Over the course of two days we drove through Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic into Germany. This might sound straightforward, but it’s certainly not the case when it comes to road tolls for a vehicle like ours which has a Maximum Gross Weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes.
In Hungary a vignette is required, and we drove out of the country on the expiry date of the one we bought when entering the country, so we didn’t need to do anything extra. The Hungarians have eVignettes which can be purchased easily online with the minimum of fuss.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic are, however, a very different story. Both countries require that the road tolls are collected electronically via what’s called an On Board Unit (OBU) which is fitted to a vehicle’s windscreen. Acquiring (and returning) these boxes though, is a real palaver.
Once you have found out where to obtain the OBU (most main border crossings) you then need to present the required documentation, sign lots of forms, pay a deposit (€50 cash in Slovakia), and then top the OBU up with a prepaid amount (another €50 in Slovakia). Once you’ve read the instructions and fitted the OBU to your windscreen you can then continue on your way. As you drive beneath the road gantries, the OBU beeps as another few cents is deducted from your balance. Approaching the border to leave Slovakia, we had to find the office where the OBU was to be returned, which then involved queuing to hand the box back and get a refund for both the deposit and the unused prepay balance (€46 – all this aggro for €4!). Once we crossed the border we had to stop and start the process all over again, this time to acquire a Czech OBU.
I can see that this system makes sense for lorries driving across Europe all of the time, but it’s madness for people like us. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were an EU-wide toll collection system with a common OBU, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon. It should be possible to drive through these countries avoiding the toll roads. However, it’s all too easy to end up on a toll road by mistake, and the fines if you get caught can run into the hundreds of euros.
A word of warning if you’re thinking of travelling through Austria. They require proof of Emissions Class (our van is Euro 5, but the DVLA rather unhelpfully don’t include this information on the V5 document) along with actual proof of emissions – either a Certificate Of Conformity issued manufacturer or from a formal emissions test – and if you don’t have all of this then you’ll forfeit your deposit and any unused prepay balance. We had to kiss goodbye to some €65, as no amount of reasoning would make them change their minds.
EDIT: Poland An OBU is also required in Poland, and they are stringent about proof of emissions class, so we did some prep in advance. It seems that they need evidence of the year of manufacture (not the date of registration) which isn’t on the V5. This can be found on the Vehicle Check page of the DVLA website, so I had this ready on my phone. I also took with me a printed copy of a Fiat brochure for the van which I’d found online, confirming that all engines were EURO 5+. The lady we saw was happy to accept the DVLA website as proof of emissions class, though I think the brochure helped reinforce that our van is EURO 5+. She had to log onto the DVLA website herself, and wrote a mini essay on the printout.
EDIT: Slovenia OBUs were introduced in April 2018.
If you need to acquire an OBU on your travels, please do your own research and don’t just rely on the information here, as the rules may change.