Hiring a car and driving in France

This afternoon I am feeling a little nervous as I have always driven around France with someone else in the car to assist with navigating but today I am picking up my rental car for four days and I am the sole driver and navigator. I have decided to leave Rouen early at 4 pm on Friday as I have been caught in peak hour traffic here before and it was chaotic and choked almost to a standstill for 30 minutes. It is very confusing finding where the rental agencies locate their cars so I have written these notes down as an aide-memoire and to assist others.

Louer de voiture or véhicles de location

I had pre-arranged to hire the car from Australia as it is cheaper than doing it at the last minute when you may not get the type of car you need. There are quite a few car hire agencies located in the Rouen Rive-Doite (train station) located on Place Bernard Tissot. Finding the Europcar rental agency is easy, finding the car less so. Walk in through the main entrance of this grand Art Nouveau building go past the bank of ticket machines on the right and you will find the agencies. My Queensland Driver’s Licence was accepted together with my passport for ID.

Walk past the stairs which are on the left, past the piano, and through the doors at the back of the station.

Walk past the stairs which are on the left, past the piano, and through the doors at the back of the station.

Once you have filled in the paperwork and accepted the keys, the challenge is to find the car’s location. Walk through the station, staying on the ground floor, past the large stairs leading to the top floor of the car park. When I was there they had a piano available for anyone to play.  Walk through the doors leading into the first of two car parks.

Follow these footprints through the carpark and across the pedestrian bridge.

Follow these footprints through the car park and across the pedestrian bridge.

Now look down on the floor because the authorities have very kindly painted large footprints with directions for the rental cars. Follow these footprints across this car park and you come to a covered walkway.

This is the pedestrian bridge leading to the second car park.

This is the pedestrian bridge leading to the second car park.

Continue walking across this pedestrian bridge and you will find the lifts to take you down to the floor on which the rental cars are located.

Inspect the car: I rented a 4-door Polo.  The boot isn’t large, my medium-sized suitcase fitted in but I had to put my trolley bag on the back seat. Take the time to walk around the car, noting any marks and scratches and if necessary take photos and if the marks are bad, go back to the agency and let them know. I have had to do this on previous rentals and the agency has always been very courteous.

Check that there is a high visibility vest and a warning triangle in the car. A law was passed in 2012 requiring all drivers carry a breathalyser kit but due to shortages, the law is not yet being enforced.

Exiting the car park: To leave the Rouen car park I had to drive up a couple of floors via a narrow circular ramp to the exit that led me onto Rue Verte and around to Place Bernard Tissot in front of the train station. I managed to drive around the tight corners on the ramp in first gear, occasionally riding the clutch until I grew accustomed to driving on the right rather than the left side of the road. At the exit insert the card that the agency provides and the gate will open. It is very important to keep this card as it is also your entry to the car park when you return your car.


I use these Michelin maps when I travel in France.

I use these Michelin maps when I travel in France.

A GPS or a Map: Because the gite I had booked was located off a tiny country lane, I had also paid for a GPS system that was invaluable, particularly as I didn’t want to have to continually pull over to read a map. I am also very proud that I negotiated the GPS system in French for the four days.

Returning the car is just as challenging. When you arrive back at the car park, enter through Rue Verte and drive up to the top floor of the car park. Drive to where there is a ticket machine and boom gate leading to a very narrow bridge over to the second car park building. This is where you enter that ticket you received when renting the car. Insert the ticket into the machine, the boom gate will lift and bravely drive across the bridge to the car park and drive down the circular ramp to the rental floor.

Driving in France

Before I picked up the rental car I was just a little nervous about the road rules of France. I kept scouting what the drivers in Rouen were doing.  Although vehicles on main roads have right of way,  there is still Priorité à droite (Right of Way), usually sign posted, but watch out as many drivers still take advantage of this old rule. However, on the roundabouts the rule is that entering traffic gives way to the car on the roundabout.


The sun made it difficult to read the screen. Note the V (green) button on the lower right of the keypad

The sun made it difficult to read the screen. Note the V (green) button on the lower right of the keypad

Don’t forget to fill the car up before dropping it off. The GPS system I had actually identified where the nearest service stations were. Don’t forget to check whether you have rented a diesel or petrol car although there is usually a sign near the petrol cap. Most stations have automatic pumps but many of them are in French only so here are a few helpful words:   Petrol = essence;  Unleaded petrol = sans plomb;    and Diesel = gazole.

Most of the pumps will take a credit card using a pin. Remember that the V on the green button is the confirm button. The first time I filled the car up I struggled, but a charming young man on a motorcycle came over and helped decipher the instructions.

Speed limits.

The map of the Seine-Maritime and Eure with my jouneys traced onto it.

The map of the Seine-Maritime and Eure with my journeys traced onto it.

  • Urban areas – 50 km
  • Rural areas – 90km – 80km
  • Dual carriageways – 110Km
  • Autoroute – 130km

Driving around the Normandy countryside I noticed that many small villages are now applying a 30km speed limit in the centre of the village. There are often electronic speed sensors that flash the approaching car’s speed. These zones slow the traffic down enormously but add a lot of time to a trip so factor that in when travelling.


Be aware that as in England, drivers do cross the road to find a park. I got used to watching a car veer across the road in front of me, not always indicating, to slide into an available car space on my side of the road. I am not sure whether in France this is legal so I have avoided doing this.


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