Retiring to the Charente Maritime ...or not - Motoring in France

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By chance I saw an advertisement for breakdown insurance, and as we were planning a holiday to France decided to investigate further. That was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made. I would point out that this is not an advertisement for any company and I receive no reward for anything I write in this article. I checked out the ‘usual suspects’ but found that both the AA and RAC costs were higher than I wished to pay. Then I came across Morethan, a company I had looked at for vehicle insurance in the past, but never used.

Their offer, which included a comprehensive Europe assistance contact, was priced at about £50, and I bought it.

My car is a Landrover Freelander and has given me many years of relatively trouble free motoring, so I looked on the insurance purely as a safeguard.
Well, when we came to leave our rented Chamonix ski apartment, the battery had frozen and would not start the car. I called the UK helpline number and about an hour later the recovery vehicle came and the mechanic started our car.

We motored back to our holiday home without incident and nothing untoward happened for about two weeks. Then, returning from a shopping trip the engine simply died on me, and no attempts to start it would work.

So, once again, it was call the Morethan Rescue team in the UK. They asked me to call back with more information about my location, which I did, and about an hour later the recovery vehicle arrived.

This time the mechanic could not start the engine so the car was loaded onto the back of his lorry and my dog and I were loaded into the cab. We were dropped off at our holiday home and the car taken to the garage, about ten miles away.

The next morning I had a call from Morethan (who operate with Europ Assistance I believe) to tell me that the car needed to go to Bordeaux to the Landrover specialist, who had the diagnostic equipment required. They said that, as this was likely to take a few days, a hire car had been arranged and a taxi would collect me at 0900 the next day to take me to the Avis car hire premises. All this was to be done at no cost to me.

Sure enough, at 0900 the next day the taxi arrived and took me to the Avis office. I noticed that the meter was reading about 55 Euros, so, if I had been paying, the round trip fare would have been about £100.

Two weeks later and my car had still not been repaired so I drove the 60 miles or so to the garage in Bordeaux to see what was happening. The short answer was – nothing - because the French garage has it as a low priority and tell me ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’. Well, I have spent enough time in France now to know that that could mean anytime in the next month or so!

Morethan told me that they would give it another four days and then arrange for the car to be removed and repatriated, along with my wife and I, to the UK if the garage has not sorted it out.

I have nothing but praise for Morethan but am decidedly unimpressed with the French Landrover dealer who originally diagnosed the fault as a fuel pump, replaced the pump, and then decided it was a fuel injector, ordered the part (so he says) and then decided it was not an injector fault. So my car was stuck in the garage with the engine in bits.

After the four days had passed Morethan told me that they had informed the garage that they were going to repatriate the car to the UK and would have it collected the next day. Miraculously I had a phone call the next day to tell me the car had been repaired and was ready for collection. This had all taken three weeks.

I went to Bordeaux and paid the sum of over 1500€ for the work which included two injectors, one fuel pump and one fuel filter. After checking with LandRover UK I disputed this cost/work with Landrover France and got exactly nowhere.

So, what lessons did I learn from this experience?

1. Make sure you have good breakdown insurance.

2. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and loaded – calls to UK take a lot of credit.

3. Make sure you know how to get credit on your phone by understanding the French operator. (Their recorded messages are very quickly spoken!)

4. Have a contingency plan to cover the eventuality that your stay in France may be longer than expected. (If we had not had the convenience of our holiday accommodation More than would have paid for us to stay in a hotel).

5. If you have to deal with a French garage try and get one who tells you facts not fantasy.

All this may seem bad news but I did learn my lesson. About a year later my car lost power and the engine management warning light came on. My local garage told me that, as they did not have the diagnostic equipment I would need to go to the LandRover/Jaguar agent in La Rochelle. As long as it wasn’t Bordeaux I was quite happy, and the garage kindly arranged an appointment for that same afternoon, so I slowly motored into La Rochelle to the garage. Very smart and clean and not at all busy, they quickly put my car onto their diagnostic tester.

After about half an hour they told me I had an injector problem but they could sort it out there and then if I could leave the car for two hours. So I asked how much it would cost to change the injector and was told 2000€ and I needed all four injectors changing.

This seemed so unlikely that I called my local LandRover garage in the UK. They said that their cost for changing four injectors would be about £1200 but the chance of all four being faulty was remote and I could not have even driven my car!

Thoroughly disheartened I told the garage manager what I thought of his estimate and drove slowly back home.

By chance I heard about an English garage owner who advertised in an online magazine that he did LandRover diagnostic testing. His name is Andrew Cole and he lives at Charroux.

I took my car to him the next day and after half an hour paid my bill of 47€ for having the fuel filter cleaned. Andrew showed me the result of the injector test he did; his only comments being that they were all in good condition and the car itself was in excellent shape. (And there was I thinking a couple of days before that I would have to scrap it!)

So, there are lots of negatives and we may have been unlucky, and I must admit that, in the warm weather it is lovely to just relax by the pool or in the shade of the many mature trees in the garden, but in retrospect, I think our first idea of having a holiday home here rather than a permanent residence, would have been a better bet.

That's why our home is advertised on this site.

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Retiring to the Charente Maritime ...or not - Motoring in France
Page 3 of 3 Motoring in France By chance I saw an advertisement for breakdown insurance, and as we were planning a holiday to France decided to investigate further. That was one of the...

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