Finding Cheap Car Rentals in Europe

If you want to truly explore Europe to its fullest you’ll need a car. Having a car to travel around in allows you to visit hundreds of towns and attractions that most tourists will never have seen. But finding cheap car rentals in Europe isn’t easy without knowing where to look. This guide is designed to break down the process.

Before we get started, you should know that an American driver’s license is usually valid for European car rentals. But if you want to play it safe, you can apply for an international driving permit (IDP) prior to your trip. An IDP is a legally valid form of identification in 150 countries worldwide and it translates your current identification information into 10 languages – giving you some extra peace of mind whilst on foreign roads.

Factors to Consider Before Renting a Car in Europe

Length of Trip: The cost of a renting a car decreases the longer you rent for. So getting a car for the week is almost always cheaper than for a day. In fact, weekly rates are sometimes cheaper than four or five day rentals.

Distance: Rental quotes will differ in there mileage/kilometer travel limits. Some rental companies assess additional daily mileage charges, while others may provide for a limited number of miles before they begin to charge a mileage fee.

Car Type: Expect differences between your typical American rental car and what you’ll get in Europe. Mid size cars are smaller and manual transmissions are the norm (Automatics are extra). When shopping around also expect to see unfamiliar makes like Opel, Fiat, Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, etc.

Taxes and Fees: The value-added tax (VAT) typically runs between 18 and 25 percent in Europe. Although it’s usually included in rental quotes, it doesn’t hurt to double check. Also, be on the lookout for additional charges such as road tax or environmental fees.

Driver: Most rental companies require you to be 21 years of age to rent a vehicle. If you want extra drivers to be part of the contract expect additional charges – keep in mind that if you let an unlisted driver take the wheel and an accident occurs, your insurance won’t cover the damages.

Location: European cities are typically dense and difficult to drive around. Rental cars are better used in the countryside or when traveling in and out of large cities. If you plan on only staying within city borders, stick to public transportation – it saves you a lot of unnecessary stress.

Gas Prices: Gas is a lot more expensive in Europe than in the United States. And you buy gas in liters instead of gallons – this makes filling up a car more expensive.

The Cheapest Car Rental Companies in Europe

These days, booking a rental car can be done online easily. Travel booking sites like Kayak or Expedia sort through hundreds of different options for you in seconds.

Look through deals and find the vendors that are shown. For example, Rome car rental companies shown by Travelocity include Thrifty, Dollar, ACE, Budget, Hertz, and a few more.

What most people don’t know is that when you book a car from one of the companies above through a site like Travelocity, the car rental company gives Travelocity a portion of the sale as thanks for the referral. Often times you can obtain a better deal by buying through the car rental directly. Sometimes calling the car rental company directly and telling them the quote you received from a site like Travelocity or Expedia may get them to counter. They have an incentive to offer you a deal rather than share money with their affiliates.

Additional Tips

Ask for Discounts: Frequent flier programs, credit cards, hotels, etc usually have negotiated discounts with car rental agencies. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Pay Today: It’s typically smarter to pay for your rental car at booking as you’re more likely to get a bigger discount and it’ll help you avoid foreign currency or transaction fees.

Read the Cancellation Policy: Cancellation fees exist so don’t reserve your car until you’ve finalized your trip plans.

Take Photos of the Car on the Lot:  Use a camera or smartphone that has a time and date stamp on its photos. Snap shots of the car in the car lot, (make sure you can tell from the photo that the car is on the rental lot). It gives your proof that you didn’t create that scratch or ding if anyone asks at top of drop off.