France rolls out new compulsory car tests today: What you need to know

France will roll out a new system of compulsory car tests, known as a contrôle technique, on Sunday and drivers could be forced to take their cars off the road. Here's what you need to know about the new testing system.

France rolls out new compulsory car tests today: What you need to know
Photo: AFP

From Sunday May 20th drivers of vehicles more than four years old face tough new compulsory checks as the French government rolls out a new contrôle technique – the compulsory test of roadworthiness taken every two years that is similar to the MOT in the UK.

Essentially, the new contrôle technique is much stricter than the old one, and almost certainly more expensive, with the tests expected to cost between €10 and €20 more on average than the current price which ranges from €65 to €90. 

The test will also likely take around 45 minutes rather than the current 30 minutes depending on the state and model of the vehicle.

Testers will now have to check the vehicles on 134 different points rather than 124 previously and the new test will introduce “critical faults” which “constitute a direct and immediate danger for road safety or that have a serious impact on the environment” (more on this later).

There will be nine different categories meaning there will be a total of a possible 610 different faults compared to 410 previously. For example seat belts, which were tested as one point previously, will now be looked at on four different points.

There are 140 potentially minor faults that could be flagged up. But while drivers should make the necessary repairs they are not obliged to bring the car back for a new test and can continue driving as normal.

However if a vehicle is found to have one of the 341 “major” faults then this will require a follow-up visit to an official test centre within two months in order for the car to be given the all-clear.

Vehicles with these “major” faults can be driven during this period but the repairs must obviously be carried out before the retest.

Up until now there were two possible results of the test: favorable – meaning the car is essentially given the green light and défavorable which meant repairs had to be carried out and a new test taken within two months.

But under the new system a third and far more drastic test result has been introduced.

The driver of any vehicle that is flagged up for having a “critical fault” – of which there are a possible 129 – such as defective breaks, faulty seatbelts, gearbox problems, will basically have until midnight that day to get the car to a garage.

A sticker including the date of the test will be placed on the car's windscreen that will alert police to the fact the car has failed the test and cannot be driven beyond that date.

Drivers risk a €135 fine and having the vehicle's registration certificate (carte grise) withdrawn if they fail to book an appointment with a garage to fix the problem and carry on driving the vehicle. The car must be taken in for a retest within two months.

Drivers should note that the retests, or “contre-visites” as they are called in French, which had often been free in the past, will likely come with a fee depending on how long the test takes.

Figures of between €25 and €30 have been suggested although in some reports drivers have been warned they may have to pay the full price once again.

Drivers of older cars have been panicking that their vehicles will automatically fail the new tests and they will have to trade them in for a new and more expensive car.

But those in the car industry say the new tests will simply be tough on those vehicles that have have not been well-maintained rather than simply old cars.

“If a car, even an old one, is well maintained, then there won't be a problem,” Philippe Blondel from car repair company Norauto told BFM TV.

Bernard Bourrier from the National Council of Automobile professionals said only 2 to 3 percent of cars were likely to have “critical faults”.

“We are talking about a really critical situation such as bald tyres or a big crack in the windscreen that hampers visibility,” he told France Info. “So there's no reason to panic”.

But motorists in France appear to be doing just that, with many trying to get their vehicle through the contrôle technique before the new rules come into place. 

In April the number of vehicles being checked at the official centres rose by 60 percent and staff have spoken of how there are already several vehicles waiting to be checked when they turn up at work in the morning.

Those who have had the vehicles put through the côntrole technique before May 20th won't be subject to the new system until their car is due for a new test in two years' time.

But vehicles who fail their test before May 20th and are forced to retake a côntrole technique will be subject to the stricter testing that will keep dangerous vehicles off the road.

Automobile associations in France have been generally favourable to the new testing regime, believing it will encourage motorists to better maintain their cars and carry out pretest checks with garages to avoid the vehicle failing the côntrole technique and being forced off the road.

The changes to the car tests have been brought in because of an EU directive, adopted in 2014, that was designed to reduce the number of deaths on the roads by 2020, a part of which sought to take potentially dangerous unroadworthy vehicles out of service. 

So this time it is Brussels rather than the government in Paris that has brought about the change as the EU attempts to harmonise the checks on vehicles.

A survey in 2016 revealed that a third of French drivers forget to get their vehicle's contrôle technique done on time.

Other important information about the contrôle technique

  • The first côntrole technique must be carried out in the 6 months before the car is four years old
  • Tests must be carried out by official certiified test centres of which there are thousands around the country. CLICK HERE to find one near you.
  • If you are selling a car over four years old then then it must have a côntrole technique certificate no more than 6 months old
  • No reminders are sent out to tell you that a test is due, so it's up to you to remember
  • Tests must be carried out every two years

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Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?

France’s top-up health insurance 'mutuelles' have been getting steadily more expensive in 2020. Here’s a look at what’s changing, why and who is the worst affected.

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?
A dentist is checking the teeth of an elderly lady in a nursing home in Paris. Photo: AFP

“The prices have never been so high in France,” said Fabien Soccio, spokesperson for the company Meilleure Assurance (Best Insurance).

His company this week revealed the results of a new study of France's private health insurance fees, mutuelles, to French media.

After comparing 55 different mutuelles health insurances, Meilleur Assurance concluded that there had been a general spike in the average cost.

What is a mutuelle?

France has generous state health care that covers a lot of medical expenses, but not all costs are reimbursed.

In France you pay upfront for your doctor's appointment, prescription or procedure and then the government reimburses the costs to you. Depending on the procedure and your situation, usually about 80-90 percent of the cost is reimbursed.

If that cost is a €25 appointment with your GP that's not such a big deal, but with more expensive treatments the costs can mount up, which is where a mutuelle comes in.

The mutuelle is a 'top-up' insurance – not obligatory, but recommended – which covers extra costs that are not covered by the state. How much a mutuelle covers will depend on the kind of insurance, where you live and the expenses in question.

If you are an employee, your employer must pay for at least half the cost of your mutuelle

Who was affected by the price increase?

The 2020 price hike touched the country as a whole, however some regions and population groups were harder hit than others, Soccio told Le Parisien.

To compare the costs for different socio-demographic groups, Meilleur Assurance created three different types of profiles; a 25-year-old employee with a “classic” mutuelle; a couple with two children, also on a “classic” mutuelle and a 60-year-old couple with “strengthened” guarantees in their mutuelle.

Seniors hardest hit

Retirees tend to go for fuller versions of mutuelles because these cover additional costs (such as dental and optical treatments). 

Seniors on extensive types of mutuelles were those suffering the steepest price increases this year, Soccio said. 

“In 2020, fifteen départements exceeded a threshold of €3,000 in annual fees for a senior couple with extra guarantees,” Soccio said.

“That’s an average increase of more than €176 in one year,” he said.

For the couple with a child, the increase was slighter ( an extra 4 percent), whereas the young employee saw health insurance bills largely unchanged.

READ ALSO Brexit: Do I need a mutuelle to get residency in France?


.. along with Parisians

The study also revealed large price differences between different regions, with inhabitants in the Paris region Ile-de-France paying the highest bills for their mutuelles.

A retired couple would pay on average €528 more if they lived in Paris compared to if they lived in a more rural, cheaper département like Mayenne.

Similarly, employees would pay 30 percent more on average in Paris than in Pays-de-la-Loire.

Parisians also saw the steepest price increases since last year, by 14.6 percent on average for the retired couple with a mutuelle covering extra costs.

On a national level, the average price increase for the same couple was 12.1 percent. 

.. but everyone was a little worse off

However the country as a whole saw a price increase last year, with even those opting for the cheapest kinds of health insurance affected by the general price hike.

In one year, from 2019 to 2020, the cheapest type of health insurance had increased by 13.7 percent, according to the study. 

Why the increase?

Prices generally increase a little every year, but this year was unusual, Soccio said.

“Today, we are in an uncertain and troubled situation,” he told Europe 1, listing several factors that had contributed to the price increase: the Covid-19 pandemic, the government's new health reform known as “100 percent Santé”, and a new health tax known as the “Covid surtax”.

When the French government presented their new budget for 2021, centred on their dazzling €100 billion relaunch plan, they promised not to increase taxes for the French. Instead, to top up their savings a little, the government introduced a new tax, the “Covid surtax”, which will be paid through the mutuelles and other health insurance companies.

This tax will provide €1 billion in total to the state in 2021, and €500 million in 2022, according to French media.

What about the future?

Soccio said he worried the trend of prices increasing would continue in the next couple of years, leading to steep prices for even those opting for the cheaper mutuelles.

“It's safe to bet that the national average costs will pass €3,000 in the next two years,” he told Le Parisien.