Top Tips Before Renting a Car in Italy

When we made plans to travel to Italy, I wasn't sure renting a car would be the best idea. I'd heard about aggressive drivers and crazy terrain, but my husband was determined. My husband likes the flexibility and freedom that renting a car has to offer. There were four of us traveling and upon investigation of the public transportation schedule, it looked like our plans to get to the Amalfi Coast would be easier and less expensive if we had a car. Trust me, renting a car in Italy isn't for everyone, but if you want to get to some of those off-the-beaten-path areas, it may be your best option. Read my tips for more information about renting a car in Italy. It sure proved to be an adventure for us!

small car in Italy

Top Things to Know Before Renting a Car in Italy

rome rental car

1. Is it a Good Idea to Rent a Car in Italy?

Don't be discouraged from renting a car just because it's a foreign country. However, know before you go. If you are visiting Florence or Rome, there are limited traffic zones {ZTL} which will make driving a car in the city difficult. There is limited parking in many areas of Italy and having a car can be more trouble than it's worth. However, if you have access to parking, and an adventurous spirit, and do some prior research on the area you are visiting, then sure, it's a great idea!

2. What to Know When Renting a Car in Italy

Your American car insurance will NOT cover you! 

You know how when you rent a car in the states and you decline all the extra insurance they offer you? Well, you can't do that in Italy. Basic car rental insurance is mandatory in Italy. You will also be asked if you want to purchase deductible insurance in case of an accident. This coverage doubled the price of our rental car every day! 

Some people rely on their credit card companies to offer car insurance, I've read that this actually doesn't apply in Italy. Do some research about car insurance you need to cover you when you rent a car. After experiencing how drivers maneuver the streets in Italy, I think this is the one thing that was most concerning for us when we rented a car. We saw some crazy drivers and some near misses, but we didn't see a single accident so...

Will I need an International Drivers Permit in Italy?

Technically, yes. Will you be asked for it? Probably not. My husband got his International Drivers Permit for $20 at our local AAA office before we went. It was quick and easy and the permit lasts for one year. When you rent a car you probably won't be asked for it, but if you get stopped, chances are they will want to see some proof. Don't take your chances. It's easy enough to get.

Should I get a Manual or an Automatic?

Stateside most people drive automatic cars, but that's not the case in Europe. You will have the option and it's not much more to rent an automatic car during your visit. Make sure you specify what type of car when you rent or else you will be given a manual transmission by default.

Watch out for Toll Roads!

Tolls can get expensive in Italy. On our four hour drive from Rome to the Amalfi coast, we paid around 17 Euros worth of fees for one way. Your rental car will not come with a transponder so you must pay the toll as you enter. Many toll roads don't take credit cards so make sure you have plenty of cash before you start your journey and enter the proper cash/credit line when you come to the toll stop.

Gas can be Expensive!

Gas is known as petrol and the stations can be literally just one pump tucked away barely off the road. Gas stations can also be hard to find when you need one. Pay the fee and have the rental car company fill up the car for you. It will be far easier. 

rome and italy car rental

3. Know the Rules of the Italian Road

You must be 18 to drive, though most rental car companies won't rent to you unless you are 25.

Driving is done on the right-hand side of the road just like in the U.S. Italians drive fast and like to pass, so keep right and pass on the left. 

Don't drink and drive! The blood alcohol level is much lower than it is in the United States and the fine and jail time is much stricter. Enjoy your wine, but take a taxi.

The street signs will be very different than those you see in the U.S. Familiarize yourself with them before you go. Also, everything will be in Italian, so again, know before you go. 

Right on red is always illegal!

4. Have a Good Map AND a GPS

Most road signs in Italy will direct you towards an area {Napoli} rather than in a direction, so know where you are heading and what towns are along the way. Many signs won't indicate north, south, east or west so this might be confusing when driving. 

We got a car with a GPS and it was a lifesaver. Before we left the rental car lot, we made sure our GPS was set to English {it was originally in Italian when we turned the car on and that would have done us no good!}. Even in the newest of rental cars, you can't rely solely on GPS. There was an area of Pompei that the rental car did not like and it perpetually dragged us into the city off of the highway. Highway driving is far less precarious than driving in the cities so do your best to not take any detours. 

If you can, have a real live navigator beside you helping you navigate the roads. That seemed to help when the signs weren't great and the GPS was spotty.

5. Use Your Horn

I've heard mixed reviews about this, but from what we observed honking is very common practice on the hairpin turns on the Amalfi Coast. Less so in the more crowded city areas. The roads seem to be one-way highways but are in fact, two lanes many with large tour buses rounding corners. You can't see what's coming so honking {a light tap} as you approach a corner lets those rounding the bend know you are coming. 

6. Rent as Small of a Car as You Can

I'm always up for an adventure, so I would have been fine if the four of us rented a Fiat and had to travel with our luggage on our laps. However, my husband is 100% American and wanted a big car to fit our family and our luggage. This seemed like a mistake as he tried to navigate the windy roads and tight corners. 

7. Check for any Damage Before and After

I've heard stories of people getting huge fees for damage on rental cars that they didn't create. As always, check for any damage before you leave the lot and take the time when you return the car to walk around your car and take a video making note of the condition of the car when you return. This will help you just in case there is a need to dispute any damage claims.

If we visit Italy again, I'm not sure we would rent a car. I'd look into hiring a private transport {many of your air BnB hosts can help you arrange this} or taking public transport. But it is possible to have the freedom of a car rental and it's not as expensive as some of the other options, so it's worth looking into it. Just be prepared before you go and you'll be two steps ahead ready to enjoy your Italian holiday. 

Have you ever rented or driven a car in Italy? I'd love to hear about your experience!

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