Renting a car in Europe can be tricky business. Some countries have different rules than others. Insurance requirements vary and the age of the driver can also affect driver eligibility. The most important thing you can do is arm yourself with knowledge. Now I am assuming that is your goal in reading this article, so you are on the right track. I consider myself an expert with ten years in the industry, and I will lay out some guidelines. Most of these tips are for Europe, but a lot of them will apply elsewhere as well.
There a few things to consider first. How old are you? If you are 18 to 21 you may not be able to rent where you are going. You need to call and find out. If you are under 25 more often than not you will be paying a young driver surcharge. These surcharges can increase the cost of your rental dramatically. If there is someone in the party over 25, let them do the driving. It used to be that you would run into senior driver surcharges as well, but this is less and less common as time goes on. The second thing to consider is your driving record. If you have a few speeding tickets its not a big deal, but if you have a drunk driving conviction you can be ineligible for 3 to 7 years after the conviction.
Now if you are all set on those criteria, next think about whether you need a manual or automatic transmission. Practically everyone in Europe drives a manual. Automatic have low resale value and thus they are considerably more expensive to rent. People have learned to drive manuals before their vacation specifically to get around the higher cost. While this is an option it may not be advisable. If you burn out the clutch in a rental car, guess who’s paying for it. That’s right, you. Also, automatics are not available everywhere. Sure if you’re picking up in Paris it won’t be a problem, but if it’s a village in the middle of no where you may be out of luck. If you need an automatic book as early as humanly possible.
Car size is always confusing. A lot of companies categorize the cars differently so a midsize to one is a compact to another. If you get an economy or compact you will get a hatchback. If you get a midsize you may get a hatchback. It is very unlikely that you will, but you might. A full size car will be a sedan. Sometimes you may book an intermediate and you will show up and receive a compact premium car e.g. the Mercedes A Class or BMW 1 Series. You cannot guarantee a make and model ahead of time.
Insurance is probably the most important decision you will make. If you don’t get in an accident you will never have to worry about it, but if you do you will become intimately familiar with the details of your policy, I guarantee it. Almost all rental cars come with liability insurance. Liability will cover you for damages to another person’s car or property. Liability does not cover the rental car itself. For the rental car itself you need CDW, or collision damage waiver. So you have CDW, so you’re all set right? Wrong. Check the fine print. Deductibles are the name of the game. If you damage the car you are still responsible for the deductible amount. So know your deductibles.
Most car rental companies are not out to screw you, but they are not going to lose money on your account either. Make sure you are aware of any scuffs or scrapes when you pick up, and point them out to staff and take pictures. You don’t want to pay for someone else’s mistakes. And finally and most importantly use a reputable company to arrange your car rental.