The Long Way Around: Rookie Car Rental Mistakes To Avoid in Europe

We picked up our car rental in Rome from a double-parked position. I should have known this was in fact a metaphor for my car rental experience in Europe this summer. Having rented vehicles in Ireland, Italy and Germany before, I figured that I had the process down. Hidden expenses and catastrophes along the way wouldn’t surprise me. As we jumped in our rented wheels in the middle of Rome’s swarming chaos, I knew right from the first seat belt click, we were already making rookie rental car mistakes in Europe. To prevent seasoned pros and also rental car rookies in the truest sense from making the mistakes I made, don’t sign off on your car rental agreement in Europe until you make sure that you aren’t committing these travel sins.

car rental Europe

Picking up at a train station/city location in a chaotic city

Some cities are relatively easy to navigate. They aren’t a warren of one-way streets that make you feel dizzy with every twist and turn. However, some cities are frankly nightmarish to rent a car. I argue Rome is one of those cities. While we could get out of town with relative ease, dropping our car off was another story. There was no set lot for this major car rental company, just simply double parked options. While this was Italy after all, a rookie renter in Europe might find this unsettling. Also it was incredibly chaotic to have to unload our bags and do a car check in such a hectic location. If the price is the same, it is worth it to pick up in designated lots at the airport rather than hard to find, busy and tear your hair out central locations in cities with very little rhyme or reason to their traffic flow. 

Europe Car Rental

Being surprised by the road tax charge

Perhaps it was the online car rental booking agent that we used, but I was shocked to find charges on my credit card after we returned our rentals in Italy and Spain for roughly $60 more tacked on to the rental rate. While I wanted to immediately cry fraud, this was merely my own oversight. I combed through my rental agreement to find that a road tax charge of roughly 3 euros per day for up to 20 days was not included in my rental price. If you are renting a car for a long period of time like we were, this charge can be significant. From my understanding, the road tax varies in price from country to country. It also differs with its time limit. You are either charged the daily rate up to a certain amount of euros or for a certain time period. Before you book your vehicle, see if your rate includes the tax. If it doesn’t, do the math and see if your rental price is really that much of a bargain anymore.

Failing to take photographs of all of our cars

In Italy, our car rental had some many scraps and dings. It seemed the car rental company could care less how the car returned to them. Our rental agreement showed no marks or scratches when we picked up the vehicle. We took photographs just in case they would question if any of the damage was our fault when we returned it. Italy was never the problem. In Spain, our rental agreement showed scratches everywhere. The woman we picked it up from even said, “You can go over the car, but there is damage everywhere.” Her nonchalant attitude gave me a nonchalant attitude about taking photographs of our vehicle when we picked it up. When we returned it, the agent poured over one major damaged section, one that was there when we picked up. While she didn’t accuse us of the damage, I bemoaned not having photographs of our Spain rental just in case she did. No matter what it says on your rental agreement, take photographs of your vehicle’s damage so you can show any accusing parties a time stamped photograph proving your innocence.

car rental damage

Forgetting about the hold on your credit card

While I learned my lesson on our honeymoon in Greece and Italy, it can be easy to forget about the hold many car rental companies place on your credit card in Europe. Not only can this prove bothersome, but it can also put a crimp in your trip. If you are planning on using that credit for your travels, it is instead unavailable and held in limbo. One of the best ways to avoid the credit card hold is merely to rent from a bigger named rental car company. Whenever we rented from a smaller operation, the hold on the credit card was larger. In Sicily for example, the hold was $1,500. Not everyone has that credit lying around on their card. However, when we rented from bigger named companies, the hold was always just over a $100. You can call or email your company in advance to find out how much of a hold they will place on your credit card.

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What mistakes have you made when renting a car in Europe?


  1. says

    Great tips, and probably not a bad idea wherever one rents a car!

    While we’ve stuck to train, boat, and air travel for the bulk of our European adventures, we did rent a car in Croatia. We drove it one-way from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, and it allowed us to explore the amazing Plitvice Lakes National Park, which would’ve been nearly impossible by bus. Luckily it went off without a hitch!

    Enjoy your week or your weekend!

  2. says

    I love that you wrote a post about this, for we just recently returned from a European vacation in which a car-rental-mistake nearly ruined our entire trip. We avoided picking up in city centers, were prepared for the road tax charge, and planned for the holds on our credit card… we just forgot to grab our IDP before leaving home.

    This was no problem in Italy, but the rental agency in Spain let us know that while it was perfectly legal for them to rent the car to us without seeing our IDP, it was not legal for us to actually drive the car once we had it.

    (The trip ended up being fantastic anyway, of course.)

    We did regret not taking pictures of the rental cars we ended up with, though – but for different reasons than damage protection. (How often does one get to drive around a sleek black Audi and an adorable little Fiat?)

  3. says

    Thanks for the useful advice. I am always a bit nervous when renting a car. Especially when I have to drive around in chaotic places. So I think it is very brave to drive around in Rome. I visited that city, and I would indeed tear my hairs out if I had to drive around there.

    Usually I prefer to travel by public transportation. However, like Jeff points out, some places are hard to reach when you don’t use a car. At some point I just have to overcome my nerves. I will keep your tips in mind when I am ready to rent a car and drive it into a foreign chaos.

  4. says

    Renting a car I couldn’t drive! I didn’t know how to drive a manual car (Canadian, guilty, have since learned) and I rented one in Guadeloupe anyway. I lived, but it wasn’t pretty!


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