Tips for car rentals in Europe
Cars have traditionally been seen as a symbol of freedom, independence, and control for many people. So what better way to be able to have this freedom on your travels? Seasoned travelers for whom the one-stop-tourist-shop no longer satisfies their curiosity may find a road trip through their country of destination an upgrade. Exploring Europe by car is one of the best ways to get out of the tourist centers and into the less-beaten paths filled with local gems hidden along country roads, remote cliffs, and seasides.
I have taken road trips in five continents – North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Here are my top tips for hiring a car for Europe.
The online Hotwire/Kayak/Expedia rate is not the rate that you will ultimate pay. Count on paying for car insurance, unless you have proof of insurance that covers you for driving in the country. If you have a credit card like American Express Platinum, which covers you while you are abroad, that may be acceptable as proof of insurance. Additionally, count on a hold of a certain amount on your credit card, depending on the car company. A hold of about $3000 was placed on card for a three-day rental in Dublin, and a similar amount for a rental Copenhagen. If you are driving across borders between countries in Europe, additional surcharges will be added. So, your three-day rental at a face value of $14/day, may become about $100 per day with fees and surcharges. It is also a good practice to record the car before driving off to document any dents and damages for which you were not responsible.
Make sure that you can drive the car you reserve. Standard/stick shift or automatic should be carefully picked, confirmed, and then reconfirmed. From a previous experience where I had to take a standard since that was the default car available in that country; when I hired in the UK, I specified I wanted an automatic to ensure that I did not have to navigate the left-side of the road while changing gears with my left hand. Even so, the car they reserved for me was a semiautomatic, which I discovered as I exited the car rental place on my way to the highway. Between learning how it operated, and navigating a different side of the road, I accidently graced the divider and lost a hubcap. So, in my last two car hires in Europe, I made sure to confirm and re-confirm that an automatic was truly automatic.
Choice of car for country condition. Normally I travel solo, so my car consideration is solely based on travel conditions. Obviously if you are with a family or others, then your choice of car has to be what your group finds suitable. So here are the three types of cars I have used in Europe based on the country conditions: small compact, mid-size SUV, and fast hatchback.
I chose the compact for a UK trip that involved a lot of highways going from one major city hub to the next. The nice feature of the compact is that it consumes much less fuel, which is expensive in the UK, and it can navigate the automobile-filled streets of London with more room to spare. I opted for the SUV for a road trip through Ireland since I was driving from Dublin to the northwest of Ireland, passing through Northern Ireland which belongs to the U.K, and coming back by crossing through Ireland to the east side and down the eastern coast. The trip required me to navigate through ancient towns and small villages, to cliffs along the windy coasts on the western part of Ireland. Choosing the mid-size SUV allowed me to store more fuel for the longer journey, and gave me the traction, space, and stability that I felt was necessary for the windy, rainy, wet countryside of Ireland. And finally, I chose a zippy hatchback for the windy flatlands of coastal Denmark and Germany. I picked the hatchback because it gave me a bit of room, felt closer to the ground, and has some speed for those vacant country roads where I wanted to test out how fast the German-made car could go.
Finally, as an extra tip, I suggest you get the navigation system separate from your phone, since the internet connection may not be great if you take the less-traveled path. When you are in the middle of nowhere, you will want to have a back-up navigation system to ensure you get to your destination.