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Renting a Car in Europe – What’s New?

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Driving a rented car has always been the best way to tour Europe’s small towns and countryside. And although it’s still a great experience, you have to be more careful than ever to avoid some potential traps and gouges.

Avoid one-way international rentals if you can. Gemutlichkeit, the outstanding e-newsletter for travelers to German-speaking Europe, also helps arrange car rentals through AutoEurope. Bob Bestor, the publisher, recently reported that his reservations staff was finding some truly horrific international drop-off charges: $644 for Frankfurt-Florence, $1,182 Rome-Barcelona, and $1,342 Dubrovnik-Zurich, to cite just a few. Bestor says one-way rates are especially high to/from Italy, Spain, and much of Eastern Europe. The lowest charges seem to be between Germany and adjacent countries, although even there a one-way drop-off charge is likely to be as high as the rental rate for three or four days. So far, you can still find no-drop-off-charge for one-way rentals within a single country, but you may have to shop a bit. For years, other travel writers and I urged you to combine open-jaw airline tickets with one-way rentals as a way to minimize costs and backtracking, but that approach seems less attractive every year. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

Avoid picking up a rented car at a big airport. The big rental companies call airports and rail stations “premium stations,” and add a hefty charge to pick up cars there. In some countries, including Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.K., you pay an extra $35 to $80 charge per rental. Even worse, many big airports add a surcharge of 14 percent to 20 percent of the entire rental, which could add up to hundreds of dollars. You can avoid those charges by picking up your car at a city office—and you can still return it to the premium station at no extra cost. In any case, I prefer not to start driving a rental car the morning I arrive in Europe, jetlagged after a sleepless night, and avoiding an extra gouge is a big bonus. Just remember not to plan on picking up a city office car extremely late in the day or on a Sunday.

Watch out for “discount” rentals from European renters. For the most part, those companies claim inclusive rates, with built-in CDW collision coverage, but their included CDW generally involves a stiff deductible up to thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the inclusive rates do include partial insurance, and that can be a problem. In order to rely on your credit card for collision coverage, which I continue to recommend, you have to decline the rental company’s CDW, which you can’t do if some CDW is included in the base rate. The last time I checked, some U.S. credit card issuers will continue to provide coverage as long as you do not have the option to decline the included insurance, but others take a hard line. Check with your card about this policy, and stay away from any inclusive rates if they would invalidate your card’s coverage.

Consider a buy-sell deal for a very long rental. A reader recently asked about the best way to rent a campervan for a full year of European touring. At conventional rates, renting an ordinary midsize car could cost more than $10,000, and a campervan would be much higher. As far as I can tell, the only way to avoid high charges is to buy a used car or van and resell it at the end of your tour. European laws now require a local address in Europe to register a car, but I know of several outfits that sell used vehicles to tourists, with paperwork that skirts the residency requirement. Among them: IdeaMerge and Turner Cars & Campers, both in the Netherlands, and World Wide Wheels, based in Switzerland. As usual with offshore outfits, I list them for your convenience, but I obviously can’t vouch for any of them.

For more information. Gemutlichkeit’s free report on renting a car in Europe is the best overall reference I’ve seen. Take a look before you decide on a rental.

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