The Best Way To Choose Which Company To Rent A Car From In Europe, Per Rick Steves

Let's be honest: Renting a car can be a big old pain, wherever you are. You have to consider locations, shuttles, hidden fees, and different car types. And it can be even more frustrating when you're in Europe. You may not speak the same language, you could be stuck with a manual transmission, and you may be driving on the other side of the road. Of course, you have to find the right rental company in Europe first. Travel expert Rick Steves has some incredible tips for figuring out which one to go with. 


While there is a lot that goes into it, Rick Steves' travel tips are always helpful. His car rental tips might save you some money as well. That's a good thing, because, on his website, Steves estimates the average price for a one-week European rental of a compact car at around $775 a week. He breaks it down as around $350 for the base price, fuel at $7 a gallon at 40 miles per gallon (around $150 a week if you go around 120 miles a day), insurance, parking, and tolls. It adds up quickly, and going with the right company can help. 

Finding the right car rental company in Europe

Steves suggests via his website that if you have a rental company you like in America, it's worth looking for them in Europe. If you're used to using travel planning apps, like Expedia, Kayak, or the ones Steves likes, to compare prices, that's a good place to start. However, the flat price you see isn't always the final price you'll pay. Look out for fees and extras, like adding a second driver. Also consider where and when you can pick up and drop off your car with each company. Does it work for your itinerary? Are you leaving the country on a Sunday? If so, is there a rental place that's open for you to drop the car off? 


Remember that larger companies have more locations, which is very handy if any issues come up. "Most of the big U.S. rental agencies have offices throughout Europe, as do the two major Europe-based agencies, Europcar and Sixt," Steves writes. "With these companies, if you get into car trouble, a replacement car is likely to be close at hand." (Having dealt with replacement cars in Europe more than once — on Sunday evenings, no less — we cannot overstate how important that is.) Larger companies may also have offices in smaller towns, which might be a better place to get used to a different transmission or side of the road you're driving on. Just make sure they'll be open when you need them. 


More tips for choosing a rental company in Europe

In Europe, they have auto rental consolidation sites, such as Auto Europe, which are wholesalers that do the same price comparisons as Expedia and Kayak to find you the best deal. However, it's worth comparing the American version of the site (.com) with the European version (.eu) for better deals and a bigger selection. Be sure to do the currency conversion from American dollars yourself on a site like Oanda, because they might not be accurate. Though it can sometimes cost you more money to pre-pay for your rental, you won't have to pay an international credit card transaction fee if you do it before you go. Steves also suggests bringing the consolidation site's toll-free number with you and making sure you can make calls in Europe. If you see something wrong in the paperwork when you pick up your car, don't sign. Call the consolidator first. They might be able to do something to help. 


There are a few other things to consider. First, automatic transmission cars tend to get booked quickly, so you'll want to reserve one early unless you're comfortable with manual. (Big cities and big rental companies will have more.) Note that European cars may have less passenger and trunk space because they're often smaller. But Steves says that's not a bad thing. "I normally rent the smallest, least-expensive model with a stick shift — not just to save money, but because larger cars are not as maneuverable on Europe's narrow, winding roads."