Hiring a car in Europe this summer? Here’s how to get it right.

Published on 18 August 2015

Baffling rates, confusing fuel and insurance policies and costly penalties: hiring a car in Europe isn’t always straightforward so here’s a guide with everything you need to know.

What do I need to hire a car?

  • Credit card – it's impossible to rent a car without a credit card, and it will need to have sufficient funds on it.
  • Licence – always bring your driving licence, which you must have held for at least one year.


How important is the car hire location?

Hiring a car at an airport is usually more expensive than picking it up in a town, but if you do hire a car in a small town, be aware that some offices may close on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.

If you want to drop your car rental off at a different return location within the country you’re in, be aware that this can add an extra cost to your hire. And dropping it off in a different country altogether will add on a significant extra cost.


Which extra costs do I need to factor in?

  • Extra driver charge
  • Satnav rental
  • Child seats 
- if your children are under 12 (under 10 in France) or are shorter than 4ft 5in (1.35 metres), they will need child seats in most of Europe. See here for country specifics. If you want to take your own, BA, easyJet, Ryanair and Virgin all allow you to check in one seat per child for free.


Which fuel policy should I go for?

  • Full-empty
- pay for a full tank and bring it back empty. Avoid, unless you don’t mind donating whatever is left in your tank to the company.
  • Pre-purchase refund
- again you pay for a full tank, but get a refund for any fuel left. There’s usually an admin fee levied.
  • Full-full
- you pick the car up full and return it full. Overall it offers the best value but you have to remember to fill it up before dropping it back otherwise there could be penalties involved.


Which insurance policy should I choose?

Collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance is almost always included in a booking, covering you for incidents like a major crash, but if you damage the car, you may still be liable to pay for damage up to a certain amount, eg. €1,000. So when you make the booking, don’t forget to factor in the cost of an excess insurance like Super CDW. Be aware that this may reduce the excess to zero but it can be expensive. And if you’re hiring a car in Italy, you may have to get theft insurance too.


What size car should I pick?

  • When choosing car size, factor in suitcases, passengers and any extra equipment you’ll be carrying.
  • Smaller cars handle better on Europe’s more windy roads.


How do I make sure I’m not charged for existing damage?

To avoid penalties at the end of your rental period, make sure you inspect your car thoroughly before you drive away, both inside and outside. If you spot any damage, let the agent know, write it down on the form and take pictures or video evidence, all things that will cover you in case of a dispute. And hang on to all paperwork for a few months in case of a later billing dispute.


What should I do in an emergency?

If you’re involved in an accident or if your car is stolen, contact the rental company (and the police) immediately, because some rental agreements only cover you if you report the incident within a certain time frame.


Do I need to carry any equipment?

Local rules may require drivers to carry safety equipment like warning triangles, first aid kits or reflective jackets. You can be penalised for not doing so, so ask your rental company about the local rules before driving away and make sure your car is properly equipped.


Finally, some useful driving tips:

  • Spain and France – speed cameras are everywhere and fines are high.
  • Italy – beware of complicated parking rules in towns and cities. If in doubt, park on the outskirts and take the bus in.
  • Portugal – don’t park facing oncoming traffic, otherwise your car could be towed.

And remember if you decide to bring your own car on your holidays instead, we will extend your policy to cover you in most European countries for up to 93 days – find out more here.