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Renting a Car in Europe: How to Save Money and Avoid Pitfalls

Driving in Europe can be a great experience: traveling through lush vineyards, highways that hug the sea, stopping when and where you wish, and getting close to the real Europe. It also an excellent way to see many Catholic sites that are not normally included in group tours or pilgrimages.

Get this great Saint Christopher visor clip for your car
Get this great Saint Christopher visor clip for your car

However, for non-Europeans, it can have its challenges: narrow streets, unfamiliar street signs and traffic laws, hidden traffic cameras and cities that offer few or no parking options.

But don’t let these concerns keep you from this great opportunity. Just do a little preparation and your driving experience will be pleasant and rewarding.


Here are a few tips:

1. Get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Most European countries will require this for non-EU citizens. You can usually get one if you apply within 6 months of your planned travel date. For U.S. citizens, there are only two approved sources: the American Automobile Association and the National Automobile Club. For Canadian citizens, it would be the CAA. Other countries check with the consulate for the country you plan to visit.

2. Choose the right rental agency. Most of the major U.S. car rental firms have offices in the major cities at airports and train stations and you can book from home ahead of time. If you are going to a less-traveled city you might check out any local agencies which might offer better deals. Click here for some great bargains on car rentals from Auto Europe.

3. Pick the right size car. Remember that most cars in Europe tend to be small, so if you have five or six suitcases you may have problems. Be sure to know the details about any car that you reserve.

4. Book in advance–especially if you have special requirements. An automatic transmission is not a given, since many European agencies have far more manual transmission cars available. So if you can’t drive a “stick shift” be sure to reserve one with an automatic transmission.

5. If you are going to be in Europe for 3 weeks or more, you may want to consider leasing. Some European automakers allow you to lease a car for as little as 17 days and it is less expensive than renting since there is no mileage charge and insurance is usually included. Again, you will need to make arrangements well in advance of your arrival. Click here for more information on long-term rentals.

6. Check your credit card to see if it offers free Collision Damage Waiver on car rentals. If it does, then be sure to use that card for reserving and paying for your rental and be sure to decline the CDW when you sign the rental agreement at the counter.

7. Check on return dates. Many rental locations are closed on Sundays, except for the ones at airports and train stations. You may be able to just leave the car even though the rental office is closed, but be sure that you know that in advance. And if you need to refill before returning be aware that many filling stations are also closed on Sundays, especially those in Spain and Italy.

8. Budget your fuel expenses. Gas in Europe runs anywhere from $8 to $13 U.S. per gallon. So a small car will be a savings, so long as you have room for everyone (and your luggage).

9. Check driving times. You don’t want to find that special place you wanted to visit is closed because it took longer than expected to get there. Click here for a chart of driving times & distances in Europe.

10.Be aware of restrictions on private vehicles. Certain cities such as Florence, Italy have limited access to the city center for private cars–residents must have a permit. It is easy to accidentally enter one of these restricted areas and end up with a ticket passed on to you through the car rental agency. Tickets are issued via camera, so you may not even be aware of it until you return home, but you can be sure the rental agency will pass it along to you and you will have to pay it!

11. Don’t drink and drive…period! Blood alcohol levels for being considered under the influence are much lower in Europe than most other parts of the world.

Click here for great car rental tips from Auto Europe.

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