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DRIVING

MAP: How to avoid paying too much for fuel when you’re driving in France

The cost of filling up your car in France with petrol or diesel is rising and prices can vary enormously depending on where you are and on what kind of road you are driving on. This map and advice will help you find the cheapest pump prices.

MAP: How to avoid paying too much for fuel when you're driving in France
Photo: AFP

Fuel prices are spiking in France above €2 a litre but you don’t necessarily have to pay the highest prices if you are prepared to do a little research and perhaps drive a little further or take a detour.

Here’s what you need to know about filling the tank up in France for as cheap as possible.

Avoid city centres

If you live in one of France’s big cities, like the capital Paris, then try to fill up when you are outside the centre where prices can be significantly cheaper. 

If you find a cheap fuel station then it’s worth topping up the tank even if it’s not empty to avoid getting caught and having to fill up in the centre of a city.

Avoid the Autoroutes

If you can, try to fill up before taking to the Autoroute in France because as soon as you join the motorway the prices of fuel shoot up.

Don’t be surprised if you see the cheapest price for a litre of SP 95 – E 10 fuel cost well over €2 in fuel stations on France’s autoroutes. Shell stations seem to be the most expensive with Total slightly cheaper.

The big companies who run the fuel stations along France’s Autoroute network pay steep rent prices but they also know that motorists will likely have to fill up at some point. And there is little competition at least for the next 50km or so.

Be aware that leaving a motorway to find a cheaper petrol station might sound like a good idea, but only if there is one close by. If not you will be probably end up using all the that valuable fuel just to find it.

So fill up before you hit the autoroute and try to get to your destination without filling up again. If you want to take a detour to avoid the autoroutes filling stations then make sure you research on your smartphone where the nearest one is.

Head for supermarkets

The large French hypermarchés such as Intermarché, Leclerc or Casino and even Super U are where you’ll find the cheapest pump prices, as they try to be as competitive as possible in order to draw customers into their shops.

So keep an eye out for signs for supermarkets as you drive through rural France, they will normally advertise whether there is a filling station. Prices can even vary among supermarkets so keep a close watch and take note of prices.

Choose automated petrol stations

Whenever possible, select petrol stations which are automated and where you can pay directly with your card at the pump. Since these stations don’t have to pay someone to manage the pump or man the till, they can afford to shave a little more off their pump prices. However not all non-French credit or debit cards will work at these machines.

Now for some forward planning.

MAP the best route 

If you know where you’re going and can plan your route in advance, there are a number of websites which will help you find out where to find the cheapest places to fill up your tank along the way.

The government has a very detailed website which lists all the petrol pumps in France and the current fuel prices at each one.

Photo: Screengrab/Government website

The site allows you to select your place of departure and of arrival and the type of fuel you use, and it will produce a list of all the petrol stations you’ll encounter on your drive. You can then select the cheapest, and you’ll get an interactive map of all the pumps you’ve chosen on your itinerary. 

The website is updated twice a month or so, so it does not have the exact prices to the day, but it will help give you an idea of the kind of prices you can expect.

Other websites such as Carbu.com, mon-essence.fr and Zagaz.com are updated by users, and so prices might be slightly more up to date that the government website. Again, they are easy to use. You just need to type in where you’re going, and you’ll get a list of the petrol stations nearby and their prices. 

Use an app

A number of useful apps will also come in handy if you have a smartphone and haven’t been able to plan ahead. The apps Gasoil Now and Essence & Co for example will tell you where to find the most competitive prices within a 50km distance. 

If you want to get a rough idea of how much your drive in France will cost you, here is how much on average you’ll currently pay for the different types of fuel, according to Franceinfo.

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DRIVING

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic. Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. Also, for the American readers out there – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!

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