Exploring mainland Europe with a car rental gives you and your family immense freedom.

With a European car rental you can pause where and when you wish, enjoy impromptu stopovers in towns and villages you like and avoid the cost of train journeys and the hassle of short-haul flights.

But booking a car rental for Europe demands a little thought and a dash of research. Here are our top eight tips for bagging the perfect car rental for your continental adventure.

1. Consider pick-up and drop-off locations


Depending on your travel plans, it may be more convenient to pick up your rental car in Europe at one location and drop it off at another.

For example, if you want to visit Paris but also fancy some beach time in the South of France, you might pick up your car in the capital and drop it off in Marseilles.

Additional costs

Be aware that the rental firm will charge a fee for this - ranging from 100 euros to 300 euros and maybe even more if your journey concludes in another country.

2. Choose manuals instead of automatics

If you're used to an automatic transmission, beware that renting a car with this type of gearbox costs quite a bit more than a manual.

Since you've no doubt learned with a manual, consider booking your European rental car with a stick-shift if you want to save some extra cash.

3. Hunt down the best deal

Some of the best known car rental firms in Europe are Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar and Sixt.

What are the benefits of using larger European car rental firms?

Going for a bigger European car rental firm will likely result in a lower price (economies of scale) and will be a better option if you want to drop off your car at a different location (because they have bigger networks).

Finding the best European car rental deal

With so many promotions, offers and models available, it's worth spending some time finding the best deal.

If you’re in a rush, you might try Autoeurope.com - a car rental comparison site.

4. Pick up at the airport? Or in town?

Airport rental locations tend to have lots of cars available, which means less time waiting. They are also much more convenient than picking up in a city. However, there is nearly always an additional fee for an airport pickup - although this may be comparable to the cost of transiting into the city anyway.

Airport rental locations also have longer opening hours than urban locales, which tend to be from 9 to 5 only.

Note: Train station pickup locations attract an additional fee, but can also be more convenient.

5. Fees may be charged for leaving Europe

If you plan to leave the European Union and then return, your car hire firm will probably levy an extra fee.

For example, if you start your trip in Croatia then drive in Serbia for a few days, you'll likely face an extra charge - ranging from 15 to 50 euros.


6. You might not even be allowed to drive outside the EU

Some European car hire companies stipulate you must not leave the European Union at all. They tend to have the following bordering nations in mind: Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania and Montenegro.


7. Make sure you have the right permits


You need to take your driving licence with you to drive in Europe. Check yours is still valid and renew your driving licence online if it’s expired or about to expire.


Do you need an International Driving Permit to drive in Europe?

You do not need an IDP to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein if you have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK.

You might need one of these three International Driving Permits IDP to drive in some EU countries and Norway if you have a paper driving licence:

  • 1926 IDP
  • 1949 IDP
  • 1968 IDP

The permit(s) you need depends on which country/countries you are planning to drive in. Check the following link for more information: https://www.gov.uk/driving-abroad/international-driving-permit


8. Buy a 'vignette' - if necessary

A vignette is an oval sticker displayed on your vehicle that proves the relevant motorway taxes have been paid. If you only drive in the country where you picked up your rental, your car will already have this, but if you plan to drive into another country, you'll need to purchase an additional one.

Vignette costs

Vignette fees vary widely. In Switzerland, for example, a vignette costs 40CHF. An additional vignette is obligatory for trailers and caravans.

What are the fines for driving without a vignette in Switzerland?

The fine for driving on a Swiss motorway without a vignette is CHF 200 (around £160) plus the costs of a vignette.

If you drive with a vignette that is not applied correctly or damaged, that is also considered driving without a vignette.

Vignette for Spain

In Spain, by contrast, a vignette for a regular car costs much less, with fines also lower.


Driving your own vehicle in Europe

If you’re planning on driving your own vehicle in Europe, you will need to take your log book (V5C), your insurance certificate and your valid driving licence. You may also require an IDP.

European Breakdown Cover

It is also advisable to ensure that you have suitable European breakdown cover in place if you are going to be driving your own car in Europe. For more details on the European breakdown cover policies we offer at Start Rescue visit European Breakdown Cover Single Trip | startrescue.co.uk