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What You Should Know before Renting a Car in France

Updated 30 January 2023 by Leyla Alyanak

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This article tells you everything you need to know about renting a car in France: if you should, what to look for, where to rent from, how much France car rentals cost, how tolls and highways work, and safety issues to look out for, as well as plenty of tips on how to do this right the first time.

Picture those winding roads and hilltop villages, those 1950s films with crimson convertibles racing along the corniche on the French Riviera or climbing narrow mountain roads inching towards abandoned fortresses.

Can't you just see yourself on a French road trip? Slipping behind the wheel of your France car rental and heading for a hilltop village or lavender field?


I live in France and I have a car – but France is a large country so I don't always drive. Sometimes I take the train to the nearest city and rent a car there. I always check prices with Discovercars, because they compare all major companies, check availability, and come up with the best bargains.


Before you sign up for that snazzy little hire car, there are a few things you should know about a car rental in France: should you even be renting?

scenic French road for your car hire FranceSome of France's most scenic spots can only be accessed by car

Do you actually need to rent a car in France?

The answer is: it depends.

Renting a car in the city

If you're visiting mostly cities, then no, you don't need a rental car in France. In fact it would be more of a hindrance than a help.

Public transportation is plentiful and parking in French cities is difficult: ceilings are low, spaces are tiny, prices are sky-high.

The excellent train network (here's what you need to know about train travel in France) will reach most cities and towns.

Lyon pedestriansFrance's large cities - like Lyon - are best seen without a car

Renting a car to visit the countryside

If you plan on visiting the countryside and don't have your own car, then yes, renting a car in France makes perfect sense.

Some regions simply require driving, places like the Alps, its villages linked by narrow mountain roads, or wild places, like the Ardèche, with its rushing rivers and not a train station in sight.

Here's a list of regions to help you decide where to go.

What if you're visiting both?

If you're visiting cities and the countryside, you can do both: use public transport in the city, and a car to visit the countryside. France does have a magnificent road network, after all.

So when do you need to rent a car in France?

First, know that France is a lot more than the sum of its cities, and much as these are stunning, there are many underrated and lesser known parts of France you should explore.

Here are some examples of when you might need a car - and when you should avoid renting at all costs.


No. Never. Not. Renting a car in Paris is a bad idea. If you need convincing, this YouTube video might do the trick.


For city hops to Dijon or Beaune, no car is needed. But if you plan on driving the Route des Grands Crus and sample Burgundy wines along the way, then most certainly, yes. Or, you could rent a bike for part of the route.

French Riviera

Not in summer, when roads are bloated with traffic and driving is crazy.

The one exception might be to drive into the interior for a day of village-hopping, in which case you could rent a car on the edge of town, head off into the mountains, and return it, painlessly.

Along the coast, just use the train.


Provence is one of those iconic regions whose tiniest corners beg to be visited, but which cannot be seen without a car. Public transportation is non-existent in some parts, with few trains and buses running only on market days.

Like the hilltop villages of the Luberon: the best way to reach these is by car, along the romantic roads bordered by lavender fields.

If you're headed for Provence, this totally free ten-day south of France itinerary will help you plan a fabulous trip!

Oppede-le-vieux, beautiful village of the Luberon but you'll need a car rental - FranceSome of France's most beautiful villages require a car to visit

Basque country

If you're sticking to the towns − Bayonne, Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz − then no, you don't need a car hire. Public transport is frequent and excellent. But you'd miss the interior, which is beautiful and unusual, and for this you'll need a car, as I did on this intriguing Basque country road trip.

Loire Valley chateaux

It depends. A few of the chateaux can easily be reached on a day trip from Paris. But if you want to see several scattered chateaux, you'll need a car.

On my latest visit to the Loire Valley, fewer than half of the 10 castles I visited could be reached by train, so a car was essential for those. Without a car, I would have had to drastically cut my number of chateau visits.


Yes, you'll need a car. You can catch the train to one of the main cities, but Brittany is so much more than pretty villages.


Getting some of this knowledge ahead of time will help! If you wait till you get here, you might find most available guidebooks are in French.

Lonely Planet's Best Road Trips France
DK Witness Road Trips France
Any of the Green Guides series - they all have excellent regional itineraries, which I use

Pros and cons of renting a car in France

If you're still undecided about whether you need to rent a car for part or all of your trip to France, here are some more points to think about.

Pros: You should hire a car in France because...

  • Public transport is not that great outside main cities so if you plan to branch out and explore, you'll need a car.
  • You'll be able to see things that are less crowded and a little more off-the-beaten track, because most visitors to France do not come by car.
  • Roads are excellent and well signposted, and driving isn't too different from what you're used to (remember, the French drive on the right, in case you're from a country that does not). 
  • Having your own car will give you the freedom to come and go as you please, without being dependent on transport schedules or availability, not to mention avoiding France's frequent strikes.
  • You'll save many hours of waiting in stations and airports – just get into your car and go – and enjoy that quintessential local pastime, the French picnic!

Cons: Don't rent a car in France because...

  • The cost of rental and fuel have climbed significantly, especially with the advent of Covid and the potentially unreliable fuel supply following from the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Cars are almost useless in large cities. Parking is expensive and often scarce, streets can be narrow, and traffic haphazard. Not only that, but many French cities now have pollution controls which ban certain types of car from the city center.
narrow street Roussillon Provence
  • In high season, popular roads can get very crowded and parking near attractions could be scarce. Think about that before renting your car.
  • While driving in France is not radically different from other countries, there are unfamiliar signs and rules, some illogical, and roads can be narrow and winding. Well, maybe it's a little different.
Various France road signs you should know for your France car rentalsRoad signs in France may be different, but they're usually understandable: red means don't, blue means do, and yellow means be careful

How safe is it to rent a car in France?

Perfectly safe. Rip-offs are few, and I've found agencies to be honest across the country (there may be a few rotten apples, but that's the case everywhere).

The only challenge in renting a French car is the actual driving. In most parts of the country, driving is quite straightforward, and will probably feel quite familiar. But there are exceptions, such as strange rules and odd behaviour, and my piece on driving in France paints an honest picture of my country's habits behind the wheel.

car rentals france along tree-lined road

Cost of car rentals in France: factors that affect car rental price

Rental costs

Like everywhere, cost is a major factor in the decision to rent a car and the cost of hiring a car in France per day will vary. Compare car prices in France if you already know where you're going. Scan the page for car rental deals which are often available. 

Prices are higher than they used to be, unfortunately, with inflation and the scarcity that developed during Covid. Cheap rental cars in France are becoming scarcer.

If you'd like to keep costs down, keep these points in mind.

  • You may be offered an upgrade when you rent your car. Think twice: a larger car will use more gas and cost more (not to mention those tiny roads and streets where you might get stuck).
  • Car prices in France are much higher during the tourist season, and cars are scarcer then, so if you want to pay less to drive around France, the best time to rent a car would be the off-season or shoulder season. Prices may also climb during holidays, around Christmas, the summer or during school holidays.
  • Rental car prices also change depending on the city you rent from and even the location within the city. Airports can be more expensive than downtown, which might be more expensive than in a suburb. Compare prices before you decide.
  • When you're filling up with gas, try to do it far from the motorway, where prices are significantly higher. 

PRO TIP Reserve your car early. Prices are usually lower when there is plenty of supply. The closer you get to holiday season, the scarcer – and more expensive – the car, especially if you want an automatic transmission. 🚗  CLICK HERE FOR YOUR CHEAP CAR RENTAL IN FRANCE

This next tip isn't about saving, but it is about money... Be mindful when paying. Some gas pumps may not take a foreign credit card, or will only take one with a smart chip.

Car rental companies will often require a credit rather than a debit card, so make sure you have one, or check that the rental agency accepts debit cards.

Additional costs

One thing to watch for are hidden or additional costs when renting a car in France.

  • Equipment: cars are usually fully equipped but make sure it has everything you need – like GPS or baby or child seats – and if not, whether there's a cost.
  • Unlimited mileage (kilométrage illimité): if you plan on driving relatively long distances, make sure your rental offers this option.
  • Tax: expect to pay VAT tax of 20% above and beyond the cost of your rental.
  • You may want some extra insurance, which can be as expensive as the cost of the rental itself. Check if you're already covered by a policy at home.
  • Keep your car as clean as possible. While "normal" wear is expected during your rental, you may be charged for cleaning if you hand it back truly messy.
  • Check the fuel return policy. It is usually cheaper for you to fill up the car with fuel yourself than to let the rental agency do it.
  • Make sure you check your currency conversions when you rent so that you don't get overcharged.
  • And finally, tolls and gas. The cost of French toll roads can be extremely high, and on some stretches cost more than gas. Consider taking side roads for those bits: the Via Michelin website will calculate mileage and costs for you. Not to mention that most of France's beauty lies away from the major roads...
Small seaside roads you can see with your rental car (France)You'll go off the beaten path with a car rent in France, much more so than you would if you stayed on the main highways

How to rent a car in France: your complete guide

If you need to rent a car for your road trip...

I don't always drive my own car around France. When I rent, I use Discover Cars, which scours ALL car rental agencies for the best deals. If you're renting, this article tells you everything you need to know to find the cheapest rental cars in France. 🚗

Each French car rental agency will have its own conditions and add-ons, which you'll have to check. They also have different age policies, fuel policies or driver requirements.

But what they all share is the list of basic documents you'll need for your rental.

Documents you need for a France car rental

You'll need pretty much the same documents as you would in most countries:

  • a valid ID, usually a passport
  • a credit card with your name on it (remember, many car rental agencies don't accept debit cards for deposits, although this is slowly changing)
  • a driver's licence of course – see below. 

Driver's licence

Driving in France requirements are relatively straightforward and similar to those of other European countries.

Type of licence

If you're from Europe or the EEA, your national driver's licence is all you'll need.

Beyond that, however, the situation is a bit more nuanced. You CAN sometimes walk into an agency and rent a car with your national licence from the USA or Canada, for example, but it's not a given.

The law says you need an official French translation of your licence (time consuming, difficulties in finding an accredited translator, and expensive) or an international driver's permit (IDP), which you must get before you leave home. You may never be asked for it, but the law says you need it.

Americans driving in France (or any non-Europeans) might be able to rent a car without one, but if you run into trouble, have an accident or be checked by police, they need to be able to read your licence, and many do not read English.

Do yourself a favor and get the right paperwork before you come.

➽ Get your IDP licence!


Your licence must be valid for at least one year from the rental date, and in many cases, you must have had a licence for at least a year before renting.

Car rental age in France

There is usually a minimum age, most agencies won't rent you a car if you're under 25 years old (some do from 21-25 but not everywhere, so check).

If you're over a certain age (usually 65 or 69 but this too can vary), you may be charged extra, or some agencies might not rent to you at all.

Your car rental comparison engine lists the age requirements for each car under "Rental Conditions".

French car insurance

It's always a tough decision: insurance or no insurance?

Insuring a car in France is not optional.

You definitely need insurance, because a shattered windscreen or minor dent can add up. Worse, you can hurt someone and be liable for their medical costs.

Discovercars provide the option to buy full insurance coverage but that said, you may not need the full package.

Credit cards often provide car insurance coverage if you use their card for your rental, so that would be the first place to check. If your card does provide insurance, make sure it includes some sort of roadside assistance.

You can also buy insurance directly from an insurance company in many parts of the world. Just beware the deductible, which can be high. In fact, you may already have some coverage through your homeowner's policy or your car insurance back home – or through an automobile association, if you belong to one.

Just know that in France, you MUST be insured to rent and drive a car: it's the law. But where you get your insurance is up to you.

Car leasing in France

You CAN hire a car long term in France, but leasing a French car isn't exactly straightforward.

Your rental agency can already tell you whether they handle long-term leasing, but if they do not, then you can approach the car manufacturers directly. 

Choosing the right type of car for your France trip

You'll find most cars available for rental in France, from tiny budget cars to luxury vehicles. Here are some of the things you should consider:

  • Fuel − whether it uses diesel or lead-free
  • Size − a larger car may be more comfortable on the motorway but if you plan to visit France's most beautiful villages, many have tiny streets and you don't want to scrape the village walls. Also, parking garages are often tiny, and maneuvering can be a nightmare (I speak from experience).
  • Transmission – most are manual, although the number of automatic cars  available for rental in France is increasing. Automatics usually cost more to rent. Also, be aware that if you have a licence that only allows you to drive an automatic car, you won't be able to rent a stick shift car.

Car equipment you need to have

Compulsory equipment 

Most rental cars come with the necessary equipment but double-check, just to be sure: 

  • each car must be equipped with one fluorescent yellow vest for each person in the car
  • a red emergency triangle to signal a breakdown
  • spare brake lights (I've never understood this one but... it's the law)

Crit'Air sticker

Additionally, if you plan to go into cities, your car should have a Crit'Air sticker or vignette. What's that, you say?

In their efforts to reduce pollution, many cities have established a pollution grading system for cars. On particularly polluted days, the city may ban cars that don't meet Crit'Air 1 or 2 from the downtown core. Usually, the ban is up on a bulletin board for all to see, at the entrance of the low-emission zone. Usually, but not always.

If you don't have a Crit'Air sticker on your car at all, or if the number is higher than 2, stay away from city centers, because in some, the ban is year-round.

That said, most rental companies renew their stock regularly so they'll have newer models, all of which meet the pollution criteria. However, better safe than sorry.

Winter equipment

If you're driving in winter, some parts of France require you by law to have either snow tires or chains. Make sure your car is equipped if you're in any of these departments between 1 November and 31 March. This also applies if you are simply driving through.


Ain (01), Allier (03), Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04), Hautes-Alpes (05), Alpes-Maritimes (06), Ardèche (07), Ariège (09), Aude (11), Aveyron (12), Cantal (15), Corrèze (19), Corse-du-Sud (2A), Haute-Corse (2B), Côte-d’Or (21), Creuse (23), Doubs (25), Drôme (26), Gard (30), Haute-Garonne (31), Hérault (34), Isère (38), Jura (39), Loire (42), Haute-Loire (43), Lot (46), Lozère (48), Meurthe-et-Moselle (54), Moselle (57), Nièvre (58), Puy-de- Dôme (63), Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64), Hautes-Pyrénées (65), Pyrénées-Orientales (66), Bas-Rhin (67), Haut-Rhin (68), Rhône (69), Haute-Saône (70), Saône-et-Loire (71), Savoie (73), Haute-Savoie (74), Tarn (81), Tarn-et-Garonne (82), Var (83), Vaucluse (84), Haute-Vienne (87), Vosges (88), Yonne (89), Territoire de Belfort (90).

A final check

Before you drive off with your car from the rental agency, make sure you...

  • check the condition of your car, take pictures of any damage, or video
  • check that everything works, from the GPS to the windshield wipers to the air conditioner (especially if you're headed to hot climates)
  • find out what kind of fuel it uses and how the gas tank opens (you'll look pretty frustrated fumbling to open the catch of your car while others line up waiting behind you)
  • make sure you know where everything is, from hazard lights to wipers and defogger – you don't want to be fumbling for these when you need them urgently
  • locate the nearest gas station so you can fill up on your way back to return the car
  • make sure you know where to hand in the keys and whether the gas tank has to be full
  • have cash on you, in case your card isn't useable, for gas and tolls

Different pick-up and drop-off locations for your France car rental

Where you actually pick up your rental can make a difference.

  • It's often a good idea to find car rental locations outside a city center. Probably the easiest is to rent from an airport car agency, if you're flying in − no need to battle downtown traffic (although, word of warning, airport rentals are sometimes more expensive). Next in line is a TGV train station, which is often outside town and has the same advantages. If neither of these works, then rent from a train station in town. It may not be the best option, but streets around a station are traditionally well-signposted and this should make your life marginally easier.
  • If you're renting in Paris to drive out of town (not to drive IN town, as we've already agreed), rent from the train station located in the direction you're headed. If you're going south, for example, that would be the Gare de Lyon.
  • Before you choose your rental agency, make sure it's open at the time you plan to pick up your car, over lunch, for example, or on weekends.
  • Check reviews online. These days, no one is shy about signalling a rude receptionist or a dirty car, so find out what people are saying.
  • Look it up on a map or on Google Earth, to get a sense of the traffic and the neighbourhood. This will be helpful as you drive away.
  • You can rent a car in one city and return it in another, but there will be a cost, and probably not an insignificant one. 

What is the cost of French toll roads and how do they work?

How much are French toll roads? It should be an easy question to answer but it is not.

Most motorways are privatized, and each company sets its own price, which also can fluctuate from year to year.

There is an umbrella organization that groups all the highway companies but their website hasn't been updated since 2021. Your best bet is the Via Michelin route planner, which is updated frequently and can help calculate your entire journey.

Usually, you'll get a ticket and use it to pay when you're getting off (this is the most common). However, some motorways now charge a flat fee for some stretches. You'll know once you're on it.

The word for toll in French? PÉAGE.

Toll signs

When you reach a toll station, you might be intimidated by all the signs. (Hint: you're looking for a green downward arrow.)

Speed limit sign

A lane or two – often at the extreme left – will have a speed limit sign that says 30: this is NOT for you but for those who get a little electronic widget because they pay by the month.

An orange "t" sign

This orange "t" sign is for monthly subscribers. Do NOT enter here.

Two superimposed white credit cards

A white smudge that is supposed to look like two superimposed credit cards will also be visible above a few rows. Unless you have a French or an EU credit card with a smart chip, avoid these. The toll system doesn't take all cards, and if it doesn't like yours, it might swallow it and you may not get it back for weeks.

A green arrow pointing down

THIS IS IT. The arrow means this machine will take either cash or credit cards, so pull out your Euro bills or coins and you'll sail right through. Otherwise, depending on how you plan to pay, head for the credit card signs or for a sign that shows coins being plopped into a machine.

A red cross

Don't enter.

Rent car France: Autoroute toll gate in FranceA variety of autoroute toll signs, from left: for orange T-pass only, slow down; very faint credit card sign: pay with card only; green arrow means all methods of payment; red cross: do not enter; green arrow with orange-T means everyone can go through and pay with any method; and again, slow down with orange T-pass. Photo by BlueBreezeWiki, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other things you should know about French motorways

Make sure you do have cash. If you're wondering about the cost of a journey and how much cash you'll need, the Via Michelin or French autoroutes sites will cost out the tolls for you.

To enter the motorway and get your ticket from the machine, press the big fat button that says "Ticket". Put the ticket away somewhere safe, behind your sun visor, for example.

To leave the motorway, drive up to the machine, look for the blinking light and place your ticket in that slot (in the direction of the arrow, if there is one). It will calculate what you owe, and another light will blink, where you're supposed to deposit your cash or insert your credit card. And finally, you'll be asked if you want a receipt.

Many of these machines have English instructions, but they may be hard to decipher for a first-timer (or if the light is shining in your eyes) and it's best to know what to expect before you have to grapple with unfamiliar buttons. If you want your instructions in English, look for the button next to a Union Jack flag.

While French machines are usually excellent, do make sure you have a few NEW crisp bills, because they have been known to reject old crumpled ones.

Radar sign in France

PRO TIP While you should always follow the speed limit signs on any road, be extra careful when you see THIS sign.

It means there's a speed radar nearby, and there's every chance it's active. 

Best tips for renting a car in France

I think I've covered most things you need to know about renting a car in France BUT... here are some driving in France tips you'll be happy to know.

  • France does love its radars. In recent years, they've been going up like crazy! The only good news is that fixed radars are signalled, so you know they're up ahead. Mobile radars on police cars, on the other hand, are not. France is getting stricter with speeding, and that's a good thing, but sometimes they go overboard, and you'll receive a fine for driving 1-2 km over the speed limit. You can contest it, of course, they have science on their side... Just keep to the limit.
  • Oh, and don't even think of using a radar detector or GPS warning system. If caught, you might be fined up to 3000 Euros and even risk confiscation of your vehicle. Not a pleasant thought.
  • Be aware that chatting on your cellphone (or worse, texting) is illegal and accompanied by a hefty fine. Don't think that you're protected because you're foreign or in a rental car. The police will send your fine to the agency, which will slap on a hefty administrative fee and forward the fine. Don't be surprised if you end up with a summons once you're back home.
  • Also, just because you're a foreigner doesn't mean you can ignore the fine. It will be sent to your car rental company, which will simply deduct the amount from the credit card it has on file for you. You may not even know you've been fined until after you've returned home.
  • Welcome to the world of roundabouts. A few years ago there were hardly any. Now, they're everywhere but since they're relatively new, most people on the road don't really know how to use them, so stay alert. There's usually a sign that tells you who has priority – it's usually the person already IN the roundabout. But not always.
  • An emergency? Make sure you have the agency's emergency number and your insurance's number with you, within reach. Can't find them? Europe has a region-wide emergency number, 112, where they will make every effort to find someone who speaks English.
  • These may be obvious, but seat belts are compulsory for everyone, just as drinking and driving is forbidden. The limit is low in France: one drink and you've reached it. The fines are hefty and the risks high, so wait till dinnertime when you can walk back to you accommodations.

And then there's driving at night...

More driving tips for France: if you can avoid night driving, so much the better.

  • If you do plan to drive at night, try to fill up early in the evening to make sure gas stations are fully open. 
  • Be aware that some service stations close or reduce their services at night. This means you'll either have to pay in advance for your gas or use your card in the automatic machine. 
  • Some stations don't have human attendants at night so if your card doesn't work, well...
  • Some gas stations are closed at night, perhaps they've run out of fuel or for some other reason, but that may mean there's a significant distance between pumps, so don't let your gauge drop below half-full.

French car rental vocabulary

How do you say car in French? Or automatic transmission?

Here are a few words and terms that might be of use when you rent a car in France.

  • Location - rental
  • Boite manuelle / transmission automatique - manual / automatic transmission
  • La clim - air conditioning
  • Un accident - an accident
  • Un vol - a theft
  • Assurance - insurance
  • Carte de credit - credit card
  • Où - where
  • Quand - when
  • Combien - how much
  • Une décapotable - a convertible
  • Un quatre-quatre - a four-wheel drive
  • Gazole - diesel

Renting a French car: FAQ

Can you rent a car in France with a US licence?

Americans driving in France should have an IDP, or International Driving Permit, available from your AAA. 

Can you rent a car in France and drive to Italy/Switzerland/Germany/Spain?

Yes, but you need permission from your rental agency. You must let rental companies know you plan to cross a border, and there may be an additional border crossing fee to pay. 

There might also be rental car rules in the other country, or driving rules. For example, in Switzerland you need to have an autoroute sticker on your car. Otherwise, you have to stay on secondary roads. You can buy the sticker at the post office or any border stop.

Can you rent a car in France at 18? At what age can you rent a car in France?

The driving age in France is 18 but not the age for renting a car. Usually, the rental car age limit is 25, although some agencies may let you rent a car at 21.

How much is a France rental car? Is it expensive to rent a car in France?

Renting a car in France is moderate to expensive when compared to other countries. For example, Paris is more expensive than Madrid or London but less expensive than Rome and much less expensive than New York City or Chicago. You can comparison shop and find reasonable rates here.

Can you rent a car in France without a credit card?

Not often − but it's changing. Some of the major car rental companies are slowly beginning to accept debit cards, but check first, because it's still more the exception that the rule. 

Bon voyage!

Enjoy your drive through France, a country whose beauty lies mostly away from its main roads. Here are some sensational French road trips to prove it! 

Final thoughts about renting a car in France

Don't let it scare you! It's no more complicated than renting a car anywhere else.

I've tried to cover all the related topics here but frankly, all you need to do is confirm your dates, comparison shop for the best price, rent your car, make sure you have the right papers (which you would for travel anyway!) and get ready to experience one of the most stunning countries in the world!

Travel in France by car is the best way to go off the beaten path and truly experience what the country has to offer.

Lavender fields in Provence at sunset

Car rental resources in France

Don't leave home without it – your car rental insurance covers certain things but may not cover your health or accident needs. Book your insurance here.

I use booking.com, because they include both hotels and holiday rentals like Airbnb or VRBO, so a wider choice and an easy cancellation policy.

If you haven't signed up for a roaming service back home and have an unlocked phone, consider getting an e-SIM for France. Here's the one I use.

Drop by my long list of books about France, written by French or foreign Francophile authors.

➽ Lonely Planet's Best Road Trips France
➽ DK Witness Road Trips France
➽ Any of the Green Guides series
➽ And, while you're at it, why not a map of France?

France is as safe as any European country but you WILL find pickpockets in Paris and other major cities. I keep them at bay by using a comfy anti-theft purse or a Sholdit infinity scarf to hide my cards and money.

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