A Tale of Twin Toyotas –and WOE

Toyotas I and II


Two Americans living in southern France set off to Germany to buy a car. Not a Porsche (pity). Not a Mercedes. Not a BMW. Not even an Audi. But — a Toyota! No, not a new model, but a very old Toyota (2004).

Crazy? Bizarre?   Idiotic?

Perhaps a bit of all. Here’s the story. Two years before moving to France from Germany 12 years ago, we bought a royal blue Toyota Yaris Verso. The back seats of this minivan collapse and slide under the front seats, leaving lots of rear space, enough for two bicycles standing up. That was the selling factor. We could park the car anywhere with the bikes chained and locked inside.  And, it was easier to put them inside the car instead of on the roof.

Back then we did lots of pedaling. The bikes went with us on cycling trips all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. All l that space was also practical when making large purchases: washing machine, mattress, cases of wine.

Not our car.
Not our car.

We love this car. It has been reliable, trouble free. It now has some 255,000 km, but has had only minor repairs. We knew it could not last forever and were getting worried.   No reason to spend big bucks on a new car at our age. Besides, Toyota no longer makes this model and we found no others with the same features and known reliability.

Bicycle Bob (BB) dove into Internet research on used Toyotas. He claims he could not find any in France. No wonder. I later learned that all his Toyota finds were coming from a German web site. He said he would feel better buying a used car from a German rather than a Frenchman. Those neighbors to the north treat their cars with over-the-top TLC, like rare endangered species.  Check out the cars in parking lots in France. Dents. Dirt. Rust.

The cars he was finding were old, but there were many with far fewer kilometers than ours. We had to see a car before buying it, and probably look at more than one car before purchase. That meant a train trip to Germany, hotel and meal expenses etc. The price tag was climbing.

More to Germany than cars.

No matter. We could do more in Germany than look at cars: Satisfy cravings for good beer and hearty cuisine, visit friends, perhaps even see some new sights. He found versions of the desired Toyota all over Germany – Leipzig, Zweibrucken, Hamburg, Munich. We had to narrow our selection lest we spend weeks canvassing the entire country.

Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.
Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.

So, one dreary day in February we hopped aboard the TGV (fast train) from Aix to Frankfurt, then another train to nearby Erlensee where a friendly car salesman met us and took us to see the first selection. It looked just like our car, same bright blue, just two years younger (2004) but with a mere 134,000 km.

This one looked good.

Promising, but we had another car to see in Kulmbach, three autobahn hours away. We rented a car for that trip. It rained. It poured for the entire drive. We checked out the second Toyota .   Both cars were in immaculate condition. Each car had had just one owner, elderly folks like us.

The blue Toyota owner had been male; the silver Toyota had been in the possession of a female. We test drove both cars. “There is something I don’t like about the clutch in this car,” BB said of the silver one, knowing it had had a woman owner. He maintains women drivers often ride the clutch. A sexist view, in my opinion.  “I think this car could have a problem,” he insisted. I found nothing wrong with it, but he makes the car decisions. Besides, the silver color was wimpish . And, the salesman was anything but accommodating. Our salesman in Erlensee, a Jordanian, was terrific, helpful.

Trying different brews in Kulmbach.

We spent the rest of the day and an overnight in Kulmbach before returning to claim the blue baby. The rain never stopped, but great beer made up for it. Kulmbach is noted for its beer. We visited an artisanal brewery, bought beer to bring home, toured a beer and bread museum – all wunderbar.

We figured it would be a multi-step procedure to finalize the sale and get the car temporarily registered and insured for the trip back to France. Never underestimate the Germans.   Our salesman took us to a trailer type office in a parking lot where, within a half hour, all was complete, including temporary plates on the car.

Seeking solace from German rain.

We set off in our new old car south to Darmstadt to visit old friends, enjoy more beer and hearty food, and then on to Basel, where we were married 26 years ago. The nostalgia visit to this Swiss city was more than moist. The rain, six days of it in Germany, followed us to Switzerland. We spent a day indoors, visiting some interesting museums, before coming home to France where we did find sunshine, but also frustration, headaches, obstacles.

Giacometti at Fondation Beyeler in Basel.

I knew car registration in France would never be the smooth and easy process it was in Germany, however…. We started the process after our return, Feb. 15. On March 22, 36 days later, it was finally finished…or so I thought.

We began the ordeal with a visit to the mayor’s office in Reillanne, our town. Then the tax office in Manosque (1/2 hour away). We had to go there twice since we did not have one of the required documents the first time.  From there we were sent to Digne, a city about 1 ½ hours away and the seat of our region’s “prefecture,” the folks who could make our car legal in France. We thought we had all the required documents.

Dubuffet at Fondation Beyeler in Basel

At the tax office in Manosque we had been given a list of requirements: six documents. The woman in Digne gave us a  longer list: 10 different documents. Sacre Bleu! We did not have the “Certificat de conformite,” a document which could only come from Toyota. And, we were told the safety inspection document we had from Germany would not fly. It was several months old. So, we had to make an appointment and have the car inspected in France and get yet another document.

Off we went to our nearest Toyota dealer, 1/2 hour away. A young man filled out a form requesting all sorts of technical details on the car. We sent that form and a check for 150 euro to Toyota headquarters in France — fortunately not in Japan. A week later we had the form. We were making progress.

On our second trip to Digne, miracle of miracles, we had all the correct papers. We received a temporary registration. We went to a nearby garage and had plates made – instantly. We were overwhelmed. The French are efficient at something.

The French have mastered instant license plates.

Only insurance left to conquer. We have our cars insured with a bank in the town of Pertuis (45 minutes away), but we arranged for temporary insurance by phone, and followed up with a visit to the bank last week to sign the form.

We were elated. Finally all finished. Not quite. Today I received a letter from the prefecture in Digne. They need the original car registration from Germany immediately.   I checked our thick folder of documents on this car. We do not have it. I am certain we turned it in with all the other papers to the woman in Digne. ???

Will they cancel the registration without it? Seize the car? Insist we contact the German registration office and get a new ”original” on a car that was registered 12 years ago?

Moral of the story: If you live in France, buy a car in France.

No, not our old Toyota, but a Tinguely creation at the Tinguely Museum in Basel.


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The twins

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18 thoughts on “A Tale of Twin Toyotas –and WOE”

  1. Hi Leah. I am curious to know end of the car registration story. When we brought our French registered car back to Prague and needed to get Czech registration, it took over a month and during the period we were not allowed to use the car so had to rent a car. All this hassel was because we were trading in our Skoda on a new one and agency refused to take it as a trade-in with French plates. You are right, it is easier to sell +buy in country where you live and buy a car registered there. We are now “resident” in “Czech , but will still spend summers in Luberon. I love your blogs! John+I hope to see you and BB in summer. Yours, Sandra Eddy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sandra. Car is finally registered and all is well at last. Of course we could not drive it until registration was complete, but since we had Toyota I that was no problem. Hope our paths cross this summer, and thanks for being a TalesandTravel fan.


  2. Leah, oh boy, do I get it!! I’m surprised the French are so difficult about car registration–I feel your pain. The bureaucracy here in Italy is just as bad! (last week we went to the post office twice, the state health office twice, and returned Saturday morning to get our health cards!) But that sounds like a piece of cake compared to this…hopefully, it is at an end!! Thanks for reminding us all that the life of an expat is filled with unknown obstacles… you never know what’s gonna pop its head up on any given day. But we keep our heads up and keep smilin’!


    1. We have to remind ourselves why we are here. We knew it would not be easy, but we can’t forget all the pluses. These hassles go with the turf, unfortunately.


  3. Enjoyed Toyota saga. I haven’t had car or driver’s license for decades but I did spend three months recently getting my  French carte de sejour renewed with help of handicapped friend whose crutches helped me  bypass lines in 3 arrondissements.
    Meanwhile I’m am heading for my 90th in  July but still getting  out to concerts, exhibitions, book signings, etc. almost every day while doihg my best to reduce France’s wine surplus.

    Cheers, Barney

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leah,

    It is not totally clear that the car is finally completely registered in La Belle France. Is it? Also, for the person who commented about the difficulty of registering a car in Italy, we had no such problem. We are two Americans who settled in Italy. We registered my Porsche as soon as we arrived. Nessun problemo, as they say. All it took was money, lots and lots – about $2,000 worth, but it was easy.

    Best to you and BB/VR

    Noel & Carol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For $2,000, it should have been easy. We paid 163 euro to get this car registered, a bargain I guess. But, it’s no doubt because it is a 12 yr-old -Toyota– not a classy Porsche. After a trip to the mayor’s office his a.m., it appears all is OK afterall. Better be. I’ve had enough car registration stress.


  5. Funny story (funny for us, not for you!) and very trying. The experience must have sucked up a lot of your time and energy. But it could be worse. According to Pat, registering an Italian car in Italy was a nightmare for non-residents. And, just to be fair and balanced, perhaps importing a used car to Germany from France would be equally harrowing! Or, as a civilian and not someone associated with the military, trying importing a used car from Europe to California (I mention CA specifically because of sate emission standards)! Almost impossible! Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OK Lynne, it may not be a piece of cake in other places as you point out –but this was all a bit much.
      I hope it’s over, but we shall see. I am glad you enjoyed the read.


  6. We can connect with many of the problems you have related. Our last purchase/part exchange went smoothly thank goodness as we left for a three month tour to Spain, just two weeks after purchase. Now we are taking the same vehicle to Italy in May for a month,
    well it is a Rapido motorhome, so have to make full use .
    Martyn Hayhow( also a resident in France)martyn

    Liked by 1 person

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