Last Updated on February 5, 2021
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Renting a car in Europe or elsewhere overseas, can be a maddening process.
It’s nearly impossible to compare costs since rental companies all have different models and types of cars, different fees in each airport or other rental facility and, of course, what is presented as mid-size or standard over there might not be quite what you had in mind over here. New issues also arise if you’re a senior.
When renting, however, there are a few things you can do to save money and make the whole process a bit less mind-racking.
First of all, start researching early, reviewing all of the rental car agencies online and keeping detailed notes comparing the same class of car offered by each agency. Aggregator sites such as Kayak, Orbitz or Travelocity can help ease the problem of comparing car rental rates and vehicle classes but be sure to compare several of them since they can offer different rates.
Some budget-minded travelers wonder whether it’s better to rent from a less-expensive local agency or from one of the majors such as Hertz or Avis. At times local agencies can save you money, but they could be more problematic dealing with. Their staff may not be very fluent in English, for example, the contract may not be in English (you always want a copy of the contract in English) and they may not always be open at the time that you want to pick up or return the car. Most of the larger international agencies are open 24 hours a day, and if not 24 hours at least longer than most local agencies.
One good thing when making a reservation for a car is to do is to make multiple reservations. If you come across a good price – and make certain you’re comparing rates in dollars not in euros — reserve the car, since most companies don’t charge for making a reservation or require a payment upfront. On the other hand, read the terms and conditions carefully and cancel unused reservations since some do charge no-shows. Also compare the differences in drop-off charges, facility fees, taxes, etc., all of which can add up very quickly.
Be aware at the onset that you may be unfamiliar with some of the models since they may only be offered in the European market. Budget, for example, rents Citroens, Avis Renaults and Hertz Lancias. It’s worthwhile to do your homework by going online to Google-ing the names of the cars. Then you can look at photos to ensure you’ll be comfortable and don’t wind up, for example, getting a hatchback when you wanted something that would keep your luggage a bit more secure.
Another thing to keep top-of-mind when renting a car in Europe is that if you can’t drive a standard transmission don’t just assume you’re getting an automatic; be certain to ask in advance. In Europe automatic transmissions are a rarity and more expensive. And find out in advance whether the car takes gasoline or diesel fuel. Adding gas to a diesel could wind up costing you plenty.
When you’re driving on unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar country a GPS system can be a Godsend so sometimes it can be a valuable option to rent with the vehicle. But with rentals of Hertz’s “Never Lost” or Avis’s “Where 2?” currently running about $20 per day, a less-expensive option is to find out if your portable car GPS system may work in Europe. Some of Gamin’s products, for example, work in Europe and for some others you can download its “City Navigator® Europe.” The download costs $100 but it’s still less expensive than the rental. Even less expensive — and for many people the best option — is to use your smartphone – just don’t look at it while you’re driving.
When renting a car you sometimes you can get a discount by paying for the car at the time you make the reservation. But even if you don’t want to part with your money in advance, look about for other discounts since they abound. You may be a member of an organization such as AARP or the American or Canadian Automobile Associations, all of which provide discounts on rental cars, as do some insurance companies. Mine, for example, provides a 30% discount with Hertz, Avis, and Budget.
When it comes to rental insurance coverage you may be covered by your home auto insurance, but if you’re unsure ask your insurance agent before you leave the U.S. Also check if any of your credit cards provide additional insurance coverage and then use that card for the rental. A few years ago American Express covered the replacement of a smashed window on a rental when my high insurance deductible made it my responsibility.
Age can also be costly when renting a car in some countries. In Northern Ireland some car companies now charge an additional fee if you’re over the age of 70 years. In Slovenia you’re charged an additional fee if you’re 70 or older, and denied a rental if you’re over 73. And if you’re 70 or older, you’re now precluded from renting a car altogether in the Czech Republic, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey. In the UK some suppliers have a maximum age limit of 69 years old. In Denmark it’s 80 years.
Finally, when renting any car in Europe find out whether you’ll need an International Driver’s License, which is not really a license, just a translation of your state license. You can get one in person or via mail through the American Automobile Association, National Automobile Club or Canadian Automobile Association for a fee of $15. Several European countries now require it.
I’ll be traveling to Italy in another two weeks but I’ll first be heading to AAA. You may not be checked for an IDL when you rent a car, but if you get into an accident or are ever stopped by the police you’ll certainly be glad you have it.
The $15 will be well spent to ensure my peace of mind.