This car is symbolic of why France and the US have completely different driving cultures

Paris Fiat 2Matthew DeBord/BIAnd Probably banned.

I spent about a week and a half in France earlier this year, and while I was there I rented a car.

For most of my time in Paris suburbs, my Renault Captur was parked. But I did drive around a bit, and during my rounds I noticed something.

I’ve been to France a number of times and know that it’s representative of the rest of Europe in that the cars on the road are mostly small.

You don’t see hulking SUVs and pickups with the regularity you do in the US. Heck, spotting a pickup is like seeing a unicorn.

But what struck me this time around was just how small, old, and beat-up many vehicles in Paris were.

Mind you, having lived in New York City for over a decade (before a decade in Los Angeles), I understand that nice cars and urban streets aren’t a great mix. But Paris is currently taking this to whole new levels. You just don’t see a lot of subcompacts from the 1980s and 1990s on the streets of Brooklyn.

But in Paris, you see them all the time.

Check out this Fiat Cinquecento:

Paris Fiat 2Matthew DeBord/BIOld. And Probably banned.

It’s from sometime in the early-to-mid 1990s. I actually owned a car from this period for a while — a Mazda 323 — and let me tell you, this is totally no-frills motoring. Three pedals on the floor, a stickshift, a radio (maybe, I didn’t look that close), and an ashtray (it’s an Italian car in France, after all).

Yes, the Fiat is from Italy, but there are countless French cars that follow this same ideology of small, simple, old, and battered, be they Renaults or Peugeots or whatever.

I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t there tons of old cars in the road in the US? Sure, but here that’s a cause for mild panic. The average age of a vehicle on US highways and byways is an unprecedented 11 years, a statistics that’s been seen over the past few years as a clear driver of an auto sales boom. Bottom line: American aren’t supposed to drive old cars. That have been is an accident of history.

The oldness of so many vehicles in Paris has been something of a problem for the local government. Last month, all cars that dated to before 1997 were banned from the center of the city during weekdays. According to Le Monde, that hit a whopping 10% of all registered vehicles. But it could have been worse; an earlier proposed ban would have forced a third of all registered cars to turn around before entering Paris proper.

Obviously, the ancient rides of the Paris area are now living on borrowed time. I just wonder how long it will take before they’re practically eliminated. The French can be pretty stubborn. And they clearly love to drive their cars until the wheels fall off.

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