Guide to Driving in France

  1. Driving Offences and Penalties
  2. Importing and Registering a Vehicle
  3. Vehicle Registration Process & Transfer of Ownership
  4. Vehicle Registration Taxes
  5. MOT Vehicle Tests
  6. Obtaining a French Driving Licence
  7. Use of Vehicle Accident Forms in France
  8. Crit'Air Emissions Sticker
  9. Grants for Electric Cars
  10. Scrapping a Vehicle

5. MOT Vehicle Tests in France / Contrôl Technique

5.1. Frequency

The regulatory vehicle ‘contrôle technique’ in France is one that must be carried out every two years at an accredited control centre - a centre de contrôle technique agréé.

The EU have plans for a greater degree of harmonisation in the rules, to make them obligatory on an annual basis. These plans are still at a relatively early stage.

The test applies to all passenger and transport vehicles up to 3.5 tons gross weight. Vehicles above this weight are subject to a separate set of regulations.

For new vehicles, the first test must be undertaken within the 6 months that precede the fourth year of registration.

There is also a separate pollution test for commercial vehicles over 4 years old, which must be undertaken on an annual basis.

If you own a vehicle classed as a véhicule de collection, and it was registered prior to 1960, no test is required. A véhicule de collection at least 30 years old must have an MOT test every 5 years. It not classed, the usual 2-year test requirement applies.

Motorcycles are not subject to a test, although in May 2022 the supreme French court in France ruled that to comply with EU law they must be introduced by October 2022. We considered the issue in our France Insider article at Safety Inspections for Motorbikes in France. In June 2023 the government announced that the tests would apply on a progressive basis, by age of bike, from 2024, starting with those registered before 2017.

Once you have undertaken the first MOT the centre will normally send you a reminder when the next one is due.

5.2. Sale of Vehicle

There are particular rules governing the sale of a vehicle and the contrôle technique.

If you sell your car, and the vehicle is at least 4 years old, the seller has to provide a test certificate dated no later than 6 months from the sale. This period is reduced to two months if a further test is required.

This requirement does not apply if you sell the vehicle to a garage or dealership.

The test may also have been undertaken in another EEA country, provided it was within the last six month and registered in that country. If the vehicle failed the test, then the validity period is two months from the date of the test.

There is no requirement that the vehicle must have passed the test, or that the seller should undertake any works required to make it roadworthy, should it have failed. You are completely free to sell or buy a vehicle that has not passed the test, provided the test was undertaken within the stipulated period.

The certificate is required by the new owner for registration of the vehicle in their name. So if you buy a vehicle with a roadworthiness certificate that is not valid, you will not be able to register it in your name.

For a vehicle under 4 years old, it is possible to arrange for a 'voluntary' MOT to be undertaken, which either seller or purchaser might find useful. The test has no official status.

You will be required to present your vehicle registration document for the test, but if it has been lost or stolen you can provide a copy of an identification document (fiche d'identification) you can obtain on-line from Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (ANTS), having first registered with the government on-line portal at France Connect. You will need to also provide copy of the police report and evidence of your address.

If it was registered in another country and not yet registered in France, then the existing registration document will suffice, ideally with a certificate of conformity.

An MOT carried out in another country is not valid in France.

5.3. Control Elements

The twin objectives of the test are vehicle safety and pollution control.

The test is undertaken without dismantling any part of the vehicle, by a visual examination or a test of performance, eg braking, suspension, pollution.

So during an approximately 45 minute examination ten main functions are examined: vehicle identification, lighting, braking, steering, visibility, suspension, bodywork, pollution and noise, security, and principal mechanical elements.

On completion of the examination of the vehicle you will be given a report (a procès-verbal), which will list any defects found. Some may be mentioned for information only, with no bearing on the result of the test, so the test does provide an opportunity for you vehicle to have a routine check.

In order to comply with a European directive, since 20th May 2018 the checklist for the test has been increased from 124 to 132.

Many of the checks are also be subject to more detailed examination, with 606 points of control, against 453 under the previous system.

The test failures are also to be divided into three categories, where there were previously only two:

  • Défaillance mineure : a list of 139 minor failures that have no notable implications on the security of the vehicle or the environment.
  • Défaillance majeure : the second a list 340 major failures that are may compromise the security of the vehicle or have a negative impact on the environment, or put be a danger to other road users.
  • Défaillance critique : finally a category of 127 ‘critical’ failures that direct and immediate danger to road safety, or having a serious impact on the environment.

Examples of such points given in the European legislation are insufficient pressure in the braking system, external damage to the brake system, brake fluid leakage, electrical wiring that may touch hot or moving parts, tire treads that do not conform, corrosion of the chassis reducing its resistance, probable dropping of bumper parts or side shields, poorly closed door or seat insecure. Headlight adapter stickers are permitted on left-hand vehicles, although not all centres are aware of this rule, which has only been operative since 2018.

In the event that the examination is satisfactory you will be given a stamp with the letter 'A' which is affixed to vehicle registration document, the carte grise. A windscreen sticker (vignette) also confirms the validity of test and gives the date when the next test is due in two years time.

If the vehicle fails the examination with a défaillance majeure a stamp with the letter 'S' goes on the registration document.

You are given two months to undertake the repairs and to return the vehicle to a test centre for an examination of the repair. You are permitted to drive the vehicle during this two month period.

If you delay beyond two months then a further full test is required.

However, where a défaillance critique is found, an 'R' sticker will be placed on the windshield of the vehicle car and you will only be able to use it on the road for the rest of the day, save for being permitted to drive the vehicle to a garage for repair within 24 hours of the test. The penalty for breach of this rule is a €135 and immobilisation of the vehicle. Licence penalty points do not apply.

The control centres do not themselves undertake repairs, being strictly prevented from doing so by law.

Given that it may not be easy to find a garage to undertake immediate repair, many owners take the risk of a fine and book the car in for repair at a later date. This is certainly more likely where the inspection has thrown up defects which are both 'major' and 'critical'.

However, the two-month period to rectify defects and return for a later examination of the repair (contre-visite) remains in place; you are simply not allowed to use the vehicle on the road the following day.

As we reported in our France Insider article Vehicle Inspection Tests in France the failure rate on these tests is high.

5.4. Cost/Charge

The charges imposed by the test centres are not controlled by the government, and currently cost anything between €70 and €100.

With the increased number of checks and longer duration of the test, and new training requirements for technicians, the charge is expected to rise by up to 20%, although in many areas of the country the competition between the centres is strong and it remains to be seen if this is reflected in the new charge.

As to the second visit following repair, these are sometimes offered free of charge by some test centres, although others charge up to €20. It may well be that this charge will more systematically be imposed in the future.

You are free to choose whatever accredited test centre you wish, inside or outside of the department in which you reside.

Since October 2020 there is a government run comparison website where you can compare prices charged by different centres, which you can find at Les Prix des Contrôles Techniques.

However, not all centres are on the list (although the government have promised they will be) and given that the average cost is €77 for a test only taken every two years, it is questionable whether travelling any distance for the cheapest centre would be worthwhile.

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