Italy Travel Tips

Renting a Car in Italy: 10 Things to Know

[Learn more about renting a car in Italy with our Driving in Italy ebook, which you can download for free at the bottom of this page.]

If your Italy itinerary includes driving, you’ll need to rent a car. Here are 10 things to know about renting a car in Italy:

Vatican city, Rome, Italy
“Vatican City, Rome, Italy” by Giuseppe Milo via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Manual transmission reigns supreme

Although automatic transmissions exist in Italy, and are actually gaining popularity, the vast majority of cars on Italian roads have a manual transmission, also known as a stick shift. If you can drive a stick shift, there will be more car rental options available to you. Related to this, it costs about 10% more to rent an automatic transmission. That said, Italy is not the place to learn how to drive a stick shift!

You’ll need two licenses

In addition to your valid driver’s license from your home state, you will also need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP).  An IDP is required for foreigners by law for renting a car in Italy and many car rental companies will request to see it when you pick up your car. That said, you will not be able to rent a car with only just an IDP, so be sure to bring your driver’s license, as well. Have both on you at all times so if you get pulled over or have a fender-bender while driving in Italy, you can show the authorities your legal license as well as the permit with the license information translated into Italian.

You may require a bigger car than you think

Make sure you rent a car that is big enough to completely fit all of your luggage inside the luggage compartment. Car break-ins are very common in Italy, but thieves are opportunistic.  If your parked car appears to be completely empty (even if the trunk is full of your stuff), they will generally not make the effort to break in. Note that this also means you should not leave your GPS, or any sign of it, on your dash…even if you’re running into the bathroom for five minutes.

It’s worth paying a little more to get a zero-deductible insurance

Italy’s streets can be narrow and winding, and parking spots are usually packed in tight, so the chances of you scratching or dinging your car, taking out a side mirror, or having some other small bang-up at some point during your adventures are high. Though it may seem like minor damage, charges from the rental company for repairs, even small ones, can rack up quickly. Take some of the stress out of driving by simply investing in the best insurance coverage there is so you don’t have to sweat every tiny scrape.

Going to the beach? You still need tire chains.

If you’re renting a car in Italy between November 15th and April 15th, keep in mind that the law requires that all drivers carry tire chains (or have snow tires mounted on the car)…even if you’re not going anywhere near the mountains. When you pick up your rental car, you’ll be asked if you want to rent tire chains, as well. It may seem like an annoying extra cost (well, not seem like…it IS an annoying extra cost) but if you are pulled over and don’t have chains in the truck, you could get a fine. In theory, you also need to know how to install them, though it’s hard to imagine any police officers asking you to demonstrate that!

Drop-off locations are more flexible than you think

One-way drop-off fees are mostly a thing of the past, so don’t assume you need to pick up and drop off your car at the same location. This flexibility makes it easier to make the most of your time exploring without the hassle of circling back to your starting point. Keep in mind that there may be an extra fee for an airport location, however.

AutoEurope is our favorite rental portal

We book rental cars for our clients through AutoEurope, which is like a for car rental. They work with several different car rental companies to give the traveler lots of options, have great customer service, and a competitive GPS rental service. And if you find a lower price elsewhere, let them know…they’ll match it.

Drop-off service can be a lifesaver

Some car rental companies offer drop-off services, which can be very useful. For example, we don’t recommend renting a car and driving for hours immediately after getting off a long flight. Better to book a driver, arrive at your destination, and then have a rental car dropped off to use after you’re rested.

Bring your cigarette lighter socket charger

Italian cars have cigarette lighter plugs just like the ones found in cars in North America. So bring your phone car charger or your own GPS (loaded with Italian maps, of course) and know that you’ll be able to plug it into your Italian car. Newer rental cars also have USB sockets, of course, that are the same as the US standard so will also work for phone or smart device chargers. Some even have Bluetooth-enabled sound systems so you can sync your phone to the car and listen to your downloaded playlists podcasts on the road.

Two is better than one

Due to the smaller size of Italian roads and parking spots, it’s always better to rent two smaller cars than one bigger one. If you’re traveling with a group of family or friends, before you book that big minivan to haul everyone around, think twice. You may find it hard to maneuver and park, and with just one vehicle, everyone has to be on the same page as far as the daily itinerary. With two smaller cars, not only will it be easier to handle the driving, but your group can split up if some want to explore a cultural sight and others want to shop, for example.

If you’re considering a self-driving tour through Italy, contact us for a custom itinerary personalized to suit your travel style and pace. From culture vultures to outdoor adventurers, we can craft the ideal trip for you.

For related posts about driving in Italy, take a look at these:

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