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Car & Motorcycle

Travelling by car or motorbike around England means you can be independent and flexible, and reach remote places. Downsides for drivers include traffic jams, the high price of fuel and high parking costs in cities.

Car Rental

Compared with many countries (especially the USA), hire rates are expensive in Britain; the smallest cars start from about £130 per week, and it's around £190 and upwards per week for a medium car with unlimited mileage.

Some main players:

Avis (www.avis.co.uk)

Budget (www.budget.co.uk)

Europcar (www.europcar.co.uk)

Sixt (www.sixt.co.uk)

Thrifty (www.thrifty.co.uk)

Another option is to look online for small, local car-hire companies in Britain that can undercut the international franchises. Generally those in cities are cheaper than in rural areas. Using a rental-broker or comparison site such as UK Car Hire (www.ukcarhire.net) or Kayak (www.kayak.com) can also help find bargains.

Motorhome Rental

Hiring a motorhome or campervan (£650 to £1100 a week) is more expensive than hiring a car, but saves on accommodation costs and gives almost unlimited freedom. Sites to check include the following:

Just Go (www.justgo.uk.com)

Wild Horizon (www.wildhorizon.co.uk)

Motoring Organisations

Motoring organisations in Britain include the Automobile Association (www.theaa.com) and the Royal Automobile Club (www.rac.co.uk). For both, annual membership starts at around £40, including 24-hour roadside breakdown assistance.

Britannia (www.lv.com/breakdown-cover) offers better value at £30 a year, while a greener alternative is the Environmental Transport Association (www.eta.co.uk); it provides breakdown assistance but doesn't campaign for more roads.

Insurance

It’s illegal to drive a car or ride a motorbike in England without (at least) third-party insurance. This will be included with all hire cars as standard, but you will usually be liable for an excess for any damage to the vehicle (sometimes up to £1500).

You can pay an extra fee to the hire company to waive the excess, but it is often quite expensive at around £5 per day; a cheaper (if more convoluted) option is to arrange your own excess insurance through a comparison site, such as Money Maxim (www.moneymaxim.co.uk). If you damage the car, you will pay the excess and reclaim it later from the insurance provider; make sure you document any damage and, in the case of an accident, receive a copy of the police report.

Parking

Many cities have short-stay and long-stay car parks; the latter are cheaper though may be less convenient. 'Park & Ride' systems allow you to park on the edge of the city then ride to the centre on frequent nonstop buses for an all-in-one price.

Yellow lines (single or double) along the edge of the road indicate restrictions. Nearby signs spell out when you can and can't park. In London and other big cities, traffic wardens operate with efficiency; if you park on the yellow lines at the wrong time, your car will be clamped or towed away, and it'll cost you £130 or more to get driving again. In some cities there are also red lines, which mean no stopping at all. Ever.

Roads

Motorways and main A-roads deliver you quickly from one end of the country to another. Lesser A-roads, B-roads and minor roads are much more scenic – ideal for car or motorcycle touring. You can't travel fast, but you won't care.

Speed limits are usually 30mph (48km/h) in built-up areas, 60mph (96km/h) on main roads and 70mph (112km/h) on motorways and most (but not all) dual carriageways.

Road Rules

A foreign driving licence is valid in Britain for up to 12 months after entering the country.

Drink-driving is taken very seriously; you're allowed a maximum blood-alcohol level of 80mg/100mL (0.08%) – campaigners want it reduced to 50mg/100mL (0.05%), in line with most European countries (including Scotland).

Some other important rules:

  • Drive on the left (!).
  • Wear seatbelts in cars.
  • Wear helmets on motorcycles.
  • Give way to your right at junctions and roundabouts.
  • Always use the left lane on motorways and dual carriageways unless overtaking (although so many people ignore this rule, you'd think it didn't exist).
  • Don't use a mobile phone while driving unless it's fully hands-free (another rule frequently flouted).