Motoring in Spain can be hazardous, just like anywhere else. But, having a grasp on the rules and regulations can make driving less daunting than you might think
Generally, running a vehicle in Spain is usually much cheaper than it is in the UK. A saving of roughly £1000.00 can be made on new cars, depending on the make and model.
Cars do not depreciate at the same rate and go down by hundreds rather than thousands over the years. Generally second cars tend to keep their price, so don’t expect the kind of bargains you’ll find in the UK. On the upside, when you come to trade your car in, you should find it has held its value. I bought a second hand Hyundai Lantra upon arrival in Spain, and by the time I sold it when I returned to England it was still in very good condition. No doubt the drier weather in Spain helped. The showrooms do not show as large a choice, and cars are selected from showroom catalogues. The road tax was approximately 40 euros per year for my car at the time. I believe that the road tax differs around the regions in Spain so it’s impossible to give an exact guide. Road tax is based on engine size rather than as it is in the UK where it is based on co2 emissions. This means that some cars will be cheaper to tax, but expect to pay more than in the UK for some larger engine cars, even if they are low-emission. Most cars sold in Spain would come with air conditioning as standard.
My Hyundai Lantra which I had for the duration of my time in Spain
The first MOT is required after 4 years and currently costs 38 Euros, with the next MOT two years after. Once a car is over 10 years old an ITV will be needed annually. The MOT centres are called ITV’s and you can only get the car tested at selected ITV’s – “Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehicles.” There are garages which will service your car and do a pre MOT check and then will take your car to the test centre for you. This is useful, as most of the testing you help the tester with. You sit in your car and he will shout out what is required (footbrake on, side lights on etc). A sticker is issued to you which you display on the windscreen, showing when it was tested and when it is due again. You do not get a reminder on this, so the onus is on you.
If you would like to know more about some important motoring matters prior to moving over to Spain, the UK government website for British nationals and motoring has some valuable information. This covers importing UK registered vehicles into Spain, taxes, driving licences, and motor insurance.
There are several car insurance companies available, but the most popular with the British people seems to be Linea Direct, who speak in English on the phone and issue the Policy etc in English. The policy must be carried around with you at all times, although recently the police are allowing a photostat copy of it. The police also require proof that you have paid for the year’s insurance, so a letter from your bank is can be a good way to show evidence of payment. Or, a copy of the last receipt is another option to carry in your car. The problem is that few Spanish insurance companies issue a new certificate every year, which means you might have a policy showing a date that is several years old. If your car is right hand drive you may find it rather difficult to get motor insurance for it
Apart from insurance documentation and MOT (ITV), drivers should also carry in their car their driving licence, motor registration document, and passport or residencia card/certificate. If you take a UK registered car into Spain you have a limited time before you have to re-register it in Spain. Foreign registered cars in Spain may be driven on Spanish roads for six months in a calendar year. Consider carrying some evidence showing you have been in the country less than the six months such as ferry tickets. Always bear in mind the police forces in Spain can hand out big fines or even impound your vehicle if there are deficiencies with the car, or, with the paperwork.
Driving is on the right. Watch out for traffic lights as they can be on lamp posts at the side of the road, or hung across the middle of the road (which catches a few British motorists out who are new to driving in Spain). Be alert for Spanish drivers approaching roundabouts as they frequently don’t give you the right of way even if you are on it. A lot of toll charges are being implemented, which you can pay for in cash, or by card. Look for the head sign at the toll booth and go to the appropriate lane. Autopista is a motorway, and the Autovia is an often older motorway, or dual carriageway. The maximum speed limit is usually 120 kph – roughly 75 miles per hour – on a motorway, and can vary on dual carriageways. One thing I do like about motoring in Spain is that outside of the big towns and cities traffic is generally much lighter than that in the UK.
And one that is easy to get caught out on, especially with tourists who take out car hire. If you wear glasses, then you must carry a spare pair in the car.
Just a word about rental cars in Spain. The first time you rent a car you might have a shock. Don’t necessarily expect the same standard of car as you’d receive in the UK. Some of their car hire companies are top quality, others are more laid back.
In 2009 we went back to Spain for a week’s stay. We booked a hire car in advance to be picked up at Alicante airport. The hire company gave us a free upgrade, which was very handy as there were four of us.
When we got to the car park to pick up the keys we saw our car was a beat up Citroen Berlingo van-shaped car. The sliding passenger door was often difficult to close. One of the rear light covers was broken. It had numerous dents on all its panels. Oh, and occasionally we would find that it cut out as we came to a stop.
Before we’d driven off for the first time we’d mentioned all the dents and scratches to the girl checking the cars out, and she wrote them down. Maybe not all of them, there would have been too many to list.
Looking at the state of some of the other hire cars there ours wasn’t the exception, more the rule. We’d never expect to see a car in that condition used as a rental car in the UK, so be warned.
As for prices, we paid around £140 for one week in early September. We had booked online in the UK, and paid a British company who sorted out the details. In the low season expect to pay less than £100, high season around £200. Availability of cars has an effect on prices. At the car rental company we used they include a full tank of diesel. In the week we had the car we only used half a tank. You are expected to take the car back on ‘empty’ so we`d paid for half a tank (in advance) that we didn’t use.
Since then, in September 2011, we have hired a car, a Ford Focus estate, for just over £210 for two weeks. Although slightly dented with a number of scratches on it when we collected it at Alicante airport, it was a much better car than the one we had back in 2009.
Like most places around the world, the cost of filling your car with fuel has seen a big rise in Spain over the last few years.
Petrol as at September 2011 is around 1.35 euros per litre, so still cheaper than in the UK.
A word of warning. If you commit a motoring offence whilst in Spain then return to the UK be prepared to get a letter through your door with a fine. Naturally, the rental car company has your details on its system, so the Spanish authorities can easily track you down and issue you with the penalty notice. I’ve read all sorts of horror stories about people not paying their fines, then going back to Spain. Things like being stopped at Customs when entering Spain. Being stopped by the police while driving and having their car impounded. Even being put in prison. I don’t know if any or all of these are true, as the situation isn’t one I have ever personally faced, nor do I know anyone who it has happened to.
To be safe though the suggestion is to do all that you can to clear the fine as soon as possible. There is a web site where payments of fines may be made, but the complaint is that it can only be used by people living in the country and having the Spanish equivalent of a National Insurance number.
And it appears almost impossible to pay it through a bank in the UK. I did read somewhere though of one person who went to the Spanish payment site then telephoned the number printed on the speeding ticket he`d received. I can only assume it would be the same for any sort of motoring offence ticket (or at least some phone number would be printed on it). He asked to talk to an English-speaking person. This was done, and the person on the other end of the line guided him on what figures he needed to enter in the document number box, which was in lieu of the fact this person had no Spanish ID. Other personal details then need to be entered, along with the full amount of the fine, and bank card details. If it’s paid early enough then the system will automatically reduce the amount to allow for any discount.