Exploring mainland Europe with a car rental gives you and your family immense freedom. 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.
Depending on your travel plans, it may be more convenient to pick up your car 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. 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 renting a stick-shift in Europe 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. Going for a bigger 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). 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 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 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
With Brexit still up in the air, no one quite knows what permits you'll need to drive in the EU or EEA. However, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you will need your UK driving licence, together with one (or more) of these three International Driving Permits:
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/guidance/driving-in-the-eu-after-brexit-international-driving-permits
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 fees vary widely. In Switzerland, for example, a vignette costs 36 euros while the fine for not having a vignette is 200 francs/80 euros/£160. In Spain, by contrast, a vignette for a regular car costs much less, with fines also lower.
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.