Many times, My Vacation Lady’s clients will consider renting a car vs. taking a train or tour.  We are working with a family of 5 debating about renting a care in Italy vs. taking the trains.

  • Renting a car will give you much more flexibility than either the train or taking a tour will allow.
  • You can explore at your own pace and part of the fun is getting lost a bit.
  • BUT, renting a car in Europe can also come with surprises when you get home (like speeding tickets and tickets for not paying tolls)

Here are some tips on renting a car in Europe:

1. Do you need an international driver’s permit to rent a car in Europe? – No, it is not required in order to rent a car but is highly recommended. In the event of an accident or traffic violation, having recognizable identification to present to the police will make things a lot easier. An International Driving Permit can be purchased from AAA for only $20 and takes 4-6 weeks to receive.  You don’t need to be a member of AAA to get the license.

2. Are automatic cars available in Europe? – Manual cars are more common in Europe but automatics can be arranged. Follow these tips in order to get one:

• Plan early and be flexible with pick up and drop off locations (many times, cars with automatic transmissions are only available at airport locations)
• Expect to pay more (sometimes close to double the price)
• Don’t plan on doing a cross-country drop
• Book the automatic car before you arrive in your destination

3. Is it possible to pick up the car in one country and drop it off in another? – Yes, but expect to pay higher drop fees. These costs can vary; so be sure to double-check pricing before finalizing trip logistics.  Even dropping off a car at a different rental office than the one you picked it up in comes with drop off charges.

4. Is a CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) necessary? – This is up to the individual but often it is better to be safe than sorry. When incidents occur in Europe, it may not be cheaper to purchase a CDW but it can save time to have one, as trying to fix a car rental problem from the U.S. can be challenging.  Some of the travel insurance companies also can provide additional car rental insurance.  In many cases, some of the travel insurance policies that My Vacation Lady can offer you, may include an additional rider for car rental collision coverage.  It’s typically available on a daily basis and is pretty inexpensive.

5. Will you have to present a credit card locally? – YES, most locations will request a credit card for a damage deposit locally. This hold will be reimbursed once the car is returned without damage, but it can sometimes take 2-3 weeks.  The credit card must be in your name and many car rental companies will NOT accept debit cards.

6. Where are cars allowed to go? – Car rental companies often prohibit driving a car rented in Western Europe into many of the Eastern countries. Always check if the desired itinerary is allowed before traveling.

7. Do cars in Europe have GPS devices or can one be rented? – Yes, a GPS can be requested when booking, but some locations will not guarantee them, stating that they are first come first serve. If you have a GPS here in the US, they may be able to contact the manufacturer and get it updated for use in Europe. This can be less expensive and will save you the aggravation of getting used to new technology or ending up with a GPS that is in a foreign language. Also, a GPS is not always be the top tool for navigation in Europe, in some places a good old fashioned map can be the best option.

8. What can be anticipated regarding the size of cars in Europe? – It is always a safe assumption that cars in Europe will be smaller than at home. Packing light and not exceeding the maximum amount of passengers can mean a more comfortable trip.  Think about it in these terms.  A Ford Focus is considered one of their larger cars.  

9.  What happens if you get a speeding ticket in Europe?  It does happen— just ask our client Scott from Maryland when he rented a car while on his honeymoon in France.  You are expected to pay it.

10.  Be aware of the car rental office’s hours- Many offices have shorter hours and may close mid-day for lunch.  While it may be a bit more expensive to pick up the car at the airport, it is usually easier to rent at the airport than driving in the middle of a city like London, Rome or Paris.

Thanks to our friends at Europe Express for many of these tips.