I first met Marlene some years ago when she started coming to my Paris Shakespeare Project. We’ve since become good friends and recently were in Stratford-on-Avon together to take in a couple of plays from the Bard at the Royal Shakespeare Company. This non-Shakespearean article is her first one for TAIP, though her fifty years here in France dwarfs that of any of our other writers, and I hope she will continue to write many more for us. This article illustrates that even when you’ve lived in France for fifty years, you may have to literally scale fences to get French bureaucracy to work for you. -SH
As you drive out of the car dealer’s in your shiny, brand-new car, do you wonder how long until it will seem to be getting old? When does it become an old wreck and when, by magic, will it become a collector’s item worth more than you originally paid for it, inflation notwithstanding?
Cars lose 20-25% of their value after the first year, and continue dwindling every year thereafter.
There exists in France what once was a magazine and has now become an internet site called L’Argus, analogous to what Americans know as the Kelley Blue Book. Since its inception in 1927, it gives an average/fair price for a second-hand car according to make, model, age, and condition. All negotiations for buying and selling a used car begin with the Argus. A new car dealer may offer “the Argus + 10%” as a trade-in incentive for an old car. A car with fewer than the average 10,000 km/year on the meter should be worth “more than the Argus.” Insurance companies reimburse the Argus value (and no more!) in case of an accident. During WW2 the French government used the Argus value to determine how much an owner would receive if their car was requisitioned.
Obviously, as a car gets older its Argus value declines until at 15 years of age it slides off the charts. At this point insurance companies will give nothing for it in case of an accident, or a nominal sum as junk-yard material.
So consider the case of my beloved Peugeot 205. I bought it when my son was born with basic criteria: automatic, 4-door, small enough to park in Paris (a survival criterium), yet comfortable enough for travel. With no second thoughts concerning its age on one occasion I drove from Paris to the boot of Italy with my two 7-year-olds: car and son. No disasters occurred.
As the car aged (along with my son and myself) there was no reason to change. I drove it less and less as Paris traffic and parking became worse and worse and my preferred travelling means was by train and plane. The car became a simple convenience to do twice-a-month shopping. I get it tuned up every two years according to French law and have bought a parking place for it in the garage across the street where it sleeps mostly collecting dust, getting washed only every few years. I figured there was no reason to get a new car as this one works and responds to my few needs.
However, with the recent ban on old cars in Paris during work hours, I was awakened to a conundrum: I have a perfectly functional car that suits me, with less than 90,000 km on the dial, whose use has become restricted; what should I do? Living near the Paris borders and only using the car for short runs to the supermarket, I did as all the French do and depended on “tolerance” in the law: If I got stopped by the police I would look them sadly in the eye and say, “I’m so sorry officer, but at my age what do I want with a new car to do my once-a-month shopping?” So far I’ve never been stopped for the age of my car and haven’t been able to try out my line.
But a new solution eventually came to light. If the car is declared a collectible, it can be driven anywhere, anytime. The other perks of this denomination are that it must pass a compulsory vehicle inspection every five years instead of two, and, wonder of wonders, the cost of insurance goes down, even as the value of the car goes up!
In a country where every aspect of life is regulated from cradle to grave and everything in-between (my father once asked, “Don’t they let you breathe over there?”) car collectability is not neglected. Only in France, does a car become a collector’s item through the government administration whether the collectors are out there or not!
A car becomes eligible as a collector’s vehicle at 30 years old. However, this is not automatic. Interestingly, before the administration will even consider a car as a collectable the government depends on its being vetted by a private organisation, the Fédération Française des Vehicule d’Epoque (FFVE). This association pools together 1,300 vintage vehicle clubs and museums in France. But the private process smacks very much of government bureaucracy and includes filling in an application form identifying the car in detail: make, model, series, color, weight, horsepower, license number, ownership history …sending copies of the owner’s ID, insurance card, registration (carte grise) … and hardest of all, enclosing five pictures of the car from front, back, sides, inside. For a car that hadn’t been washed in five years, this was the most burdensome!
Car Wash + Attestation
So off we went to a high-end car wash to get her spruced up for her photo session. Do we only want her hand-cleaned inside and out (60 €) or the full works: cleaning, polishing, simonizing…for big bucks and three days of work (they said). I was promised the car would look like new. And what’s a couple hundred euros spread over 31 years, and for a good cause? To their credit, the car did look like new. They had even fixed up some spots with paint I gave them, and vacuumed the area under the hatchback seats, which hadn’t been touched since I had bought the car. They even filled out the complicated application form for me and took the pictures.
This being done, I could finally start unwinding the first strand of red tape leading down the road to collectability. The copies, photos, and forms could be sent, snail mail no less, to be scrutinized as to whether my little old sub-compact was collectable material.
Six weeks later I received the coveted “Attestation pour l’obtention d’un certificat d’immatriculation vehicule de collection,” the key idea being that it only certifies that the former jalopy is now worthy of collectable status, but that obtaining that status can only come from the powers that be.
The next, but first official administrative step, toward collectable status, is to contact ANTS (Agence nationale des titres sécurisés), the national highway safety department, a sub-department of the Préfecture de Police, the central administration of any given département (French province). The prequel to using the online services of the ANTS is to create a France Connect identity. According to the official government site, France Connect:
“simplifies all governmental procedures. It is the solution offered by the State to simplify one’s connection to more than 1,000 services online. Save time. Keep your information secure. You no longer need to create new accounts.” (my translation)
This waits to be seen. Not to mention that this might be a way for government agencies to collate information on a single person.
France Connect Hurdles
To create a France Connect account, you need to already have (prequel to the prequel?) an online account with either the Post Office, the Income Tax Bureau, or the French National Health (Sécurité Sociale whose online designation is Améli). In my particular case, one that falls through the cracks, the Post Office sent me on a vicious Sartrean circle with no exit whereby when I filled in my email but clicked on “forgot your password,” I received a message saying the account did not exist. On the other hand when I tried to create an account, I was informed that the email address belonged to an existing account. No solution for France Connect there.
When I did the same on my income tax account, the problem was that they sent the mail allowing me to change my password to an email account that had been closed 3 years earlier. Thus there was no way for me to receive a password to enter my account.
Thirdly, as my National Health ID is affiliated with the National Education Health platform, I have no Ameli account and thus I am not part of the general Sécurité Sociale.
Meanwhile, at each aborted try, I sent a mail to the France Connect help site, but never, ever received an answer. All requests for help fell into some dead-letter box.
Totally frustrated, I headed to my local town hall for help. Once upon a time, before the government services went to the internet, it was there that car registration was effected. But no longer; all the help I got was a sheet of telephone numbers, with the one for the Préfecture de Paris where I could ask for help.
To my surprise, after going through various boxes and numbers, a real person answered and set up an appointment for me to go in to take care of my ANTS (without France Connect).
Scaling the Police Station’s Fence (Seriously!)
The following week I was right on time outside the Préfecture de Police, a modern unassuming building with a small fence around the stairs down into the entrance. However the gate was locked and there was no bell to ring. After going around looking for a “real” entrance, this seemed to be the only one. As it was getting late, and I saw no other solution in spite of my fear of being bawled out by the police, but to clamber over the fence and start down the stairs. As I entered the building, the receptionist looked up. When I tried to excuse myself and explain the difficulty, he answered, yes, the electronic lock was out of order, and scaling the fence is the only way to enter.
All went well when I found the person to take care of my ANTS account. I had brought over reams of documents, well above and beyond the few I had been told to take, and I was right. Otherwise, we would have got nothing done. Experience had taught me that one brings to the French administration every document we think might possibly be needed, not only the few we are told to bring.
I was given a receipt of my application and sent off with the recommendation to get my France Connect account in order at the Income Tax Bureau.
The Ministry of Finance
Next morning, still running on my administrative momentum I showed up at my income tax bureau which was operating under strict Covid regulations: a two-meter fence barricaded all approach to the door. All visitors had to wait for a guard to come to the security barrier who then asked the reason for our being there before letting us into the front courtyard of the building where we lined up outdoors in freezing weather a meter away from the next in line. Should two clients approach each other to chat, we were quickly brought into line (literally) to heed the mandatory distance.
As we waited outside in the cold, apparently so as not to catch Covid, nothing prevented our catching pneumonia!
About a half-hour later I was allowed to enter the building and remain standing in line as the chairs of the waiting room had all been pushed into a corner with barricade tape extended over the lot.
When my turn finally came I found myself in front of an unexpectedly friendly and competent representative who quickly got my France Connect account set up and with whom I had an interesting exchange on the names of punctuation marks in English and in French as I wanted to include some in my password.
Back at the ANTS site, France Connect got me into my account and after scrounging around (more like scuba-diving than surfing) I found the coveted Certificat Provisoire d’Immatriculation (Temporary automobile registration certificate) which I printed out. And only a couple of days later, the permanent carte grise arrived by registered mail.
Still More to Do!
My old license plate number had been stricken from the books and my car now had its new (collectable!) registration number. But what now, if I am stopped by the police? My car is still sporting the old plate numbers, but it is registered with another number. Obviously I had to get new plates.
So I called my garage to get the black back-grounded plates for collectable cars. The head mechanic, did not seem to know what I was talking about and suggested I just bring the car in. This left me quite doubtful as to the results. So I called other garages to find no one in Paris to create these rare plates. Thus, it was back to the internet.
There I found a few sites that specialize in these plates, one in Spain and a few in France. I finally chose the Rebel Car site, located in France, where all I had to do was type in the brand, the type of car, and the date and they came up with the exact size of plates to fit my car. I even had a small choice of fonts & whether I wanted hyphens or not between numbers. Of course I had to include a copy of my car registration certificate with the order. Less than a week later, within minutes and between more major repairs on other cars, my auto mechanic had secured my bright black plates announcing to the world that this car was a collectible!
Lucky for me this had all taken place at the end of the year, for then I received my insurance sticker for the car. No rest for the wicked, I still had not completed the changeover. Now the insurance had to be modified, beginning by changing the registration number, as well as the description of the car, i.e., as a collectable.
As the car is insured by my bank, lucky for me, my banker also has a “young-timer” (the French expression to refer to a vintage car that is not yet an antique) and we had a pleasant conversation on the joys of belonging to the young-timer community in France. Besides, he knows all about the special insurance, with the great finding that the cost of my insurance policy for a collectable is 1/3 of that for an older car.
Four months after beginning the procedure, the old jalopy has metamorphosed into a black-licensed, rare collectable that hordes of drivers can (enviously?) contemplate when I drive my privileged son to the airport.
Photo is of the car with the new “fancy” collector’s license plate.
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