Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hassle-Free Car Rental Guide Part 2: Europe

Driving a fine German car through the Alps can be quite memorable.
Photo Credit: Christopher Gould

This post will expand upon the advice I gave about car rental in the US last month by examining some important issues to consider when renting a car in Europe. It’s much more important to use a travel professional with lots of European experience (like me) when making a car rental in Europe, this advice is just a starting point:

KNOW WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH – If you reserve a rental car for use in Europe, in many cases the name of the car rental office may differ from the company you thought you were making the rental with. This is especially true in the case of car rental consolidators like Europcar and Kemwel. You need to know what sign to look for.

Many car rental locations in Europe are independent franchisees that may have a relationship with more than one major car rental brand. I recommend using an experienced travel professional to make your car rental arrangements. They should be able to advise you on the business practices of different companies from country to country. It can be quite complicated – in fact, there’s only one company that I recommend in every European country – other companies I might recommend in France but not in Ireland, for example.

GET THE EXACT LOCATION AND HOURS – Locate the rental office on a map in advance of attempting to drive there – get expert advice because house and building number logic may be different from what you’re used to. Be sure to find out the hours of operation for the car rental office you’ll be using. Many on-line reservation websites will let you make a reservation during hours that a location is not open. Be sure.

KNOW WHAT YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGE IS – See my previous post for an overview and be sure to know how your insurance applies in the countries you’re planning to drive in.

KEEP RENTAL AGREEMENT WITH THE CAR – You will need to show the rental agreement if you’re stopped by police and at some border crossings.

DON’T PUT GAS IN A DIESEL CAR – One of the most common mistakes that Americans make with cars in Europe is putting the wrong kind of fuel in the tank. Diesel cars are much more common in Europe and you may get one when you rent. If you put gasoline in a diesel car (or vice versa), you will break down, and it will cost you hundreds of dollars to correct the mistake. Understand that you cannot request one type or another when you make your reservation – you can make a request when you pick up the car if you have a preference – the important thing is to use the right fuel when you fill up.

KNOW THE LOCAL LAWS – Ask your travel professional to help you understand the local laws regarding cars and driving. The laws are not the same and you are responsible for obeying them. Here are some interesting examples: in Ireland you may not drive if you’re older than 75; you may not honk your horn in town in France; in Italy you must wear a reflective vest if you must get out of your car on a highway; in Austria you must display a sticker to show you’ve paid the toll for some roads; some countries require that you carry an International Driving Permit. The list goes on and on – don’t be surprised – find out before you drive.

TAKE YOUR TIME – Remember that you’re on vacation, there’s no need to rush.

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