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Hints for an American, driving in England.

There are many posts on the where's and hows to rent cars in England. I've tried to read as many as I could. I would like to ask a more specific set of questions. What are the lessons you learned from your experiences driving in England, from a North American perspective and any hints you could give, hard lessons learned or strategies you used. If pulled over, what Docs do you need immediately available? Are there some signs that just confounded you? What is the right of way convention, or signaling on narrow roads and round abouts. Is it rude to beep your horn at sheep? Have you encountered a strange street parking fee system? Are the secondary roads all narrow and the M's all true highways? Tolls? What is the custom at a country side petrol station? Pay first? Wait for Attendant? Pump your own? Do stream crossings have side markers? Looking for practical information like this: Conventions that aren't in the guide books. We will probably get the smallest car available, preferably a vintage sport car like a TR6 - I know that means manual trans. So far the car trip starts in North East England, down side roads and to South East England looping back after Dover and ending in London for the car part.

Posted by
742 posts

You would be very unlikely to meet a ford.
If you want to search one out there's one on the Wear at Westgate..

Sheep are both oblivious and skittish.
Slow down but keep moving they will get out if the way.
If you happen to find lots in the road being gathered ,just sit tight till the farmer passes

Petrol ,pump your own and then go pay at the desk.

Roundabouts are frequent on edges of towns and cities ,rare in the countryside.

Even country lanes are plenty wide for two cars to pass,you will soon " get your eye in '

Posted by
1941 posts

hard lessons learned

I lived in England for 3 years and had a car. I learned the hard way that the curb at parking spaces can be very hard on tires. I had so many flat tires that my colleagues began to wonder where I had learned to drive.

The most difficult thing for me, especially when I would travel back and forth between countries, was pulling out of parking lots and feeling confident that I was pulling into the correct lane. Once I was on the road, driving on the other side was no problem.

I miss the uniformity of European road signs, which are quite simple, once (easily) learned.

Posted by
1941 posts

Even country lanes are plenty wide for two cars to pass,you will soon " get your eye in '

This was a tough one for me. I drove miles of country lanes to work each day. While I did adjust to the road width and came to realize most were wide enough for two cars, it didn't "feel" that way at first. And I still have flashbacks of my near-collision with a lorry barreling towards me taking up the better part of the narrow lane that I had decided to drive one day. (I think that was the last time I drove that particular route.)

Posted by
2744 posts

Family members who'd lived in England for a couple of years clued me in that on the Motorway you don't pick your lane and stay in it, as we do on most freeways in the USA. Instead you're supposed to use the right lane ("fast" lane) only to pass. You're not supposed to pass on the left (the USA equivalent of passing on the right). I'm not sure how likely you are to get a moving violation for failure to follow this rule, but you'll incur ill will from your fellow drivers.

Also, once or twice I realized too late that what I thought was the intersection of country roads in a small village was actually a roundabout. These mini-roundabouts have little or no signage, just a sort of central bump with the roadway curving slightly around it. You're not supposed to run over that bump (oops, sorry!).

Posted by
551 posts

Whether walking or driving, look right at intersections. Instead of left-right-left, like you were taught in driver’s ed, it’s right-left-right.

Posted by
105 posts

epltd — "Picking your lane and staying in it" is NOT how we are supposed to drive here, either! There are states that will ticket drivers for bing in the left lane of a highway while not overtaking other traffic.

Posted by
755 posts

A couple of additional thoughts based on 4000+ miles driving in the UK and Ireland. First of all, the thing I found I needed most was a reliable co-driver to, on a couple of occasions, yell “GET LEFT!’, this was usually after making a left turn.

The second thing is that you mentioned the likely hood of going with a manual transmission. Remember that in a RHD car that means you will be shifting with your left hand, something most of us have never done before. I am severely right-handed and in a previous life as an automotive development engineer I had the chance to find out that no way in the world would I consider doing it in the real world of traffic. We are all different about these things but it is something to think about when you make your reservation and don’t plan on changing your mind at the rental counter, it will not go well and will be a lousy way to start your vacation.

Since the RT6 entourage of production 45 years ago and only about 8500 of them were sold in the UK, I doubt you will find one.

Posted by
442 posts

Not England, but lessons learned.

When following the prepaid taxi in your rental car to get you to your hotel in the centre of Florence, avoid p***ng off or apparently nearly killing scooter drivers. They will follow beside you relentlessly, screaming obscenities in Italian at your drivers side window, while you attempt to avoid eye contact or any scintilla of their presence.

Posted by
25 posts

Keep your side mirrors folded in when parking, and don't forget to re-extend them for driving.
The hedges can be so bloody high, as they are centuries old, that you can't see a bit of the lovely countryside! This was true in Cornwall and I wished we'd taken a bus instead. The left side passenger had to keep the window rolled up or else the hedges invaded the car when we tried to leave room for an oncoming lorry to pass.
The sheep are delightful. So are the bike racers.
No place to stop for a wee except at petrol shops.
Ireland is gorgeous driving because the hedges are red blooming fushias.
Scottish highlands are gorgeous driving for the blooming heather.
Do not drive in London!

Posted by
442 posts

But seriously. I got honked at when entering roundabouts in the UK. A LOT. More than anywhere else.

And to this day, I have no idea what I was doing wrong.

Posted by
3134 posts

Some wisdom garnered from a year of driving in the UK:

Keep thinking to keep yourself near the center line.
If you are unsure when to exit a roundabout, just go around again, or again.
Beeping at sheep will probably confuse them, making them mill around rather than get out of the way.

Be super careful immediately after making a turn in a populated area. Either it is legal to park on either side of the road, or the law against it isn’t enforced; but you may find yourself facing cars on both sides and think you’ve entered a 1 - way street. Or, you may face cars pulling out from both sides.

Posted by
1848 posts

You don’t need any documents on you when you're out and about. But of course, if the coppers pull you over, they might ask to see your driving licence/passport.

Using your horn at sheep is an exercise in futility. Slow down – they will move.

Very few toll roads – list here

Pump your own petrol then go inside and pay.

I don’t hold with getting the smallest car. Get the largest one you feel comfortable with, after all you're going to be in it a long time. Whatever size car you get will fit on the road. If you have to slow down due to oncoming traffic, so be it, you’ll get by.

Driving in the countryside is great. Driving in towns and cities not so much. Get an app to use to pay for parking. This one is widely used

Read the Highway Code

Roundabouts are designed to slow traffic. They are very safe.

Posted by
4364 posts

But seriously. I got honked at when entering roundabouts in the UK. A LOT. More than anywhere else.
And to this day, I have no idea what I was doing wrong.

You must have been doing something fairly wrong to get honked at! I'm assuming you weren't driving the wrong way round so I suspect you were likely in the wrong lane to exit and cut across people in order to do so as that is the only other transgression I can think of when it comes to roundabouts, there's not a great deal to go wrong with them.

All 'M' roads are true highways or motorways as they're referred to. The speed limit is always 70 unless there are signs to indicate otherwise such as when roadworks are taking place or variable speed limits are in place in which case you'll be notified what the limit is via overhead gantries. On motorways you may encounter average speed cameras, these are cameras placed on tall yellow poles situated at various points along the motorway, they record the speed of every passing car and once the last one is passed your average speed is worked out, if you exceed the limit at any point expect a fine. This fine will be passed to your rental agency who will then pass on the ticket to you accompanied by an admin fee.

The speed limit on most country roads is the national speed limit which is the highest limit for the type of road and is indicated by a diagonal black line on a white circle background. For single lane roads this will be 60mph however very few people actually manage or are reckless enough to drive at those speeds unless there's a clear, unobstructed view ahead. Driving through narrow country lanes is not as terrifying as some people make out. Most have places to pull in at various points in the road, the unwritten rule is that the person who is closest to the next available pull in spot will oblige however bear in mind that person might be you and the you way have driven past it which would necessitate reversing till you reach the spot. It's all friendly and good natured, just remember to give a little thanks as you pass (raising four fingers with one hand on the wheel is the usual manner, some may even go the full hog and give a slight nod of appreciation at the same time). Residential areas are typically 30mph, some limits drop to 20mph whereas others can be 40mph or, less common, 50mph. All are signposted.

If you are pulled over by the police which is highly unlikely then you aren't obliged to provide any documentation. The police database will contain all the details surrounding the tax and insurance details of the car. If you've committed an offence then you'll be asked to provide some form of identification in order to receive a fine or be reported for court summons, failure to do so makes you liable for arrest.

No need to worry about tolls, there are only a handful.

Petrol stations are all the same. Pull up to a pump, select the appropriate fuel pump and fill up. You pay at the desk.

Stream crossings, or fords as they're known, are accompanied by side markers.

You may encounter cattle grids in the country. These are metal grids that span the road and due to the gaps in the grid cattle are unable to cross them. You can drive across them but drive slowly.

I also reccomend the Ringgo app. Saves having to root around for loose coins. I've yet to find a car park that doesn't accept payment via the app.

Don't hog the middle lane on the motorway. Not only is it irksome but it's also a traffic offence and may attract a fine if caught.

Posted by
4740 posts

Please don’t hire a car immediately upon arrival - take a day or two to get over jet lag first. I know it sounds obvious, but remember which side of the road to drive on - I recall a trip from the U.K. to California years ago and turning out of the hotel on the first full day of car hire, without thinking, onto the wrong side of the road! I realised within 2 seconds and luckily there was no traffic around.

I spend far more time in the countryside than in towns and cities and have only encountered one ford in the past decade, which we went out the way to drive through as it was so unusual. If you are in the north east, presumably you will be going to the excellent Holy Island, which is accessed via a tidal causeway - ensure that you check the tide times as you don’t want to get stuck there.

Don’t toot your horn at sheep - it can cause them to panic, which can lead to them aborting if they are pregnant. They will move out of your way.

Hiring a vintage car is going to draw attention to it, so when parking, make sure nothing is left visible inside. Presumably it wouldn’t have power steering, air conditioning or other modern accoutrements that make modern motoring more comfortable. Your choice of car is going to limit who and where you can hire from if going for a TR6 (a car never known for its reliability).

Check out the Highway Code in advance to learn about road signs. Unlike America, you can’t turn on a red light.

I have never heard people getting honked at on a roundabout - just make sure you stay in lane. If going straight ahead on a dual carriageway, unless road markings state otherwise, you can use either lane. Those already on the roundabout have priority.

If you are going to Dover, you will probably be using the M25 and the Dartford Crossing, which is a toll bridge/tunnel, but with no toll booths. You have to pay online by midnight of the following day.

I last saw a manned petrol station more than 10 years ago. Some petrol stations, have pumps that are pay at pump only with a credit card or you can go into the kiosk. It’s cheaper to buy at a supermarket usually and try not to buy on the expensive motorways. At a few of the older style supermarket pumps, you have to get your fuel then drive forward a few car lengths to the pay kiosk. You stay in your car and pay through the window. Payment is by chip and pin cards.

Posted by
1857 posts

Some petrol stations, have pumps that are pay at pump only with a
credit card or you can go into the kiosk.

Pay at the pump may not work for some foreign credit cards, my Canadian CC wouldn't work and I had to go inside to pay. I have this same problem in the US when the pump asks for a zipcode.

The zigzag parking lines on some streets; don't park there.,pedestrians%20and%20the%20approaching%20traffic.

Besides driving on the left, the biggest challenge I faced on the first day is that I had a tendency to move too far to the left on narrow roads-probably a survival instinct, and I'd sometimes scuff the tires along the curb. When I returned the car, the attendant checked that and made a note that they were scuffed, but I never did receive a bill. That first day was quite tense, but I got more comfortable as I got used to it. The best advice I was given when I picked up the car was that if I was a good driver at home, I'd be a good driver there. It was true, just took some getting used to.

Posted by
3206 posts

Many roads do not have shoulders and oftentimes those shrubs/hedge rows right beside the road are covering a rock wall. Stay out of the fast lane unless you’re passing. After passing move to the slow lane as soon as practical. In roundabouts/traffic circles, unless exiting at the first exit, stay to the inside and shift to the outside lane at your exit. Unless familiar with the roads, it’s probably best not to drive when it’s dark. How ones pays for parking will vary depending where you’re at. Keep some pound coins available to feed the machine. For some lots you’ll need to enter your car’s license plate number along with the money before it will spit out the parking ticket. In some small towns you may be able to get a free hour of parking by parking in the grocery store lot. Finally, while most roads in the UK are wide enough for two vehicles, there are some remote lanes that are only wide enough for one vehicle, where the brushes rub both sides of the car. I ran into many in Wales, but to travel on those you really need to be visiting an off the beaten path sight.

Posted by
736 posts

Interesting fact on the TR6. Of the 96 thousand made, just under 10 thousand were sold in the UK. Of those, only 4,000 are still registered to drive. I would have an easier time renting one in the US!

Good to find out you can't turn left against a red light after stopping.

Are there certain "norms" that people do that are technically illegal.

For instance, in the US we have what's called a "California Stop." Its where you come to a stop sign, but you don't entirely stop. Of course this is illegal, but near everyone does it.
Been reading about how people treat the Red/Amber at stops. Getting conflicting info. Some people say the amber means, "get ready" to go on green. Some are saying they go soon as the amber comes on if there is no traffic. I suspect this is illegal.

Do rentals have full spares, or just a patch kit?

I also don't understand English rights to use roadways. We encountered something very strange to us, on the way to Woodstock, by bus, outside Blenheim Palace. It was a two lane, two directional road, But people staggered their on street parking effectively making it a weaving single lane? And the oddest thing was one home owner was fixing his drive way, and had set up his mortar mixing and brick stack IN the road. So I'm guessing the rules of use of roads is less restrictive?

Posted by
742 posts

Only GO on a green light.

If you are at a Red light and an emergency vehicle approaches from behind do not pass through the light.
You can only pass through a Red light on police instruction.

Motorways are busy in theory traffic joining should match it's speed to fit a gap.
That said if you already on said motorway it is a widely observed practice to move from the " slow lane" to allow traffic easier access.

One big one.
We now have managed motorways in places.
There is no hard shoulder.
If you do break down on these ,get out of your car and go behind the barriers and up the embankment some way.
There's been cases of stantionary vehicles being ploughed into before the camera operator has either spotted the breakdown or the recovery truck could get there

Posted by
736 posts

Good to know Richard. This is the sort of stuff, I'm asking about. Is there a "mind set" of the average English Driver? If I can understand that, then I know I'll be Okay. For instance, driving in Italy, I quickly learned that there are few rules. Friends of mine from Germany, tell me that you follow ALL the rules. I just don't want to be the ignorant, ugly American. And if we do have to ask directions, do the locals tell you town to town or do they use Route Numbers? I ask about road use, for a very specific reason. In the US, if you hit live stock, its on the Farmer for creating a hazard. Is it different in England, where by the farmer's herd, flock, what ever the live stock, does the Farmer's use have right of way? This understanding would give me a better understanding of an "English Drivers" mind set. :)

Posted by
80 posts

I have now made 4 trips that required me to drive on the left. I drive a 6-speed manual every day in the US, so shifting is natural. Using the left hand is a problem. Not being familiar with the acceleration characteristics of the car is another. Thankfully, the pedals are unchanged even though the gear shift is on the other side. I offer the following suggestions when driving on the left.

Have someone else be the navigator. Have someone remind you to "stay to the left" at every roundabout and intersection. As driver, you will be in sensory overload. You need someone to really focus on "lane management."

If using an app like Google maps, set the destination to be a parking lot near your destination, rather than your exact destination. Just pay for the parking. You'll thank me. If you don't, you are likely to find yourself attempting to parallel park a strange car while shifting with the wrong hand and looking over the wrong shoulder. Review the route before you leave. Use the big roads. Otherwise, the route may contain a one-lane gravel road across some farmer's field.

Posted by
736 posts

Thank you Dpoweron... This is the sort of info I'm requesting. And I thank everyone else for their good insights. Still would like a vintage English Car that's easily available. Suggestions? Morris Mini?

Epiltd, I having driven all over the US, found a very strange convention in the I5 Tacoma to Seattle route. Doesn't seem to occur anywhere else in the US in my experience. Passing lane is on the right in this 33 mile area. :) I have no idea how this became the convention. So you always have to check mirrors, twice, before getting in to the "Slow Exit" lane. :) Is there a quick way to spot a "Yob." And yes, I've watched a great deal of Top Gear and Grand Tour. :)

Posted by
742 posts

Even in country areas is hugely unlikely to have stock on the road.
A flock might be brought into the road by a farmer maybe 4 times a year and driven to a closeby farm.
It's quite an event usualying involving quadbikes ,collies and much shouting.
Turn off the engine enjoy the show.

If you hit stock animals you are meant to report it to the police.

The managed motorways have overhead gantries indicating which lanes are open, they only existed in the most heavily used parts of the motorway network.

Brits tend to the more rule obeying side of motoring ,think UK roads are the safest in Europe.

Posted by
1941 posts

better understanding of an "English Drivers" mind set. :)

One that I recall was how polite English drivers could be, sometimes in my view to the point of creating a hazard. Driving in a long line of cars on a single lane (each way) road, with some poor soul waiting patiently to enter traffic from a side road, English drivers very politely would brake to allow them to enter - often very nearly causing tail end collisions behind them.

On the opposite side of that, if you are the poor soul waiting to enter from the side road and a polite driver in the traffic lane flashes their headlamps, they're likely signaling to let you join the flow in front of them.

Posted by
742 posts

It's a national joke that above courtesy is nevered offered by BMW drivers so no need to reciprocate

Posted by
4364 posts

Ah yes, the practice of allowing waiting drivers to pull out from a junction even if it means a sudden and unexpected stop for the drivers behind so keep your wits about you. One practice that is common (although not adhered to by everyone) is if when approaching a road that you wish to turn into and a vehicle is already waiting to turn into the direction you were travelling in then courtesy dictates that you allow them to exit the junction before you turn into it, usually indicated by a flash of your headlights. This is something that I've rarely encountered anywhere else when driving. I may be blowing my own trumpet but I do believe that British drivers are amongst the most courteous.

Amber light for me means go and I think that it's fair to say that most people view it the same. As a former police officer I would never have pulled someone over for driving off on an amber light if it was safe to do so.

Pedestrians always have the right of way. If a pedestrian is in the road then you give way to them (within reason). Know your crossings before you leave. Zebra crossings do not have lights indicating when a vehicle must stop so if you approach one and a person is waiting at the crossing then you have to stop and allow them to cross. Pedestrians expect you to stop and you might find some stepping out in the road before you've even acknowledged them.

If you hit livestock then the responsibility lies with you not the livestock owner. You have to report any accident to the police involving the following animals: Cattle, Horse, Ass, Mule, Pig, Sheep, Dog and Goat. Any other animal doesn't carry a legal requirement to report it to the police.

Posted by
736 posts

"Have someone else be the navigator. Have someone remind you to "stay to the left" at every roundabout and intersection. As driver, you will be in sensory overload. You need someone to really focus on "lane management."
Thank You Dpoweron! Noted. Great Advice ! Thank you also JC. Great info on local custom.

Posted by
1941 posts

Zebra crossings - you know, like the iconic image of the Beatles crossing the street at a Zebra crossing. (We don't call them Zebra crossings in the US, so perhaps helpful that you heard it hear first!)

Posted by
1758 posts

We have learned to reduce or modify our daily drive distances. We aim for shorter distances or make ourselves take occasional rest breaks, a surprise as here at home we drive for hours on end on extended road trips with no problem. Our experience was that driving there required much more concentration for both driver and navigator and we factor in fatigue and generally slower progress through small villages and narrow roads. Most automatic reactions you may have developed over 50++ years of driving at home is pretty much tossed out the window; it took us days to even remember which side of the car to get into 😐. We did little driving on the major highways. We also thought the British were considerate drivers. Safe travels.

Posted by
736 posts

Having been to Abbey Road, I wonder why its still like that, with the little globes giving pedestrians free reign. It must be entirely frustrating for anyone that has to drive that road. A time light system would make a great deal of sense. Like, you walk now, get your photo, then as a driver, you know its clear, or you have to wait, and as a tourist, you have to wait till the next time its open for photos and every one can set up, then clear. Its chaos now, and has been for 50 years. Its interesting that it has never been addressed or fixed. Maybe that's the English Way. And as a driver maybe that is also the "English Way?"

Posted by
736 posts

Being some what dyslexic, this is my primary concern.

Posted by
4866 posts

We have rented cars twice when touring the UK and loved the amazing countryside.

1) I always rent an automatic, since it keeps things simple.
2) Need a navigation system, garmin or good smartphone for navigation.
3) The trickiest places for drivers on the right is at intersections when turning. You must concentrate more, like when turning to the right, be sure to turn into the left lane.
4) British drivers are relatively polite compared to other countries.

5) Remember roundabouts go clockwise, not counter clockwise like in the USA.
6) Parking always seem to require coins, also need for toilets.
7) Many streets are narrow, but not impossible to navigate. In the countryside, yes the hedgerows or stone walls (more in the north) make the road seem narrow, but just slow down.
8) We like B&Bs with parking near city or town centers.

9) We had not issue with pumping petrol, use our credit cards.
10) When driving through small towns you will encounter 30 MPH speed limits, be sure to slow down quickly. I got a ticket going 35 MPH from a traffic camera, cost 40 GBP.

Posted by
736 posts

Emma -".... It would slightly destroy the point." So somehow English sensibilities like this, to a US mind, leads to a sort of confusion. Attempting understanding is difficult. We'd have made Abbey Road a tourist site, and re-defined the road for the tourists to have their photo ops. Tens of thousands of people visit this site a year. And how do you embrace that? Or not embrace that? Its like the powers that be, just didn't like the Beatles. Back to cars Emma. So... your experience having a car in England is.... ?

Posted by
25724 posts

Up thread I saw you considering doing the trip in a 2 seater. My father once had a Triumph. My distinct memory was how close to the ground it was. Makes a road seem even faster.

You also asked about fords - the wet kind, not the car brand. If you wind up on the average tourist trail I can think of 2 fords relatively near me that you might come across. One is at Geddington north of Kettering in Northamptonshire, where the surviving Eleanor Cross is in good nick and well worth a gander. The church is just behind and the ford just ahead. An extremely beautiful English village you might pass near by on the A1 or M1 or A14 or A43.

The other, and frankly much more likely you will visit, is in Lower Slaughter on the lane to Upper Slaughter near Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds. My personal experience, having grown up near there, is that even when the weather has been dry for some time you might well get wet feet and maybe a wet bottom in a low slung sports car there. I have frequently had to use that ford (because I am too pig-headed to go around) in a family saloon and have been pushed slightly downstream by the flow - good driving and expecting what would happen has always got me out. But I never look at the flood gauge - I just look at the water and know how high it should be.

There is an inconsequential - very shallow - ford in Bourton on the Water, and if you are in Kenilworth to visit Kenilworth Castle, or exploring after visiting Warwick Castle, the main road near the castle floods quite deep after a decent rain. There are flood gauges there, and sometimes a red road closed sign in the middle of the road but most locals ignore it until it is deep enough to only allow Land Rovers through. At the first sign of rain I'd take a sports car the other way...

Don't be surprised to see parked cars facing both ways on both sides of the street.

On entering roundabouts you have to wait for a gap that you can safely join without slowing down the current residents of the roundabout. Cars already in the roundabout have the right of way, and they may very well have honked if you made them slam the brakes.

Posted by
736 posts

"3) The trickiest places for drivers on the right is at intersections when turning. You must concentrate more, like when turning to the right, be sure to turn into the left lane." I can see this happening. Perfect example of an answer to what I asking here. Thank You Geo. :)

Posted by
218 posts

I have rented cars in the UK many times in the last 30 years. To add to what others have already posted:
-Driving distances may be deceiving/average speeds are usually lower than in the US. For example, a round trip day trip to a city 100 miles away may be easily doable in the USA but eat up alot of time in the UK.
-Parking spaces are often very narrow compared to those in the USA. In a parking lot, I usually try to park in a space with an empty adjacent parking space.
-Rental car companies take very seriously even small dents. As a result, when renting in the UK I purchase the rental car company's insurance, where I never purchase it when renting in the USA.

Posted by
736 posts

Emma, just in case you didn't know, "Big Ben" is the name of the largest bell in what used to be called the "Clock Tower, " now called the "Elizabeth Tower." So one wouldn't put a clock on Big Ben since its a bell, of a clock. I guess one could put a clock on the bell called "Big Ben," but that would be sort of absurd. . :)

Posted by
736 posts

Why still call them carriage ways. Do you still use carriages? I don't know why we call them dash boards any more than you do. There isn't much dashing going on these days A trunk is in the front of an elephant, so we Americans are just as messed up. Yet we don't have riders on back of our cars any more, with boots, so we don't call spaces there Boots. Hood makes much more sense for a front engined car than Bonnet. Isn't Bonnet a French word? In the US we say something is either on the Passenger side or the Driver's side. Do I need to say Port or Starboard side instead? LOL. We don't want to rent a whole social site, so a Sedan is prefered over a Saloon. Sill does make more sense than Rocker Panel. I'll give the Brits the better term there. Wings are old stylistic things we had on the back of cars in the 50's and 60's, yet we always called the front wheel areas fenders or front quarter panels. Often wondered why we didn't continue the tradition of red lights on port and green lights on starboard over to cars? :)

Posted by
710 posts

Don’t order a Sedan in the U.K. lest you end up being carried about by two big lads in a box with a single seat in it!

I’m afraid I don’t hold with the ceding right of way to let others through because, frankly, it can cause accidents. Similarly if somebody ‘flashes’ you to proceed, exercise extreme caution. They don’t get to decide how you drive, you do, so don’t feel bad if they have to sit there while you determine it is safe to move. And if somebody ploughs into you because they have perfect right to be driving and are blissfully unaware that someone else has made an arbitrary decision they are unaware of about traffic flow, it’s likely to be your fault. Everybody clear the road, have a bit of patience, keep the traffic flowing and it will be fine all according to the Highway Code.

I would take an amber traffic light, changing to green, to mean ‘get ready to move’. Some policemen will pull you over if they think you’ve been an ‘amber gambler’. Likewise approaching traffic lights as they change from green to amber to red, take amber to mean ‘stop unless it is unsafe to do so’ (I.e. stopping would involve sudden extreme braking risking the car behind ploughing into your rear - in cases of rear end collisions it is usually the rear car who takes the blame as they are meant to anticipate the person in front’s every move, no matter how rash, stupid or unexpected).

Finally I’m with Emma on Big Ben. Yes we all know Big Ben is the bell inside the tower, but nobody except the unusually pedantic refers to it as the Elizabeth Tower. It was a dumb piece of failed branding and everybody shrugged and went back to calling it Big Ben. It was Big Ben before, it is now and will be as long as it’s there!

Posted by
4527 posts

The previous official name for the Elizabeth Tower was the Clock Tower, so it isn't hard to see why it gained a general use name as there are plenty of clock towers around London, let alone elsewhere.

Posted by
25724 posts

amber and red to me is a signal to push the clutch to restart the engine and put into gear, ready to lift clutch and start as soon as green...

Posted by
65 posts

What Irv said.

Based on our several experiences driving in the UK and Ireland:

Have a co-pilot who will say/yell/scream "DRIFTING!!!" when you naturally start to cross the line into the non-UK (wrong but "right" for us) side of the road. It will happen.

Be prepared to scream at maximum volume: "OMG YOU ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY DOWN THIS DIVIDED HIGHWAY!!!" (don't ask)

Spend the extra money and rent an automatic transmission car. While we grew up driving manual trannys, shifting with the left hand was going to be too much the opposite for our jet-lagged brains. Spend the money. It's worth it.

Know if your rental vehicle uses diesel or gasoline. Then pay attention at the petrol pump regarding what you are about to put into that vehicle. Just sayin'... Using the wrong fuel will disable a minivan. Don't ask ...

Be especially alert when turning right, left, whatever. It is all the reverse and requires strict attention.

Be prepared to be patient when the road is blocked for 15-20 minutes while the farmer moves his herd of cows from one field to the other across the road. You're getting the full UK/Ireland experience (although really, this only happened to us in Ireland).

Take curves in the road slowly. There might be stray sheep in the road you won't see until the last minute. (again, that only happened to us in Ireland)

If your engine is racing and the car isn't moving, ask yourself, "Is this car so tiny that the brake and gas pedals are close together and maybe my big foot/hiking shoe is on both pedals but I just do not feel/realize it?" (again ... don't ask ... LOL)

Familiarize yourself with the turn signal, windshield wipers, and lights controls. Hubby and I once rented a car that we both swear had everything backwards. Out of all our trips, when we used the turn signal the wipers came on. ;-)

Road signage can be ... spotty. Granted, we spent most of our time in rural areas and even signage here in the U.S. can be ... spotty ... in rural areas. We used paper road maps. GPS technology might help? IDK

Posted by
5966 posts


I don't know why we call them dash boards any more than you do.

OOOH, OOOH, Mr Kotter, I know this one! In the horse and buggy days, there was a board in front of the driver to keep mud off the driver for when the horses kicked it up while "dashing". It carried over to autos by habit.

stan - bored BuzzFeed list reader

Posted by
54 posts

Maybe somebody already said this, but many car parks don't take cash anymore. You have to pay by contactless or something like Apple Pay. Or you have to download an app like "ringo" on your phone and pay thru the app.

Posted by
21 posts

My family spent most of the summer of 2019 in the UK and we hired a car and drove quite a bit. Here are some tips for you based on my experience that you may find helpful:

  1. Most important thing first: get an automatic transmission! It is worth the little bit of extra you will pay. You are driving on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road. You know that feeling you get in the US when you clutch the wheel hard with both hands as you stressfully drive through 6 lanes of heavy interstate traffic and people are weaving in and out of lanes? That is the level of attention you have to give to your driving in the UK. Not the traffic per se, but the same stressed feeling because there is so much to pay attention to that is different from your norm. (Ex. maintaining speed under limit, all the roundabouts, making right hand turns into the left hand lane, two lane roads turning into one lane roads because people are parked on the side of the street, actual one lane roads, sheep crossings, small size of roads, etc)

  2. Watch some youtube videos of people driving in the UK. Get on Google Street View and check out some roundabouts and picture yourself going through them. They come up quickly and this will help you visualize what it will be like. Some of them have multiple lanes and traffic lights in the middle. (Reading over the rules for this is also helpful)

  3. Parking is not guaranteed everywhere you go and can be expensive when found. Some local councils sell parking passes for select parking lots in the area and that can be helpful. Otherwise keep a bag FULL of £1 coins. It will take you at least £5 to park in most lots for longer than a couple of hours. Some lots cap parking at 3-4 hours per car.

  4. It takes longer to get everywhere than what the GPS will tell you. There are speed cameras all over the UK and you are expected to stay UNDER the speed limit. I know most people in the US customarily drive a couple of miles over the limit, but that will get you traffic fines in the UK. Also familiarize yourself with UK road signs. They are different than what you will be used to, but easy to navigate when you know what they mean.

  5. M-roads are going to feel very familiar to you. They are basically the same as US interstates. A-roads are more scenic but still easy to navigate. Smaller country roads can be very windy and sometimes they are single lane roads, but traffic moves in both directions. I would personally avoid these if you can because if not someone has to drive in reverse until you find the space to pass by each other.

  6. You pump your petrol first, then you go inside and pay. (I never saw a credit card slot on a petrol pump.)

  7. Some US credit cards will cover your auto insurance. It will save you about $20 per day if you can get one of those. **Side note, US credit cards are chip and signature and UK cards are chip and pin. Try and get a chip and pin card from Barclay bank if you can before you leave, because some parking machines require chip and pin. (This will save you a potential headache!)

  8. Google maps on my iPhone worked perfectly and we went to some pretty remote places. UK cell phone rates are much better than ours in the US, and you will have plenty of data for the whole trip. There are several companies so you just need to pick up a sim card for a UK carrier when you get there. Have your travel companion keep this on at all times because roundabouts can come up with little warning and you will need to know which lane to get in.

Also, noting your travel itinerary, I highly recommend a stop over in Derbyshire to see the Peak District on your way down. It is absolutely beautiful and Chatsworth House and Haddon Hall are stunning. Also the town of Bakewell is very charming!

Posted by
133 posts

As a driver from the USA, I learned never to drive in Chester again!

But I second the person(s) who said have a navigator. I couldn't have done it without my teenage daughter's help.

And please, when driving in the USA, please do not use the passing lane unless passing. It is not there for people to just cruise along in.

Posted by
1780 posts

Remember the mantra of the aging liberal fashionista:


Posted by
4527 posts

You pump your petrol first, then you go inside and pay. (I never saw a credit card slot on a petrol pump.)

They are found in many supermarket petrol stations but much more rarely with a standalone. Paying via a phone app with the likes of BP/Esso/Shell seems to be more common but this may not be possible to easily obtain and to work properly for a visitor.