Car Rental Tips for Europe & Italy in 2018 - Pick It Up Right

Independent Advice to Avoid Car Hire Scams

A Guide to Prevent Car Rental Problems in Europe & Italy

You are going to have a great trip to Europe. To make sure, here are some tips and tricks so you can avoid some of the most frequent traveler complaints about renting cars in Europe and Italy. If you just search for cheap car hire prices, you might get hit with expensive unfair credit card charges after the rental is over. The worst problems can be avoided by the savvy renter when the car is picked-up.
Marble 1952 Cadillac in Carrara
This marble 1952 Cadillac in Carrara is not available to rent.
The 31,000 lb. sculpture was carved from a single block.

We monitor the reports and comments of travelers to Italy and we've distilled their experiences to benefit you.  Read About Us & Disclosures below. If you haven't reserved yet, the car rental company is your most important decision, not the price and not the broker! Always know and research the actual car rental provider at your destination.

Read this article before you reserve a car in Europe or Italy: Independent Car Rental Company Reviews for Italy. In the article, there are links to some of your fellow travelers' complaints, and most apply all over Europe.

Big Time Saver: Our 2016 Survey
Link: Independent Car Rental Price Comparisons for Italy

Tip 1. Check Your Documents
Your reservation will require you to meet certain conditions: take it seriously and read the fine print or any referenced 'Terms and Conditions' on the website. Failure could mean being denied a rental car or even a forfeiture of your deposit. For example: if you are not an EU citizen, you need an International Drivers Permit (see below) along with a valid driver's license in several European countries including Italy; most companies don't accept a Debit Card; insufficient credit on a credit card to cover the deductible (even with zero excess insurance) might lead to a denied rental; a printout of your voucher may be required.

Lower price but with a cost. On an ordinary Friday (April 28, 2017) at Pisa
Airport rental, lines (only part shown above) for Firefly and Autoeuropa
 (Dollar, Thrifty) and Firefly stretched the width  of the building
 while Avis, Hertz, Fox and other counters were nearly empty. 
Tip 2. Crowded Counters. Don't cut it close if you have a time constraint. European car rental counters can get overwhelmed by passenger arrivals, especially ahead of holidays in Britain and during the summer holidays. Waits of over an hour are reported regularly, and it can screw up your schedule. It happens more at the less expensive companies but also at Hertz and Avis. It happens at all sized airports - Rome or Malaga, and it catches travelers by surprise. Frequent renter privileges may help - say as an Avis Preferred member - but some of the smaller facilities may not be set up for your service.
Recommended Approach.   We advise getting your car from one of the companies with the fewest problems reported (Avis, Europcar, Hertz, Budget) either direct or via a reputable car rental broker such as AutoEurope (NOT autoeuropa, ending in 'a'). The advantages of using AutoEurope are the added services without paying more - low price guarantee;  24/7 help before, during, and after the rental; easy changes and cancellation; as well as available less expensive zero excess (deductible) insurance.** If you find our efforts helpful, you can thank us by making your reservation through the links below - using the links do not raise your price.
AutoEurope(US)       Auto Europe(UK)            Avis UK Home Page (English)         Avis(IT)      
Budget (UK)                   Budget Rental (Europe in English)        Budget Rental (in Italian)

Tip 3. Don't Sign Until. When you reach the counter, it is yours. Europeans take pride in personal service so take advantage of it: be relaxed and friendly, ask about anything you don't understand, and don't be rushed. As pleasant as the clerk may be, SEEING IS BELIEVING: ask them to show you that your key choices are in the paperwork, type of car, the time period, rental rate, allowed mileage, additional driver rate, and especially that your insurance choices correspond to the boxes you must initial.

Tip 4. Understand the Insurance. Car rental companies worldwide make a lot of money by 'up-selling' their expensive zero excess (deductible) insurance. If you've done your homework, you already know whether you want that and what the price will be, or if you are covered by another policy.* Many travelers complain that they were mislead at this point. That's because the companies offer monetary rewards to clerks for selling it to you! Human nature being what it is, some underpaid clerks succumb to the incentive and 'mislead'. Especially if you are declining, as affably as you can, ask the clerk to point out your selection. Many, but not all, of the rental contracts we've seen in the last few years had the key phrases in both the local language and English.

Tip 5. Check Which Car.  The easiest point to ask about the exact car you're getting is when you see the clerk retrieving the keys. Hopefully, you already know the rental companies don't guarantee particular models, but they usually have several cars available in your category. A diesel is decidedly less expensive to operate and usually costs the same. The counter clerk also knows the mileage on the car, and perhaps there's one with less than 35,000 km?  This is the easiest time to influence which car you get, but you can also switch after seeing the car in the parking lot, although you may get an eyeroll then.

On pickup photograph rental car scratches and dents.
It's hard to photograph scratches and small dents. Make
 several photos and change angles to catch the light.
Tip 6. Document This Perfect Car. Unfair blame for damage is the NUMBER 1 PROBLEM that travelers report. The only record the car rental company has regarding the car's condition are three copies of a wee piece of paper called the Condition Report. You just signed a contract that says the car is perfect except for what is indicated on said wee paper. You need to inspect the car carefully to make sure that's true. If there is ANY damage not noted, get the rental folks to change the markings on the wee paper and initial it. Then you need to photograph the car twice, now and when you drop it off. Make photos all around the car both in overview and with details of any damage, large or small. On drop off, also photograph the dashboard with the mileage and full fuel gauge in one shot (UNWARRANTED FUEL CHARGES ARE COMMON). This documentation is recommended even if you have zero excess insurance, as you are still responsible for certain types of damage and administrative fees.

Of course, it's a pain to go on vacation and start and finish by having to photograph a rental car like some persnickety bureaucrat. Do it anyway, then you won't have to worry. Too many travelers have returned the rental car and been told - sometimes months later - that they caused damage that they didn't. The rental company has then charged repair money to their credit card. There is no good defense except the car's condition report (said wee paper) and your photographs.

More Info

IDP: International Driver's Permit  Drivers from non-EU countries are required by law in some nations (including Italy) to provide an IDP (or an official translation) along with their driver's license. Car rental companies MAY decline to rent if you don't have one. This should be obtained only from a vendor authorized by your country's Department of State. Other websites offering to supply one are fraudulent! In the USA, the authorized entity is the AAA. In Canada, it's the CAAIn Australia, they are issued by the States:

ZTLs Made Easy. Be sure to learn about the restricted driving areas of Italian cities before you travel. This article Italian Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL) has all the info as well as maps of the Rome ZTLMilan ZTLFlorence ZTL, and Pisa ZTL.

Frequent Travelers with I-Phones. There's an app for documenting damage with a time and location stamp, as well as upload capability. Record360 Website. (An ex-car rental company employee is a founder!)

Airport Rentals. Confirm that a car rental company is physically located at your airport. Search on the official airport website to confirm. In Italy, use our handy listing: Official Italian Airport Websites (with Authorized Car Rentals and Ground Transport links).

Link: The Guardian on Renting a Car A useful article, however Holiday Autos is now owned by Cartrawler and it may not identify the actual rental car provider before you reserve. We recommend you never commit your money to an unknown company! Remember, you may give your money to the broker, but you sign a contract with the car provider.

About Us & Disclosure
We are recently retired photo editors who enjoy travel, food, and helping people. We have visited Europe for three decades, and we live in Italy part-time. We have no connection to the car rental or hotel industries, and we receive no payments or free stuff for our writing or opinions. As is internet convention, we receive the standard commission for use of some commercial links that result in a purchase.

Buddy Can You Spare a Click? 

If we've helped, you can thank us by using these links to get quotes and/or reserve your car rental.
 AutoEurope(US)  Auto Europe(UK) or this link for hotel bookings Booking.Com.

* The excess/deductible may already be covered as a benefit offered by your credit card or by your home auto insurance. You can also buy a special traveler's insurance policy ahead of time, or a policy purchased from a car rental broker or by paying more to the car rental company. Read the terms offered, as all of them have significant exclusions. You can also self-insure, since the odds are in favor of good experienced drivers who can afford the risk.

Written by Mike
Last updated August 17, 2016.