Every vehicle should display a nationality plate of its country of registration and you must always carry proof of ownership of a private vehicle. Third-party motor insurance is required throughout Europe. A warning triangle and a reflective jacket (to be used in case of breakdown) are compulsory.
The Real Automóvil Club de España is the national automobile club. They may well come to assist you in case of breakdown, but in any event you should obtain an emergency telephone number for Spain from your own insurer or car-hire company.
All EU member states’ driving licences are fully recognised throughout Europe. Those with a non-EU licence are supposed to obtain a 12-month International Driving Permit (IDP) to accompany their national licence, which your national automobile association can issue. In practice, however, car-hire companies and police rarely ask for one. If you have held residency in Spain for one year or more, you should apply for a Spanish driving licence or check whether your home licence entitles you to a Spanish licence under reciprocal agreements between countries.
Gasolina (petrol) is pricey in Spain, but generally slightly cheaper than in its major EU neighbours (including France, Germany, Italy and the UK); gasóleo is diesel fuel.
To rent a car in Spain you have to have a licence, be aged 21 or over and, for the major companies at least, have a credit card; note that some car-hire companies don't accept debit cards. Smaller firms in areas where car hire is particularly common sometimes waive this last requirement. Although those with a non-EU licence should also have an IDP, you will find that national licences from countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are usually accepted without question.
With some of the low-cost companies, beware of ‘extras’ that aren’t quoted in initial prices.
Other possibilities include the following:
Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com) US-based clearing house for deals with major car-rental agencies.
BlaBlaCar (www.blablacar.com) Car-sharing site that can be really useful for outlying towns, and if your Spanish is up to it, you get to meet people too.
Holiday Autos A clearing house for major international companies.
Ideamerge (www.ideamerge.com) Car-leasing plans, motor-home hire and much more.
Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement in Spain and throughout Europe. Ask your insurer for a European Accident Statement form, which can simplify matters in the event of an accident. A European breakdown-assistance policy such as the AA Five Star Service or RAC Eurocover Motoring Assistance is a good investment.
Car-hire companies also provide this minimum insurance, but be careful to understand what your liabilities and excess are, and what waivers you are entitled to in case of accident or damage to the hire vehicle.
Blood-alcohol limit The limit is 0.05%. Breath tests are common, and if found to be over the limit, you can be judged, condemned, fined and deprived of your licence within 24 hours. Fines range up to around €600 for serious offences. Nonresident foreigners may be required to pay up on the spot (at 30% off the full fine). Pleading linguistic ignorance will not help – the police officer will produce a list of infringements and fines in as many languages as you like.
Legal driving age (cars) Minimum age is 18 years.
Legal driving age (motorcycles & scooters) Minimum age is 16 (80cc and over) or 14 (50cc and under) years. A licence is required.
Motorcyclists Must use headlights at all times and wear a helmet if riding a bike of 125cc or more.
Overtaking Spanish truck drivers often have the courtesy to turn on their right indicator to show that the way ahead of them is clear for overtaking (and the left one if it is not and you are attempting this manoeuvre). Make sure, however, that they’re not just turning right!
Roundabouts (traffic circles) Vehicles already in the circle have the right of way.
Side of the road Drive on the right.
Speed limits In built-up areas, 50km/h (and in some cases, such as inner-city Barcelona, 30km/h), which increases to 100km/h on major roads and up to 120km/h on autovías and autopistas (toll-free and tolled dual-lane highways, respectively). Cars towing caravans are restricted to a maximum speed of 80km/h.
If you’ve parked in a street parking spot and return to find that a parking inspector has left you a parking ticket, don’t despair. If you arrive back within a reasonable time after the ticket was issued (what constitutes a reasonable time varies from place to place, but it is rarely more than a couple of hours), don’t go looking for the inspector, but instead head for the nearest parking machine. Most machines in most cities allow you to pay a small penalty (usually around €5) to cancel the fine (keep both pieces of paper just in case). If you’re unable to work out what to do, ask a local for help.
It's also worth noting that metered street-parking zones (zonas azules, indicated by blue lines on the road or roadside) are generally free of charge at the following times, although always check the signs: