MSNBC’s Savings Sleuth offers tips for renting a car in Europe. Since I can’t figure out how to provide a permalink to the piece, I reproduce much of the advice below:
- 1. Reserve your car ahead, before you depart from the US
Without fail, you’ll find that rates will be lower when you book from home. If you’re already on vacation and you decide you want to rent, it’s even worth it to have a friend or family member reserve on your behalf from the US.
2. Stick to the big car rental agencies
When it comes to renting a car in Europe, you’ll more often than not get the best quotes from the biggest agencies: Avis, Hertz, EuropeCar, and AutoEurope. Be sure to inquire about current specials and discount initiatives.
3. Rent a manual shift
You’ll save a bundle by renting “a stick” shift car. Manual vehicles are far more common in Europe than they are in the US, which is why you’ll wind up paying a premium for an automatic.
4. Rent a diesel
Diesel fuel costs one-third the price of regular unleaded gas, so it’s worth your while to inquire about car in the fleet that run on diesel fuel. Seat, Renault, and Peugeot all make diesels, and are common rental models at many European agencies. Just be sure to learn the local word for “diesel” before you pull up at the pump. Remember, there are 3.8 liters per gallon—multiply the cost per liter by 4 to get the approximate price of a gallon.
5. Rent by the week, not by the day
Weekly rental rates beat daily rates by a long shot in Europe. Even if it means keep the car over the weekend, you’ll save money with a seven-day contract.
6. Look into leasing
If you’re renting longer than three weeks, then it’s worth it to investigate a “short-term” lease. (AutoEurope, for one, offers decent terms.) Click here for more information on that.
7. Know your insurance
Unlike in the US where insurance is optional, many countries in Europe require you to purchase collision damage insurance from you car rental agency. This can run you as much as $125/wk. Italy requires that you purchase theft insurance too ($75/minimum).
8. Avoid renting and parking in cities
Driving can be hairy and parking costly in Europe’s major metropolitan areas. Try to avoid having a car in a city, if you can. Parking can cost $20/day or more.
9. Don’t bother with an international driver’s license
Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need an international driver’s license to get behind the wheel in Europe. All an international driver’s license does is translate the information on your regular license into 10 languages. Spend the $10 you’d pay to AAA for an international driver’s license on a nice market lunch instead.
10. Learn what the signs mean
There are several websites that outline basic road signage in Europe. Give them an eyeball before you get behind the wheel. Also, be aware that Europeans tend to be more aggressive on the road.
11. Keeps lots of cash ready for tolls
Europe’s ever-improving network of superhighways may be efficient but they also cost lots of money. Don’t be surprised if you have to shuck out as much as $15 per stretch. France and Italy, for example, charge roughly $5-7 per hour on the road.
12. Have a good map
The name to remember when it comes to good driving maps for European roadways is Michelin. Be sure to buy one for the country or region you’re visiting. They’re the best.