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Car Rentals in Europe
Book your rental car with AutoEurope
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Slow Travel IATA# 99006630 - Contact phone numbers and emails for AutoEurope
Do You Need a Car for Your Trip?
You can travel around Europe by train, but if you want to explore the countryside and the villages, you need to rent a car. You don't need a car in the large cities, like Paris or Rome, because there is usually good public transportation, parking will be expensive and driving will be difficult.
Try to plan your trip to do your city time on each end of the trip, and countryside time in between. This way you can arrive and spend time in the city, pickup a rental car and drive out to the countryside, then drop it off at the city you plan to visit before you leave. For example, fly into Rome and spend a few nights. Then pickup your rental car and drive out of Rome to Tuscany. Spend a week in Tuscany. Drive to Florence and drop off your rental car. Spend your last few nights in Florence, then fly home from there.
Our Alfa146 from AutoEurope in the Italian countryside, June 2000
AutoEurope is a US based company that brokers car rentals in Europe. You book with AutoEurope, either online or by phone, but you pick up your car from Europcar, Avis or another agent in Europe. We used AutoEurope for all our car rentals in Europe since 1996 and highly recommend them (so have many other Slow Travelers, check the message board for information). I usually do a price comparison between other agencies and AutoEurope, but AutoEurope always turns out to have a better price. If you do find a cheaper price with another agency, AutoEurope will meet that price.
New European car rental companies are opening all the time. You can use Google to find them and shop around for prices, but we find that AutoEurope always compares well. Their prices are competitive and the quote you receive from them states clearly what is included and what is not (for example, in some countries you must pay a daily road tax, payable when you pickup the car). They also provide consistently good service - customer support is available by toll-free phone from the US or Europe, 24/7.
When booking you pay a percentage of the price (50% - 100% - depends on the country where you are picking up the car) and the rest is charged either when you pick up the car or drop it off. Don't worry about this pre-payment; you can cancel your reservation and get a full refund or return your car early and be refunded the unused days. On a recent trip, we had to return the car two weeks earlier than we had booked. I called them when we got home and they refunded the difference.
If you have booked with AutoEurope and you have any problems with your car, call the toll free number they provide and they will deal with it. Do not deal with the local agency yourself; let AutoEurope deal with them for you. Contact phone numbers and emails for AutoEurope.
Car Rental Agencies - Compare Apples to Apples
There are many agencies that rent cars in Europe: AutoEurope, Hertz, Avis, Europcar, etc. AutoEurope is a broker for many different car rental agencies and offers lower prices than booking directly with the agency (if their price is not lower, they will meet the lower price you find).
When comparing rates from different agencies, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Does the rate you have been quoted included tax, insurance, local fees? Read the fine print and ask questions. If you find a rate that is better than the one you got from AutoEurope, ask AutoEurope to match the rate. This is a very competitive market and many times they will lower their rate.
Different Prices for Different Countries
Rental prices vary by country. It used to be more expensive to rent in Italy, so we planned our trips to start in Switzerland where the rates were better. This is not always the case, so use the online booking systems for getting prices and do some comparisons.
Size of Rental Car to Book
For the two of us, we rent either a compact or intermediate size. The compact size in Italy is an Alfa 146 or equivalent (comparable to the Volkswagen Golf). This size is powerful enough for the Autostrada, but small enough for the narrow village roads. The intermediate size in Italy is an Alfa 156 or equivalent - just a bit bigger and more powerful than the compact. See my photos of our rental cars to get an idea of size.
Picking up and Dropping off
With AutoEurope, you can pick up and drop off at different locations in the same country with no drop off fee. For example, pick up the car in Rome and drop it off in Florence. There is a charge when dropping off in a different country, and this can be steep, but factor in the cost of driving back to the original country when figuring out what makes most sense.
Picking up at the Airport
If you pick up your rental car at an airport, there may be a surcharge that applies to the whole rental. Compare rates for picking up at the airport or in a city location. Sometimes you can save money by picking up in town, but this does not make sense unless you are spending your first few nights in the town anyway. Dropping off at an airport does not add the surcharge.
Do You Need Insurance?
In Italy, yes. In other European countries, maybe not. Call your credit card company to see what countries they cover. Most car rental agencies quote rates both with and without insurance. Our credit card company, American Express, does not cover car rentals in Italy, so we always get the insurance from AutoEurope when renting in Italy. Sometimes paying for the extra insurance does not add that much to the price (not like in the US where insurance can double the daily rental price), but this too varies by car rental agency and by country.
Always check the fine print to see what the deductible is for your rental. This varies by car rental agency and by country.
YES - if going to Italy; MAYBE - for other countries in Europe. The International Driving Permit (IDP) is an official translation of your driver's license. Italy, by law, requires that you have an IDP. Some other European countries may not require this. Check the laws of each country you will be going to. An IDP is inexpensive and can be obtained at your local Automobile Association office. They are valid for one year.
Up until 2004 you did not need an IDP for renting a car in Italy, but now car rental companies are being told to check for it (and your home driver's license) when you pick up your car.
Remember, you need BOTH the IDP and your current driver's license when traveling. The IDP does not replace your license.
Two important notes about picking up your rental car
Find out what type of gas your rental car takes - unleaded or diesel. Diesel is used in some rental cars in Europe.
If you have a manual shift, make sure they show you how to find reverse before you leave the lot. It isn't always obvious.
Getting "Upgraded" when Booking - A Good Thing!
If you are offered a "free upgrade" when booking your car with AutoEurope, take it! You can book a less expensive compact and get upgrade to an intermediate size.
Getting "Upgraded" at the Counter - Maybe Not So Good!
Sometimes when you are picking up you rental car you are offered an upgrade. Do not assume that upgrade is a good thing. Find out what the upgrade is, and if it is too large of a car, refuse it. In many parts of Europe, you will do better with a smaller car. Parking spaces are small, roads can be narrow; a big car or van can make driving difficult.
On a recent trip to Italy, we picked up a rental car at the Rome airport. The EuropCar office was crowded and we had to wait a long time. It was mid-day on a Saturday, so it was probably more crowded than usual. When we were filling out the paperwork, the agent said they had upgraded us to a mini-van. Usually when you hear "upgrade" this is good news, but not always with rental cars. We had reserved a compact car, an Alfa 146 or equivalent. We did not want a mini-van. We insisted that we did not want an upgrade. We explained that we needed a smaller car because we would be in small towns where a big car is not as easy to drive or park. He agreed and wanted to give us a station wagon. Again we said we really felt a smaller car was better and that we were going to be there for a month. Finally, he gave us a brand new Alfa 146 - exactly what we wanted - and it was perfect for the trip.
Type of Gasoline
Some times the larger rental cars are diesel. Diesel gasoline is less expensive, so that makes a larger car more affordable to drive. When you pick up your car, be sure to find out from the rental company which type of gas it takes. Both unleaded and diesel gasoline are available everywhere in Europe. You can do damage to your car by filling it with the wrong type of gas and the car rental company will most likely charge you to tow the car and drain the tank. Usually there is a sticker on your gas tank cover, either inside or outside, that indicates that the car takes diesel.
Most rental cars available in Europe are manual shift. It is sometimes tricky to find reverse. The trick is usually to put your hand on the gear shift, and then pull up on the lever under the knob and then move it into reverse. This is a safety measure - to stop you from flinging it into reverse while looking for fourth. Usually reverse is located all the way to the right and down, but sometimes it can be in a different place. Make sure you work through all the gears before you start the car and drive off.
Locking and Unlocking the Car
One time we rented a car where, if you held the key in the lock a little longer after unlocking the car, all the windows rolled down. We could not figure out what was happening and thought the car was broken. We ended up driving miles back to the car rental agency to show this to them, only to find out it was a "feature" not a problem.
Another rental car sometimes, but not always, sounded a warning buzzer when we parked and locked it. At first, we could not locate the problem. We would just leave the car with the buzzer going. Finally, we solved the mystery: the buzzer would sound if the turn signal was active when we stopped the car - making sure that the turn signal ended up in the neutral position when we turned off the car was the answer.
When and Where to Pick up Your Rental Car
The problem of how to arrive in Europe and get your rental car is not easily solved. We normally fly into a city in Europe, take a taxi into the city and spend 2 or 3 nights in a hotel while we try to adjust to the time change and get over the exhaustion from the time change. But, as you know if you have been reading the Slow Travel website, we are wimps and we take long trips, so a few days set aside to recover works for us.
Most vacation rentals in Europe are Saturday to Saturday, so if you fly in on Saturday, you may find a large crowd at the car rental counter. We have had to wait in line for more than an hour in Rome airport when picking up a car on a Saturday.
Contact both the local agent where you picked up the car and the company that you booked with. AutoEurope offers phone support 24/7. AutoEurope can usually convince the local agent to offer support that they might not offer when you ask them.
If you have an accident, be sure to get a police report. You will need this when returning the car.
What is it Like Dealing With the Local Agents?
Sometimes the local agents in Europe are not as friendly and helpful as you would expect (even though the EuropCar motto is "Happy to Help"). At Rome airport the service can be very "abrupt". Don't let this intimidate you; if you have questions, ask them. If you need help figuring out how things work on the car, make them show you.
www.autoeurope.com: AutoEurope, European car rental, flights, accommodations
Slow Travel Photos: Photos of our rental cars.
Slow Travel Italy - Driving: Extensive information about driving in Italy: parking, getting gas, the Autostrada, and more
Slow Travel Italy - Driving: Picking up or dropping off at Rome Airport
Slow Travel Italy - Driving: Picking up or dropping off at Florence Airport
Slow Travel UK - Driving: Information about driving in England: roadways, roundabouts, parking, getting gas, speed limits, and more
Slow Travel Switzerland - Driving: Notes about driving on the Autobahn, mountain roads, parking, and navigating.
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