I was involved in a collision in France that resulted in me being carted off to the local hospital.
While I was being patched up, my bike disappeared. The gendarme shoved two bits of paper at me while I was being treated at the roadside. One is called a “constat amiable” which has the other driver’s details and a sketch of the collision. The other is a greasy scrap of paper, one-third of a sheet of A4, with a telephone number and the word “dépannage”.
When I got back to the UK, I contacted my insurers, who told me they cannot pay out for my bike under my fully comprehensive policy because they cannot inspect it. I cannot tell them where the bike is and my insurers say I am liable for the costs of bringing it back to the UK as they have no facilities to examine bikes in France. I don’t speak French so how do I find my bike?
You are lucky to have that unofficial scrap of paper: it’s the telephone number of the recovery garage that took your bike away (dépannage is the French word for recovery). It means you can at least start to make arrangements for your motorcycle to be recovered from the garage. Sadly, they will need to be made in French.
The first step is to pay the recovery garage for picking up the bike and taking it away from the collision scene (usually between €100-€120) and for storing the bike since then (the usual charge is €2.50 a day). This is normally done by direct bank transfer, but you really do need somebody who speaks some French to talk to the garage – not only to set up this payment but also because you need to know more about the state of your bike. Can it roll enough to be pushed up a ramp into a hire van for example?
You do not have the option of scrapping the bike and leaving it in France. Yours is a well-used and elderly machine, which in reality is likely to be written off. But you will not be able to dispose of it without the ‘Carte Grise’, which is roughly the equivalent to our V5 logbook. I have tried to scrap written-off bikes in France on behalf of clients but you simply cannot do it. No French salvage agent will touch a bike without the carte grise.
You are lucky to have the details of the recovery garage. Without these, the process of finding a crashed bike can be extraordinarily difficult. In some areas, you can apply to the police force for a copy of their accident report, which may have the details of the recovery agent. Other forces will only release this ‘dossier’ on the authority of an examining magistrate, so you will have to hire a French lawyer to get it for you.
This is why Brits touring on the Continent really need European recovery cover. Pretty well all the European recovery services offer a co-ordinator, who will speak the local language and English. While it is not especially difficult to track bikes down in France if you speak passable French, you really are in trouble if you don’t. Even when the insurer’s local agent has tracked down the bike, that is not necessarily the end of your problems, as European cover is limited. If your bike is repairable, most recovery contracts require the running repairs to be carried out, at your expense, so you can ride back.
Also watch out for recovery agents using favourite local suppliers, such as a one-year-old BMW being repaired in a Renault car garage. My experience Is that the dépannage agent tends to drop the bike off to his mate, who will insist on doing the repairs, even if they usually work on cars or even tractors. Your breakdown agent doesn’t care about warranties, which could be invalidated by having a non-franchised garage working on a bike that’s still under warranty.
Always point out your EU recovery service cannot authorise repairs for crash damage. That is a matter for your own insurers. Some recovery services are branded as being part of the insurers, but are normally separate concerns and you have two separate contracts; one of insurance and one of European recovery.
RiDE Magazine April 2018