Renting a car in Europe

At least once a week someone asks me about the wisdom of renting a car in Europe. I can definitely understand the attraction — the ability to explore off-the-beaten-track destinations, to come and go without being tied to train/bus schedules, to stay in rural inns and B&Bs, and to discover uncrowded beaches or hiking trails.  But there are definite downsides as well. Driving a rental car in Europe can involve navigating unfamiliar roads, deciphering signs in another language, driving on the other side of the road, and staying abreast of local restrictions like the “congestion zones” in some major cities. It’s a lot to think about while you’re trying to look around and enjoy the sights!

There are some destinations (like Paris or Rome) where I discourage it, and others (like Ireland) where a self-drive vacation is quite common. In the end, it comes down to a personal decision based on the client’s sense of adventure and their own evaluation of the pluses and minuses involved.

For those who do decide to rent a car, here are some key pieces of advice that will help. This handy list came from Europe Express, which is one of my favorite wholesalers for this part of the world:

1. Do you need an international driver’s permit to rent a car in Europe? – No, it is not required in order to rent a car but is strongly recommended. In the event of an accident or traffic violation, having recognizable identification to present to the police will make things a lot easier. An IDP can be purchased from AAA or the DMV for only $15 and takes 4-6 weeks to receive.

2. Are automatic cars available in Europe? – Manual cars are more common in Europe but automatics can be arranged (almost always at greater cost). Follow these tips in order to get one:

• Plan early and be flexible with pick up and drop off locations

• Expect to pay more

• Don’t plan on doing a cross-country drop

• Finalize the above before traveling rather than upgrading at the destination

3. Is it possible to pick up the car in one country and drop it off in another? – Yes, but expect to pay higher drop fees. These costs can vary; so be sure to double-check pricing before finalizing trip logistics.

4. Is a CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) necessary? – This is up to the individual but often it is better to be safe than sorry. When incidents occur in Europe, it may not be cheaper to purchase a CDW but it can save time for you to have one, as trying to fix a car rental problem from the U.S. can be challenging.

5. Will we have to present a credit card locally? – Yes, most locations will request a credit card for a damage deposit locally. This hold will be reimbursed once the car is returned without damage, but it can sometimes take 2-3 weeks.

6. Where are cars allowed to go? – Car rental companies often prohibit driving a car rented in Western Europe into many of the Eastern countries. Always check if the desired itinerary is allowed before traveling.

7. Do cars in Europe have GPS devices or can one be rented? – Yes, a GPS can be requested when booking, but some locations will not guarantee them, stating that they are first come first serve. If you have a GPS here in the US, you may be able to contact the manufacturer and get it updated for use in Europe. This can be less expensive and will save you the aggravation of getting used to new technology or ending up with a GPS that is in a foreign language. Also, a GPS is not always be the top tool for navigation in Europe, in some places a good old fashioned map can be the best option.

8. What can be anticipated regarding the size of cars in Europe? – It is always a safe assumption that cars in Europe will be smaller than at home. Packing light and not exceeding the maximum amount of passengers can mean a more comfortable trip.

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