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Renting a Car in Europe – How not to get fooled by Car Hire Companies!

Renting a Car in Europe

So, you have booked a flight and your dream European holiday is coming closer, right? But how are you going to explore this amazing island in Europe or get to a remote place for a stunning hike? Do you wish to travel on your own or use public transport? No! that’s not you! You are thinking about renting a car in Europe – and that’s a great choice!

It is always better to rent a car while travelling across Europe. Having your β€œown” 4-wheels will give you much-needed freedom and will allow you to get to places where public transport doesn’t go – so you can discover the best places to visit in Europe in your rented car.

As nice as this sounds, renting a car in Europe can be a headache for a non-European tourist as some renting car companies might try to take advantage of you!

Do NOT get fooled! Read our guide to renting cars in Europe so you are aware of all rules and differences in European renting companies.

Renting Car in Europe

9 things you always wanted to ask about renting a car in Europe:

#1 Which car hire company in Europe shell I choose?

First of all – compare! There are many car rental companies in Europe and depending on the country, one will be more popular than another.

Most popular European car rental companies:

  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Hertz
  • Europcar
  • Gold
  • Dollar
  • Sixt

We don’t really have a favourite one and we always compare the prices on rentalcars.com before booking a car. You can also use other comparison websites like Skyscanner or Kayak. Just make sure you book the car in advance, that will save you stress and most of the time money too.

If you travel in a busy time, like Xmas or school holiday, there will be 1000s other people trying to book a car too. The prices will go much higher then! So planning well ahead is a smart move.

#2 What will affect the price of your rented car in Europe?

There are many factors which can increase the price of your rented car by a huge margin. Some of them will be obvious and you are most probably aware of the additional cost, but many can be a very unpleasant surprise.

Size of the car you will rent

There are 7 categories car rental companies in Europe are using:

  • Small cars
  • Medium cars
  • Large cars
  • Estate cars
  • Premium cars
  • People carriers
  • SUVs

In general, cars from the beginning of the list will be cheaper than from the end on the above list. But don’t go just for the cheapest option! You have to consider what you will be using the rented car for. E.g. if you travel as a couple for a few days in England and want to go for a day trip out of London, a small or medium car will be fine. But if you plan to drive around Gran Canaria or across Madeira you will need a much stronger car for the amazing mountains roads. Or if you travel with family or friends, you will need a people carrier or an SUV so you can pack all your pieces of luggage easily.

Manual vs. Automatic

Depending on your preferences you can choose your favourite gearbox. I rather rent a car with a manual gearbox as it’s more fun driving πŸ˜‰ Cars with a manual gearbox are usually slightly more expensive.

You will see this option while choosing your rented car:

Renting cars in Europe - Manual vs. Automatic

Different Pick-Up and Drop-Off Locations

Take a look at the location of the counter (airport terminal or outside of terminal) – some of the cheaper cars will be located away from the main airport terminal.

You might take a shuttle bus to the car park to collect your car – this be probably slightly cheaper option but you will need more time at the airport – and time is money πŸ˜‰

Renting car in Europe - Different Pick-Up and Drop-Off Locations

The destination of return would matter too! There are 3 option for you to choose from.

  • The same as the pick-up location – no additional fee
  • Other national location – some companies would charge a small fee, others don’t (always double check with the car rental company)
  • International location – most car hire companies in Europe will add a fee (sometimes very hight which can be even higher than the cost of renting the car)

Cross Border Fees

Don’t get fooled on this one! Some car rental companies in Europe will charge you a huge fee for using the rented car outside of its home country.

Even if you plan one day trip during your 7 days holiday they will still charge you for 7 days! This obviously is a scam so don’t let them do this.

A work around could be to rent you car for 5-6 days, return it and the rent another car with the border fee for 1-2 days only πŸ˜‰ It’s a bit more time consuming but you can save a lot of your bucks!

Car rental tax

Value-Added Tax (VAT) in each European country is usually ~20%. This is usually included in the car rental price. It is nevertheless reasonable to double check it.

Other non-negotiable (unfortunately) charges such as “road tax” or “environmental tax” also vary from country to country in the whole of Europe. Road tax is usually less than $5 per day and you should expect to pay approximately $5-10 per day for environmental charges.

Again, all the above taxes may already be included in the price of your rented car in Europe.

Car rental tax

Age

This is an obvious one, which is pretty much the same on every continent. Young drivers are considered more dangerous on the road and more likely to have an accident. Therefore, you will have to pay premium insurance if you are below 25.

Note that some car hire companies will consider a driver under 30 as a young driver – so always check the T&Cs before renting a car in Europe!

Insurance

This is the most annoying part of renting a car in Europe! Almost every company will try to sell you full insurance. You obviously need to have one – and we definitely encourage everybody who’s renting a car to have one, but…

You might already have an international insurance which covers renting a car in Europe. Or your credit card may already cover additional insurance. So always check before purchasing additional insurance.

Full insurance is the biggest additional cost when renting a car in Europe. This is due to the deposit you HAVE to PAY (even if you have full insurance from another place!). The deposit will depend on the size and category of your rented car and can be anything from $1000 to $3000 which will be blocked on your credit card. Make sure your credit card has a limit which will allow you to cover this.

The only option not to have the deposit taken from your credit card is purchasing full insurance with your car renting company. Now you see what I meant! πŸ˜‰

IMPORTANT: if you don’t purchase the full insurance and you have an accident (or something happens to the car) the car renting company will take the money from your deposit to cover the cost. Then you can get back to your insurance provider to clam it back – this can be a time-consuming process.

Additional driver(s)

Expect to pay around $10-20 per day to add an additional driver. It is only worth the effort if you really plan to share the driver’s responsibilities. If you go for a short European trip it’s better to pay only for one driver. Good news is that some car rental companies in Europe do promotions with no fee for the 2nd driver – so keep looking!

Remember that if you allow another driver, who is not on the list, entered the wheel and an accident has occurred, your insurance will not cover this cost.

Children’s seats

Each of the European countries has different legal requirements for child seats. And this is not always in line with the latest US regulations – so be aware of this!

If you don’t bring a child seat from your home country you can book one with the car hire company – expect to pay an additional $20-50 per day! Yes, it’s a huge extra cost…

GPS

Having a map is essential when driving in Europe and it’s good to have it with you! Double check if the car you rent is equipped with GPS navigation and if not, how much it costs to rent navigation. It could be cheaper to take your GPS from home or alternatively to use Google Maps if your roaming in Europe is not too expensive.

Collecting time vs. return time

Note that when you rent a car in Europe, the car hire company will charge you for every 24 hrs you start. So if you book your car from 8 am and will return it at 10 am you are paying a full day price for the 2 hours! You get it, right? πŸ˜‰

Sometimes it’s better to delay collecting your car by an hour or two or return it a bit earlier to save $20-30.

Collecting time vs. return time - car renting in Europe

Mileage limit

Most European car hire companies will give you unlimited millage for the rented car. But some have limits of 200-400 km per day so if you plan to drive a lot, double check if you have unlimited millage included in the price of car.

Renting car in Europe - Mileage limit

Ferry crossing

In some European countries, you will have to pay an additional fee/insurance if you plan to use a ferry. Some car rental companies will not allow you to use any ferry at all! But in most cases, this should not be an issue. We used a ferry during our holiday in Malta when we went for a day trip to Gozo and there was no additional fee πŸ™‚

Fuel Policy

Most car hire companies in Europe will offer a Full to Full fuel policy. This means that you collect the car with full tank and you will also have to return the car with full tank.

But don’t even think that the car rental companies will trust you! πŸ˜‰ Oh no! They will take a deposit (yes, additional one, on top of the deposit you pay for not purchasing a full insurance) which will be released upon the car return – as long it will have a full tank πŸ˜‰

Renting car in Europe - Fuel Policy

Other driving costs:

  • Fuel – it will depend on the millage you will do. Fuel is much more expensive in Europe than in the US.
  • Parking at your hotel – double check if there is free parking, otherwise you can expect to pay $10-15 a day for a parking space near your hotel
  • Public parking – while travelling around this can cost you a few bucks per hour. Most parkings in Italy are paid while is Spain free.
  • Road/motorway tolls – Italy and France are expansive, while Germany is totally free.
  • Booking cancellation – if you decide to cancel your booking before trip some car hire companies will charge you a fee

#3 Can I visit other countries with the rented car?

Yes, most companies will let you do that for an additional fee/insurance. There might be some restrictions (mainly in Eastern Europe) so always double check with the car hire company.

#4 Is an international driver’s license required in Europe?

If you are staying in Europe for less than 90 days, you can drive with your valid US driver’s license in most European countries without IDP. But it is generally recommended to get an International Driving Permit which is actually a translation of your valid driving license – it is not an additional permit 😊

Yes, it is needed in case a police officer (or a cop as you call them) will have to write a ticket for you πŸ˜‰

Renting car in Europe - Is an international driver's license required in Europe

#5 How to pay when renting a car in Europe?

Most car hires companies in Europe will only recognise credit cards are the payment method. The trick is that some of them do allow you to use a debit card while doing an online reservation. But then, you need a credit card at the counter when collecting a car.

Otherwise, they will not rent you a car! That happened to us when we visited Amsterdam and we wanted to rent a car for a day to drive outside of the capital city and visit Keukenhof Garden 😐 I know! A rookie mistake πŸ˜‰

So remember to always have your credit card on you!

#6 Do I need insurance while renting a car?

YES! We highly recommend to always have insurance when renting a car in Europe. It’s totally up to you, whether yo get one from the car hire company, book it on Rentalcars.com or have another provider. Just make sure you get one – even a small accident in Europe can cost you a fortune (especially in countries like Iceland, Norway or Switzerland).

#7 Petrol, benzine or gasoline – what’s the difference?

No dear American friend, we don’t drive on “gas” in Europe πŸ˜‰

We call it benzine (Germany and Austria), gasoline (Spain) or simply petrol in most European countries.

You should be looking for a label “95” at the petrol station. There is also a label called “98”, which is also petrol, but nobody really uses it.

And then we also have diesel, which is currently under the spotlight is few countries.

Make sure you put correct fuel into your car! A mistake can be costly πŸ˜‰ The right type of fuel will be displayed on inside gas tank door and usually on your car key as well.

#8 Left or right? Which is the correct side of the road? (UK & Ireland only)

Right! No, I mean left if you drive in the UK or Ireland πŸ™‚ You probably will not need a car in London, unless you plan a day trip out of the capital city. There are many interesting places you should see while visiting England, like Stonehenge or Cotswolds, but if we have never driven on the other side of the road πŸ˜‰ our advice will be:

rent an automatic car!

This will help you focus more on the road instead of how to change the gear with your other hand πŸ™‚

Car hire in Europe - Left or right Which is the correct side of the road

#9 Returning your rented car – what to do?

  • Be on time – if you are late, the car hire company might charge you a fee.
  • Make sure the tank is full
  • Take pictures of the car to have a proof of its condition – also, take a photo of the millage and fuel level
  • Record a short video of you returning the key (only if you are returning outside of car hire company opening hours)
  • Keep all documentation for a year
  • Double check your bank account a few days after returning the car to make sure your deposit has been returned
  • Check your credit card statement from time to time – one car hire company in Italy did take a fee 6 months after we hired a car from them! Thankfully our bank has stopped that fraud πŸ™‚
Returning your rented car – what to do

Any other questions about renting a car in Europe?

Please let us know if you liked our guide to hiring a car while on vacation in Europe. We hope you have a lot of fun while driving around our stunning continent – there are many great road trips in Europe you can make and many romantic cities in Europe waiting for you to explore them! Onward! πŸ™‚

Renting a Car in Europe

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