Renting a Car in Europe
Transportation is a big concern when planning a trip to Europe. Renting a vehicle is more complicated and expensive than in the US. You’ll get the best deal if you rent by the week and select a package with unlimited mileage. Just like plane tickets, the earlier you book, the better. You can reserve a rental car online or with the help of a travel agent. Shop around and make sure to ask any and all questions you might have. Make sure to read the fine print before you agree to anything. Rental companies are notorious for tacking on extra fees.
You should definitely rent a car if you:
- Have lots of luggage
- Are traveling with a group of three or more
- Will be camping
- Plan to explore one area in depth rather than travel across Europe
The best areas in which to drive are the British Isles, Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Austria. Before you decide to rent, consider the amount of miles you will travel, the duration of your trip, and the number of countries you plan to visit.
The two largest rental agencies in Europe are Europcar and Sixt. Check popular travel-booking websites to get quotes. Many US agencies operate in Europe (for example, National, Thrift, Hertz, Avis, and Budget). Consolidators like Auto Europe will compare prices for you. If you book through a consolidator, make sure to ask about add-on fees. When choosing a car, a small manual vehicle is your best bet.
To avoid financial risk, you should purchase insurance along with your rental car. You can purchase a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) Supplement from the rental agency. It costs between $15 and $35 daily. You should buy insurance when you reserve the car, not when you pick it up. Unless you are confident about your abilities to drive on the left side of the road, you might want to purchase a super CDW. This waiver cuts deductibles down to zero. At an extra $10-$30 per day, it might seem outrageous; however, a CDW has a deductible of $1,000 or more. Ask your travel agent if it would be cheaper to purchase collision insurance from your travel insurance company, your credit card company, or through Travel Guard.
Make sure to ask about pickup locations and associated fees (airports cost the most). Paying $7 for a gallon of gas might seem outrageous, but many rental agencies offer fuel efficient “green” cars. Traditional vehicles will give you about 700 miles per $160 (diesel vehicles are cheaper). In some countries, you’ll want to purchase a toll sticker called a “vignette.” Keep in mind that you will only encounter tolls on expressways. In big cities, expect to pay about $30 daily for parking.
Buying a car and then selling it again (leasing) is a great idea for anyone needing a vehicle for over three weeks. Most leases last six months, include zero-deductible theft and collision insurance, and are tax-free. As a bonus, the car is probably new. Check out companies like Europe by Car and Renault Eurodrive.
Before drop-off time, make sure you know where the office is located. Double check office hours and make sure you leave yourself enough time to get from the office to the airport. Finally, don’t forget to brush up on European traffic laws before your trip!