Having a car provides a lot of freedom and convenience when traveling through Europe. You can travel at your own pace, stop frequently to take in the view and get to some places that are difficult to reach with public transportation. However, there are some things to know about renting a car in Europe. Knowing these differences in advance can save you some money and maybe even a big travel headache. And while renting a car can be straightforward, there are still plenty of things you should know and understand before you do it.
You’ll Find More Standard Vehicles
One of the biggest adjustments for Americans driving a rental in Europe is the prominence of standard rather than automatic rental cars. Most rental cars in Europe require manual transmission, though automatic vehicles are available.
To address the growing demand for automatic cars across the continent, Hertz Europe offers a “collection” series that allows drivers to rent specific models of cars with greater availability in automatics. In Italy, for example, the Hertz Prestige Collection features a large range of Audi models, while the Hertz Fun Collection has sporty models such as the Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Jeep, and the Hertz Green Collection offers a large range of Toyota Hybrid cars.
Dropping off Your Car in Another Country Will Cost Extra
You need to ask and verify if the rental agreement allows you to take the car out of the country to other countries within the E.U. Some companies allow that, while others do not or have very steep fees ($200-$300+ extra) to do so. Also, most will charge extra if your car breaks down in a country other than the one where you rented the car.
Finding Your Way Can Be Tricky
In the U.S., you may count on a resourceful app such as Waze or Google Maps to navigate through unfamiliar areas. But these apps may not work as well overseas. American drivers are often surprised at how inaccurate the mapping apps are on their phones in Europe, particularly outside of major cities. Rent a portable GPS to take in your rental car to help with navigation, which can be much more accurate on small country roads and less explored parts of Europe.
Be Aware of Restricted Zones Charges and Penalties
Some cities like London, Florence, or Rome will charge congestion charges (of which many tourists are unaware) and a very steep penalty for non-payment. The car rental companies, in turn, will often charge an administrative fee on top of handling the payment of the penalty.
There Are Restricted Parking Areas and Driving Zones
A downside of renting a car in Europe is that you have to find a location to park it. In major cities – even old walled cities like you find throughout Tuscany – parking options for your car rental may be limited and expensive. Make sure to inquire about the availability of parking at your hotel or vacation rental. Throughout Italy, there are restricted driving zones, which mapping apps may also not take into account, though a GPS will. In such cities, there are often parking lots outside the restricted driving zones where you can leave your car for several hours or several days. These are common throughout Tuscany, and it’s a smart idea to research the lot closest to your accommodations before you arrive.
Refueling Can Be Confusing
Topping your tank can be confusing in Europe. Most cars operate on diesel fuel, and you’ll want to be sure you’re selecting the right fuel for your rental car. Ask your rental car company what type of gas you should use before you leave, or you can ask the attendant at the gas station if you are unsure. And remember, in Europe, gas is pumped in liters, not gallons.
Be Sure to Confirm All Additional Fees at the Counter
Nonchalance can burn your budget like wildfire if you don’t get all the facts. Additional fees that we encountered include our GPS unit, toll tag, and an additional driver. Online, they’ll do their best to bury additional charges in paragraphs of small print, so be sure to comb through with an attentive eye.
Tolls and Vignettes Operate Differently
Tolls can be confusing in Europe. They can also come attached to a high price tag in countries like France, so it’s a wise idea to research the cost of the tolls ahead of time so you can budget accordingly. In France, you may be required to take a ticket upon entrance and pay upon exit, or closer to Paris, you may pay a fixed toll. Some companies allow customers to rent an automatic toll device that allows drivers to use the yellow Telepass lanes on all highways to simplify toll procedures. If you don’t have an automatic toll device, you’ll need to enter the line for cash, which allows you to pay with coins or notes, or a credit card.
You’ll Need a Valid Passport to Cross the Borders
If you are traveling between countries within the European Union, crossing borders is fairly simple and requires a passport stamp upon entry and exit. AAA recommends, however, that you carry your passport with you when crossing into a different country. Also, keep in mind that some countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your trip, so plan accordingly.
Driving a car rental through Europe can be an amazing way to explore top attractions and landscapes. You can tour top sights at your own pace, access remote, hard-to-reach areas, and travel with the comforts of home. But before you embark on a once-in-a-lifetime European drive, keep in mind these tips that we have prepared for you about renting a car in Europe.