More World To See

Renting a car in Europe

Last summer I took a road trip with friends through Central Europe. It was kind of unexpected, actually. We had only planned to travel for a couple of days before other friends arrived and we all flew off together. However, as often happens with travel, our plans changed. So, in our rented Opel Zafira, we ended up covering 2082 miles (3350 kilometers) and eight countries (Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland) over ten days. Renting a car is a great way to experience the countryside and explore areas off the beaten path. Here are some tips for renting a car in Europe in case you’re thinking of doing something similar this summer.
1. RENTAL COSTS. On the surface, renting a car for ten days might not appear to be overly expensive. We did it online through Enterprise, but there are plenty of other choices as well, including Avis, Hertz, and Eurocar. You’ll be quoted a baseline price, but it’s important to remember several extra charges will be added on. Our rental fee, picking up and dropping off at the Vienna airport, was €452 (about $605). Not bad. We knew there would be an additional €10/day cross-border charge (€100) and a charge for the additional driver (€27.50). We also rented a TomTom GPS for a single charge of €25. All of that seemed reasonable to us. Then came the extras fees that were a surprise. Unlike in the US, where you can check a box on the rental contract indicating you have your own collision/damage insurance (CDW), Austria requires proof. If you don’t have it—mine was covered by my credit card but I couldn’t prove it on the spot—you’ll be charged, in our case €208. Take proof of insurance if you have it. Then there was a 17% “airport fee” of €134, some kind of 20% tax of €184, and a 1% “contract fee” of €11. Add those all together and our $605 rental came to $1500. Surprise! Although $50 a day per person is not horrible, it’s not what we expected either. Be aware.
2. GASOLINE. With the kind of driving we were doing, we averaged about 8 kilometers per 100 liters, which works out to about 30 mpg (US). That’s really good. Gas stations were easy to find and very nice, especially along the major thoroughfares. Virtually all had clean restrooms and most had small convenience stores inside, just like in the States. Most were self serve, although in a couple of countries (Slovenia and Poland, I think), they pumped it for you. Every station we encountered took all major credit cards. What is different is the price of gas: $5-$8 per U.S. gallon. This site offers daily gas price averages in local currency per liter: http://www.fuel-prices-europe.info/. If you want to figure out what that is in US dollars per gallon, first convert the currency to dollars, then multiply that amount by 3.78 (liters per gallon). For example, as of today, the average price per liter in Germany (according to that chart) is €1.339—remember that Europe uses a comma for the decimal point! At today’s conversion rate, that is about $1.52. Multiply that $1.52 per liter times 3.78 and you get $5.75 per gallon. I haven’t found one website that will do the whole conversion for you. (Anyone?)
3. ROAD TOLLS. There are lots of road tolls in Europe. Although people from the northeastern United States might not be shocked by this, it may surprise those from other parts of the country. There are two ways tolls are normally taken. The first, as you might expect, is you pull up to a toll booth and pay the amount they ask. Be sure to have some local currency on hand. Other times, you will pull up to a toll booth, take a ticket from a machine, then pay at another toll booth when the freeway ends or when you exit the freeway. Some countries require you to buy a vignette when you first cross the border. This is a sticker you affix to the windshield. It lets you pass through the vignette lanes without stopping to pay a toll. Ours came with a vignette for Austria. We had to buy them when crossing into Slovenia (€15) and the Czech Republic (€17). The other countries we traveled to did not require them.
4. HIGHWAY QUALITY. The roads in Central Europe are, for the most part, excellent. They are well marked and well maintained (as they should be for all the tolls you pay). You will find well equipped rest areas along the highways. Many have cafeterias or restaurants in addition to toilets and gasoline.
5. SPEED LIMITS. They drive fast. On most of the freeways, the maximum posted speed is 120 or 130 km/h (75-80 mph). However, the traffic often flowed substantially faster than that, between 90 and 100 mph. DO NOT DRIVE IN THE LEFT LANE! The left lane is the passing lane; it is used for passing and not for driving. Drive in the center or right lane; only move to the left quickly to overtake another vehicle, then move right back over. Seriously.
6. DRIVERS LICENSE. Check with the car company before you go to be sure, but most European countries now accept US driver licenses for renting a car. In Austria they did, no problem. If you want to get an International Driving Permit just to be safe, or for a country that requires it, AAA can help you out: http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html.
7. NAVIGATING. Rent a GPS along with your rental car. They work great in Europe and will get you anywhere you need to go. Unfortunately, ours broke on the second day, but that was just a fluke. The good news is your smart phone’s navigation system will work just as well. But note: unless you have a special international plan for your phone, don’t use it to navigate or your data charges will be astronomical when you get your next bill. There is a common numbering system in place across Europe, which makes major highways easy to navigate. Driving is on the right-hand side of the road throughout continental Europe. Roads in cities and towns are also excellent and well marked. Study the European road signs before you go and be sure you know the local names for major cities. Most are the same or similar, but Vienna, for example, is Wien in German—that’s what you’ll see on the signs. A good rule for driving anywhere you’re unfamiliar with: when in doubt, stay right.
That’s it! Driving is a great way to see the countryside and maintain an extra measure of flexibility in your travel plans. Do some planning and have fun!
Our trusty Zefira

Our trusty Zefira

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *