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My brother is ill so I need to go to the UK. I have lived in France for 20 years and have a left-hand drive car. I haven't driven in the UK for 20 years. I am 71 years old - but not yet gaga. I will need a car in the UK - my brother lives in a place which is poorly served by public transport and he will not be able to drive his car for many, many months, and he doesn't have friends around who can drive. Should I drive there in my car or fly there and use his car? Which is worse - the long drive from near Geneva to Shropshire in my own car or flying there and trying to drive around in his car? My car is an auto - his car is a manual.


Thanks to everyone who responded. You have helped me me decide what to do. And, a little research has shown me that renting an automatic in the UK is more than twice as expensive as renting a manual. So I will go in my own car.

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    Did you own a manual transmission car in the past? I drove them extensively in my 20s and 30s. After driving automatics for around 15 years, I found it easy to drive my brother's manual transmission during a trip. But all these cars were left side drive. If you're previous manual experience was with right side drive, that might be a problem. Oct 2, 2021 at 13:41
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    Just an opinion but suddenly switching to a right-hand drive manual car after a 20 year gap sounds a bad idea. I’ve driven an automatic in the UK for about the same length of time and would not contemplate just getting back into a manual car without any practice in a safe environment (possibly even a lesson or two). Is hiring an automatic on arrival viable?
    – Traveller
    Oct 2, 2021 at 14:34
  • If you are taking you LHD car into the UK, you will need to buy headlight convertor kits. These are plastic stickers attached over the dipped headlight area, to stop them from illuminating the left (oncoming) cars. They are commonly available in most large car parts shops, and must be applied before the first time you drive at twilight or night in the UK
    – CSM
    Oct 5, 2021 at 8:36

2 Answers 2

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There are several challenges here:

  1. Driving on the left side of the road when you are used to the right.
  2. Driving a RHD car when you are used to LHD.
  3. Driving a manual car (with the shifter on the 'wrong' side) when you are used to automatics.

Of this, only 1 is unavoidable. From personal experience (four years in the UK with a continental car), sitting on the outside of the road is only a marginal problem; you can see ahead well enough from where you are and only occasionally it is an inconvenience when you need to pass a stopped van or at certain junctions. As per Dennis' comments, some people find it easier to remember what side of the road to drive in if the steering wheel is located at the "proper" side of the car (i.e.: RHD for UK, LHD for France).

Driving a car with the wheel on the other side presents several challenges:

  1. The rear view mirrors are all in the wrong positions. You get used quickly enough but in an emergency your instinct is to look to where you are used to finding them.
  2. The distances are all off. It is extremely difficult at first to evaluate the distance to the far corner of the car.
  3. Your brain is used to seeing your lane from the left side of it. When you drive a RHD car your head is situated to the right of the centerline, and your brain notices that something is wrong. You will constantly drift to the left side as you try to compensate for that without even noticing.
  4. (Manual only) There is a (hard) door where you are used to finding the shifter. You will constantly hit your door with the right hand when instinctively reaching for the shifter. It goes from annoying to painful real quick.

From what you say, I'm assuming you lived for ~50 years in the UK before moving to the continent, so it will probably be much easier for you to reacquire all those skills than it would be for others.

Going back from automatic to manual may or may not be difficult, it depends on the person and how long you drove one type of cars or the other.

Personally, I would bring my own car for peace of mind. Just remember that if you are considered a resident (more than 180 days), you are not allowed to drive a foreign registered car and it may be seized and destroyed.

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    I would add the common challenge of manipulating the headlights, wiper controls, and turn signals: the former two are often on stalks, mounted on different sides of the steering column on LHD and RHD vehicles, the latter is always on a stalk on the side you don't expect. You want to signal a turn, and will instead turn on the windshield wipers. Guaranteed. Oct 2, 2021 at 22:15
  • @DavidSupportsMonica Are you sure of that? I've owned both LHD and RHD cars and never noticed anything odd. Oct 2, 2021 at 22:18
  • Yes. I live in the US, where LHD cars are the rule. I have taken numerous trips to the UK, Ireland, and NZ since the mid-1960s, all countries with RHD cars. I rent cars and drive there. I always get the stalks wrong at least once, and often more than once, in every trip. Oct 2, 2021 at 22:22
  • @DavidSupportsMonica I've done a little digging. It seems like the difference is due to where the car was built and not what side the steering wheel is in. worldstandards.eu/cars/trivia-about-driving-left Oct 2, 2021 at 22:48
  • Folks have different experiences. I always pick the wrong stalk, at least once. I never try and shift by reaching into the door panel. YMMV. Oct 2, 2021 at 23:17
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To be taken with a grain of salt as I:

  • have no idea how comfortable you are with driving long distances (disclosure: I am fine with ~1000 km a day, depending on roads and traffic)
  • have no experience driving on the left side of the road, whether in an LHD or RHD car

Asides from that, based on my personal experience, having a car that you are used to is a boon, whereas having to go from automatic to manual is an annoyance at best. The latter is exacerbated when you are driving on unfamiliar roads (even if it happens to be the area in which you grew up or have lived for a long time, road layouts may have changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years).

The other thing to consider is the financial aspect. In the bring-your-own-car scenario, cost drivers are fuel for the trip, wear and tear for the car (with the slight risk of your car breaking down or you having an accident on the way – of which I just had my share), road toll, Eurotunnel or ferry to get to the other side, as well as possibly some place to stop for the night. For flying, you need to get to the airport, pay for the flight and possibly for extra baggage (if you are carrying more than the standard allowance), then rent a car at your destination. Either way, you will do the whole thing in reverse on your way back.

So, my personal inclination would be to take my own car rather than fly and rent one anytime, unless there is an ocean in between (i.e. significantly more water than the Channel). But your mileage may vary.

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    For completeness, french motorway tolls from Geneva to Calais will most probably cost more than the tunnel itself. I think the only toll in the UK would be Dartford which is negligible and can be avoided by circling London on the South (Folkestone to M1 is roughly the same time regardless of what direction you choose in the M25). Oct 5, 2021 at 11:37
  • @DiegoSánchez indeed, I overlooked that one. I’ve updated the answer.
    – user149408
    Oct 10, 2021 at 9:34

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