How To Rent A Car In Europe

rent-a-carThe transportation system in most parts of Europe is very well developed with trains and buses that can take you pretty much everywhere. We decided to explore another option and see if it can be budget friendly. Renting a car is getting more and more popular and it offers good value for your money – comfort and convenience. But in what situations you will benefit from using that method and what should you be prepared for? I’ve decided to ask my friend Ilina who used to work at a support office for one of the biggest European rent-a-car companies. I’ve heard many ridiculously funny stories from her regarding the matter, so what better way to get some first hand information? I’ve prepared some questions, but the information she provided in the interview is priceless and can be used a guide for your next rent-a-car road trip in Europe.

Here she goes with a small important remark:

The following is general advice, because policies among the car rental companies vary. When you decide to rent a car abroad, check the different companies’ websites, check their basic conditions, even email them for a quote*. Make sure you understand the conditions, because tiny details may cost you money. I may sound very frightening but as someone who’s been on the receiving end of an angry screaming and regrettably misinformed customer I simply want to make sure you don’t turn into one. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. Stupid questions save money and nerves! 

*an offer for price they can give at the specific time which does not really mean you have to rent – basically you tell them when and where you want the car and for how long, and they tell you how much it would cost; quotes are fairly non-binding but prices usually vary day to day due to availability issues so if they give you a price you like, you better rent within the next 24 hours. And don’t worry – most companies have cancellation policies, so if you find a better offer you can cancel and get a refund. Just make sure you keep their deadlines!

What are the pros and cons of renting a car?

If you’re travelling in a pack, a rental might actually save you money. Split the cost between you and you might find it cheaper, plus – you don’t have to chase bus and train schedules and you can relax more, improvise the trip. Also, rentals are usually very new and while there’s no guarantee that it won’t break down in the middle of the road, Rent-a-car companies usually have the responsibility to arrange for towing and/or replacement cars.

The downside is you’re driving somebody else’s car and you’re responsible for it. And since it’s not your buddy’s car, a simple “My bad, mate” and a six-pack might not cover it.

What are the main things I should consider before choosing a car?

The main thing you should have in mind when renting is your needs. Don’t rent something too big or too small. Let’s assume that you’re a party of four and you’re travelling with tons of suitcases. You’ll be needing something with at least four seats and lots of trunk space. If you can only drive manual (as opposed to automatic), make sure you specify that as well.

In this scenario you’re travelling abroad so unless you have a very trusty navigator and a very trusty map, you might consider renting GPS (or Sat Nav) and pay the additional charges of course. Also, it will cost you a lot more, but if you’re planning a very rural trip with a possibility of an off-road experience you might need to consider renting a 4×4.

What is usually included in the price?

The price will include the car for the needed number of days, insurance for said number of days, and delivery and/or collection charges – if the company offers that. If you want more than one person to drive, additional drivers cost extra, because they too need to be insured (and the additional drivers need to bring the same papers as the main driver!!)
Normally you’d receive the vehicle with a full tank and you need to return it with such. However if the tank is not full, either make a note to the guys at the branch or take a photo of the indicator on the dashboard. That might be helpful with confusions later on.

Also, when you get the car look it over. Note any scratches, dents, smudges and check if they are noted in the vehicle’s paperwork. The car should come with some papers, including a basic description of any damages. If you notice something that’s not in the “report” take a picture of it and/or call the company to have them note it somewhere in your file. Otherwise you might be liable for damages.

What do you have to pay for?

Some companies may have additional fees for young drivers. They might even refuse to give you a car if you’re under a specific age, even if that age is above the legal requirement for driving. That’s just company policy and it will probably differ depending on the company and even the country.

Also, some countries may require you to buy additional equipment – reflective vests, Breathalyzers etc. These have more to do with the laws of the country, rather than the policy of the car rental people.

What extras can you get/order?

There are lots of extras you can include in the booking. Child seats, AC, Sat Nav (GPS), additional insurances… You can also specify when you make the reservation if you want a big trunk, the number of seats you’ll be needing, even whether you want a two or a four door car. However, like almost everything else these are a subject of availability. You might order sedan and get an estate instead. You may be upgraded or downgraded based on the bookings for the specific pic-up station. You don’t have to pay additionally in these cases and companies usually upgrade you if it’s possible when they don’t have exactly what you’ve booked. You can also specify make and model, but I haven’t heard of a company that can guarantee you that 100%.

renting a car in europe
What documents will you need?

The documents, like almost all conditions of renting, will differ from company to company, but pretty obviously you’ll be needing your license. If you have any sort of offences – points given or taken away (whatever the penalty is in your native country), you better check with the company whether it might be a problem. If you’re renting over the phone you will most likely be asked anyway, but if not, be safe and check. That might save you some serious heart/wallet ache later on.

They might also want to see your passport – even though you might be renting in the EU and not need your passport for the crossing of borders, you might need to present it to the car rental company. They mostly need it to verify address. If you’re paying with a credit/debit, even if the reservation is prepaid, they’ll probably still want to see the card – the actual plastic – at the time you pick up the car. Other stuff you may need depending on different situations might be flight tickets or ferry tickets.

What if an accident happens?

Rental companies usually include a basic insurance in the price. It will be wise to check what that insurance includes and if you don’t think it’s enough you can buy additional insurance packages(check the conditions on those as well!).

If the car breaks down and it’s not because you wrapped it around a telegraph pole, the company will most likely offer a replacement. You won’t be paying additionally for it – after all it will technically be the company’s fault.

If, however, you find yourself in an actual accident, things might get a little sticky. The rule of thumb in these situations is: the guilty party pays. In other words if you collide with someone and it’s their fault, you get a replacement car and the jerk has to pay your rental company for the damages. However, if the accident is your fault, you might have to pay. A lot.

The best policy is to drive safely – as safely as possible – and make sure you follow the traffic laws of the specific country you’re in.

Funny Segway story: Once I had a call from a sorry sad guy stuck in Denmark because the police took away his driver’s license for speeding. No license = no driving or he goes to jail. My company did not offer pick up service outside UK and by contract he could not leave the car in Denmark. Spent 15 minutes convincing him not to crash the car on purpose just to get towed away. The moral of the story is: don’t get high and speed in Denmark and obey traffic laws abroad 

Any other advice?

I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again: Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. What you think is an idiotic inquiry might actually be a crucial detail. Double-check everything – especially the paperwork – and make sure you return the car when you’re supposed to because delays may cost you.

Also, I’d recommend renting a car from a big company. The bigger, the better. Why? Because “big company” means big money and that in turn means they work hard to make sure they keep that money to themselves – they make sure that you don’t have cause to sue them. That translates to newer, better maintained vehicles and quicker response in case of breakdown. Plus, because they are big and have lots of money, they can afford to give discounts and promotions which smaller rent-a-car places might not. And, if the company is big, that means they have many offices and therefore many convenient pick-up/drop-off locations.

And a final note: I realize how scary and ominous all this sounds and I only mention all the things that can go wrong because in customer service you usually hear the unhappy clients. I mean, nobody calls you up just to say everything was peachy. But what I handled were the cases that did go wrong. That was the whole purpose of my department.

Truth is, most rentals go without a hiccup and all’s well in the end.

Текстът на български може да видите на другата страница.