Ten critical things you need to know to navigate a car rental in Europe

Ten critical things you need to know to navigate a car rental in Europe

Renting a car in Europe is much different than renting a car in the USA. I recently rented a car in Italy and it reminded me of all the things you need to be aware of before you arrive in Europe to pick up your car. Here you go:

1. Get an international driver’s license – First, make sure you have a valid driver’s license from your home state. Secondly, although the rental car company may not require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) you may have to produce one or face stiff fines if you have a traffic ticket or accident. To avoid the worry, spend the $20 and get the IDP. CLICK HERE for more. 

2. Minimum age requirement – Most car rental companies in Europe require you to be at least 21 years old. Some companies are as high as 25 years old. Be sure to ask the car rental company BEFORE you go. CLICK HERE for more.

3. Get ready to be flimflammed by the counter agent – Every time I have rented a car in Europe, when I arrived at the counter they have tried to upgrade me. My last time I had a mid-sized SUV rented that was an automatic and held 5 passengers. When I got to the counter this nice lady said that the vehicle type I rented was very small and I should probably get an upgrade. Being a big fellow I said let’s do that. When she subtotaled my bill the cost was $400 more for the week. I told her that I would just stay with my original rental. When I got to my vehicle it turns out I had a nice Jeep that was actually larger than the VW she tried to rent me. I think the average person would have just gone ahead and gotten the (so called larger) vehicle and been surprised when they got their credit card bill. CLICK HERE to hear more. 

4. Insurance is very expensive – If you wait and get the car insurance at the registration desk be prepared to pay $25-40 a day for coverage. I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card that provides primary and secondary coverage so I tend to just self-insure for the $1500 deductible and not pay the daily fees. Before you do this be sure to check to see if your credit card provides primary coverage in the countries you are traveling. I was surprised when I tried to use my AMEX Platinum card for coverage and they told me that AMEX does not provide coverage in Italy. CLICK HERE for more. 

5. Beware of the tiny trunks to hold your luggage – If you rent a 4 passenger car and everyone brings a checked piece of luggage and a carry-on you will not be able to fit that in the car. Basically all cars in Europe have tiny trunks and can only hold about 4 total pieces of luggage. Cars in Europe are all very small and most of that shortened size comes at the expense of trunk space. CLICK HERE to hear more. 

6. Most of the cars have manual transmissions – Growing up on a farm I have no problems driving a manual transmission. However many people under 40 and who grew up in the city have never seen or used a manual transmission and driving it would surely ruin their vacation. Be sure you reserve an automatic transmission when you make the reservation. It may cost you a few more Euros, however, nothing is more frustrating that having to negotiate a manual transmission when going up a hill at a stop sign and you don’t know how to easily slip the clutch to move forward. CLICK HERE for more.

7. Use the car GPS – GPS mapping systems now come on most rental cars. Using a European GPS will also show you where the speed traps are and actually warn you in enough time that you can slow down and avoid getting tickets. Although most of these speed traps are marked very well with signs, you will often be distracted when driving and not notice them. I remember one trip when I got back home, a month later I received three speeding tickets from these automated ticketing machines. It can be expensive to have a lead foot in Italy. CLICK HERE to hear more.

8. Have plenty of Euros for toll roads – Many of the expressways in Europe are funded by tolls. In one day you may pay for three or four tolls along the way. It is always good to have some spare 5-10 Euro bills handy to pay the automated toll booths. CLICK HERE for more.

9. Finding a parking space in large cities is much harder than in the states – They also are often several blocks away from your hotel or attraction you want to visit. If I stay in a nice hotel in the city I often find it is easier to pay the valet parking than spending 30 minutes finding a parking stall. My valet parking in Perugia last week was only 20 Euros a day, which I thought was very reasonable. CLICK HERE for more.

10. Beware of the restricted traffic zones (ZTL) – Many cities have restricted travel zones where only authorized vehicles are allowed. Proceed at your own risk if you enter these as they come with big fines if you are caught. Also please realize that some of the streets in these historic cities are hundreds of years old and may only be 8 to 10 feet wide. There are a lot of one way streets as well. CLICK HERE to hear more.

11. Bonus – Don’t drink and drive in Italy. They have very low tolerance levels and it is a very serious crime if caught. CLICK HERE  for more.

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