of "Buy American" (or Canadian) rhetoric around cars it's inspiring to find that the French actually take this to heart in a way that North Americans never will.

Dacia is a super cheap Romanian import sold by Renault. Beyond that it's Renault, Citroën, and Peugeot all the way. You need to get well into page two before a Fiat shows up, and even then it's in a sea of French models.

The other thing that I learned is that in France you have to attach your licence plate with some kind of rivets - screws are not allowed.