French Vocabulary: Driving and Cars

Learn How to Talk About Driving in French

Driving a car
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Travelers to France and other French-speaking areas of the world may like to get behind the wheel of a car and drive. If you are in that group, you will need to know a few French words related to driving.

By the end of this French vocabulary lesson, you will be able to identify various parts of a car, be familiar with navigation, and know how to speak about people and roads in French. It is an easy lesson and one that you will find useful while you travel.

Should you decide to drive and need to rent a car, you will find more useful words in phrases in the French travel lesson.

Note: Many of the words below are linked to .wav files. Simply click on the link to listen to the pronunciation.

Vehicles on the Road (Véhicules sur la route)

First of all, you need to learn the French words for the basic types of vehicles (véhicules) that you will encounter on the road. These are all part of transportation (le transport).

  • Car - une auto (apocope* of automobile) or une voiture
  • Bicycle - une bicyclette or un vélo (apocope of vélocipède - archaic)
  • Motorbike - une moto (apocope of motocyclette)
  • Bus - l'autobus
  • Truck - un camion
  • Taxi - un taxi

* What is an apocope? It is a word that is a shortened version of the original word. In French, the word automobile is often shortened to auto, just like it is in English.

People on the Road (Les gens sur la route)

While you are driving, there are a few people that you will meet.

Of course, other drivers (conducteurs) are among them.

Driver - un conducteur (false cognate of conductor)

  • Driver's license - un permis de conduire

Police Officer - un policier

Hitchhiking - l'auto-stop (m)

  • To hitchhike - faire de l'auto-stop 
  • Hitchhiker - un auto stoppeur

Types of Roads (Types de routes)

Even if you are not in a car, you will find it useful to know the French words for various types of roads.

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Street (la rue) is the one that you will encounter most often as it is used in the names of many streets. For example, famous streets in Paris include Rue de Barres, Rue de l'Abreuvoir, and Rue Montorgueil.

  • Street - la rue
  • Highway - une autoroute
  • Traffic circle - rond-point (it can vary from country to country)
  • Court - cour

Toll - un péage

  • Toll road - une autoroute à péage  
  • To pay a toll - de payer un péage

Driving the Car

Now that you know what, whom, and where you will be driving, it is time to learn the words for how to drive in French.

To drive - conduire or rouler

On the way - en route

Trip - une excursion

  • To go on walks / trips - excursionner 

To go / move (in reference to cars and traffic) - circuler

Navigation

If your navigator is speaking in French while you are driving, then these words are absolutely essential. Without them, you might take a wrong turn (mauvais tournant).

Straight ahead - tout droit

To cross - traverser

To turn - tourner

To park - stationner

To pass - doubler

Traffic

Stop lights are inevitable and, with luck, you will not be stuck in a traffic jam. Yet, it is best to be prepared and you can always practice your French if you do get stuck in traffic (circulation).

And, hopefully, your car does not break down in traffic. If it does, you can be prepared to explain it to someone.

  • Broken-down - en panne 
  • To break down - être/tomber en panne

At the Gas Station

If you choose to drive, a stop at the gas station (une station-service) is inevitable. It is important to know which type of gas your car needs.

To fill it up - faire le plein

Parts of a Car

Finally, we will wrap up our French driving lesson with a quick look at a few parts of the car.