Taking your car on vacation: the 5-finger rule

Taking your car on vacation: the 5-finger rule

Vacation time at last! Now we can travel to different countries again – in accordance with the current entry provisions. But there are other things you need to think about. With the five-finger rule you are sure to be OK – in fact anywhere in Europe.

When you drive your car over the border you should know which rules apply in the country your are visiting. That way you will save yourself a lot of trouble if you have a breakdown or an accident. Or even better, make sure that you never find yourself in that situation by checking the car over before you leave and by loading it properly.

The 5-finger rule will help you not to forget anything:

Car check: make sure everything is in top form

Not only you have to be fit for the journey, but also your car. For that reason you should take it to the garage in good time for your vacation. You can always by a new pair of swimming trunks if you forget them. But you have quite a different problem on your hands if the engine grinds to a halt because you didn’t check the oil level. Apart from which the weight of a heavily laden care shifts to the rear, which can affect the headlight adjustment, the tire pressures, handling and braking.

Breakdowns abroad cost a lot of time and money

Car check

  • Have you got enough liquid in the radiator and the screen wash?
  • Is there enough engine oil, brake fluid and coolant?
  • Do all the lights work?
  • Are the wiper blades intact?
  • Are all five tires fully inflated with at least 4 mm of tread?

Loading: Heavy stuff at the bottom, light stuff on top

Think about what you want to take with you – and then pack just half of it. Clever travelers load the heavy items right at the bottom and place the lighter things on top. Important: If there’s a crash there must be no loose objects flying around in the car – that could be fatal. If necessary you can also tie your luggage down. And if you load the trunk higher than the top edge of the rear seat, you should use a partition net.

Be careful, the fully laden car is more cumbersome

You know the feeling you get after a big meal? You become sluggish and lethargic. It’s just the same with your car. When fully laden it responds more sluggishly, also under braking. And if you’ve got luggage on the roof the cornering behavior also changes and the car may become more unstable. For that reason you should drive rather more slowly in corners and avoid abrupt braking.

A fully laden automobile is as cumbersome as a bear in the circus ring.

Load check

  • Haven’t you exceeded the maximum permissible gross vehicle weight?
  • Have you stowed everything in the trunk instead of on the rear seat
  • Is all the heavy stuff right at the bottom?
  • Is the weight of the load evenly distributed on both sides?
  • Is the parcel shelf clear, so that nothing comes flying through the car under braking??
  • Use the partition net if you load higher than the top edge of the rear seat.
  • Are the warning triangle, hi-viz vests and the first aid box easily accessible?

Check the headlight adjustment and the tire pressures again after you’ve loaded the car

Equipment: these three are essentials

To avoid any problems with roadside checks you must know which safety-related items are obligatory in the country you are visiting – and in any countries you will be passing through. A warning triangle, a first aid box and a CH sticker are mandatory everywhere.

In most countries you also have to carry a high-vis vest for everyone in the car, and this is recommended everywhere. An emissions sticker is also required in many German and Italian city centers. And in France you even have to carry a breathalyzer. Be sure to find out about the national regulations. That applies particularly if you are taking animals with you. More details can be found on the websites of the motoring associations.

With a warning triangle, a first-aid box and a CH sticker you’ll be OK in every country.

Documents: Be sure to take these four with you

Make sure that you always have the following four documents easily accessible on your journey:

  1. the International Motor Insurance Card (Green Card),
  2. your driving license,
  3. the vehicle registration document and
  4. an accident report form.

Preferably two versions of the latter: 
one in your own language and one in the language of the country that you are visiting

Your International Motor Insurance Card (Green Card) is not automatically extended.

With the International Motor Insurance Card (Green Card) you prove that your car or motorcycle has third-party liability insurance. But only if it is still valid. Many get the green Card at the same time as they receive the policy. But unlike their motor vehicle insurance cover, the International Motor Insurance Card (Green Card) is not automatically extended. The period of validity can be seen top left. Keep an eye on this if you have been with the same insurance company for more than a year. 

Save the service number of your insurance company on your mobile phone. Then you will always have it ready to hand.

Your driving license proves that you are permitted to drive a car, the vehicle registration document shows that the vehicle actually belongs to you. This information is important in the event of an accident so that the injured party can make a claim against the insurance. The accident report form is also important so that there is clarity for subsequent claim settlement.

In addition to the accident report sheet, it is also useful to take photographs of the location of accident and of the damage.

Be careful. If you are driving your parents’ car or that of a friend on vacation, you must always have a letter of authorization from the vehicle owner with you. Otherwise the authorities may think you have stolen it. More information and a template for this permission can be found at Abroad with a borrowed car (german)

By the way, some countries demand an international driving license. Find out if that is the case in the countries that you will be visiting. It is always advisable to find out about the precise rules of the country you are visiting on all five points. Except on the last item. Drinking and driving. In that case there is only one recommendation: Don’t drink any alcohol when you are driving your car.

Drinking and driving: No thanks!

In most European countries the limit is in fact 0.5 mg/ml of alcohol in your blood. But best be safe and don’t consume any alcohol at all. Because the alcohol limit in each country is only an indicator of the attitude of the government to driving under the influence of alcohol. For example the Brits appear quite easygoing with a limit of 0.8 gm/ml and they are known to have a good sense of humor. But if you exceed the limit the fun stops there – you can easily find yourself paying a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 Swiss francs. And in Italy or Denmark they can actually confiscate and auction your car. It is also possible that if you drive under the influence of alcohol, the payments in the event of a loss will be reduced even though you have not exceeded the alcohol limit of the country in question.

Incidentally, most countries in the north and the east have stricter rules in any case: In Serbia the limit is 0.3 mg/ml, in Norway, Sweden and Poland it’s 0.2 mg/ml and in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, for example, it’s actually zero. So feel free to take a glass of wine with your meal, but then leave your car where is.

We wish you a wonderful vacation and a safe journey.

Drink-driving will put an end to vacation fun – and that applies to every country

Flip-flops in the car?

Even if you stay at home during the holidays, care is a good traveling companion.

Just hop out of the pool and drive home quickly in your bikini, beach dress and flip-flops? It's only five-minute drive. Better not. After all, even the shortest trip can have long-term consequences – if your foot slips off the brake and this causes an accident. That's why Zurich's Head of Claims Ralph Echensperger advises all drivers to also put on sturdy shoes on the way home from the pool. The risk of an accident is just too high.

And there might also be unpleasant discussions: If it turns out that the accident happened as a result of driving barefoot or in flip-flops, the insurance company has the right to make the person who caused the accident cover a share of the costs. Depending on the situation, there can even be legal consequences.

For this reason, Echensperger advises: "Drive with sturdy shoes and don't change into your flip-flops until you get out of the car."

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