Planning to drive around Europe? Follow these tips to ensure a safe, easy-going and ticket-free trip.
While your US license generally works, some countries require International Driving Permits (an official translation of your license). Car rental companies usually don’t ask to see it but if you have a run in with the police in a country that requires one you may face a large fine. To be safe, easily obtain one from AAA for $20 USD. Get your passport photo (2 copies) taken elsewhere because it’s more expensive at AAA.
Some countries require a vignette sticker (a special windshield sticker that permits you to drive on their roads) while others have highway, bridge or tunnel tolls. Be sure to investigate the tolls along your route and payment options in each country.
Be wary of special regulations in different countries. Double check which side of the road they drive on (left or right). Print off a cheat sheet for the road signs in the countries along your route.
In Europe, manual cars are the norm. They tend to be much cheaper to book than an automatic car.
Look into your insurance coverage to see if your current policy covers international driving. When picking up your car you will have the option to purchase some if you’re not already covered.
The Google Maps app allows you to pre-download locations to your phone or tablet so you can use the maps offline, even when your phone is on airplane mode. This way you won’t have to rent a GPS from the car rental place or use your international cellular data. If you’re driving manual, bring a cell phone car mount because you can’t hold the phone to look at directions and shift gears simultaneously.
Ask for an English copy of your rental contract. By knowing roughly what your charge should be (in the local currency) you can ensure you don’t get ripped off later. Always decline any offer of “dynamic currency conversion,” you’ll end up paying more by having them convert the local currency to US dollars.
Examine the car thoroughly for any dents, dings or scratches and photograph them so they can’t claim you put them on the car. Ensure all damage is reported on the rental agreement before leaving.
Ask what type of gas to put in the car (diesel vs. unleaded). Note: In Europe, Super 95 is equivalent to gasoline. Tell them which countries you plan on visiting; They often have advice and inform you of international driving fees/regulations. Ask where to purchase toll passes.
Option 1: Have the rental company fill up your car with gas at a set price per liter and return the car empty. Note: it’s okay if the car is not completely empty but they will not give you a refund for leftover gas. We chose this option as it seemed easiest to start with a full tank and return it as empty as possible with no fees later. However, this is only a good option if the price per liter they offer is reasonable. Be wary, car companies often rip you off if you don’t know the average price per liter in that country.
Option 2: Have them fill up your car with gas but don’t pay anything yet, later you must return the car with a full tank and for every liter it’s not full you pay €4 euros. Be sure to check if there’s a nearby gas station to guarantee your tank will be full.
Option 3: Get the car at whatever amount of gas it’s currently at and return it at that same amount (fees apply if it is less).
Depending on your location you may not see many cops while driving; Be aware that there are radar traffic cameras and you could be ticketed. There are often subtle warning signs before entering a small town that could have them (I.e. in Austria signs say “radar-kontrolle”). We only noticed the traffic cameras in small towns (not on interstates).
Make sure you have local currency coins to pay for parking meters. New machines will take cards but better safe than sorry.
Refer to which option you used for filling your car with gas (See Tip 10 above) and be sure to take the required steps so you don’t get charged a “refueling fee.”
Make sure you return your car before the designated time or you could be charged for another day.
Ensure there are no new dents, dings or scratches that the rental office could charge you for. Consider photographing the car as proof of its’ condition upon return.