How Car Hire Works in Europe

European Car Hire simply explained. Hundreds of thousands of European car renters have sought our help in finding great value car hire - and we are happy to share our knowledge.

Check out our country by country comments for your destination

European Car Hire Explained

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Across Europe there are new practices being developed every year to extract extra cash from unwary car hirers. Keep your wits about you though and you can get a great deal. Here are some general guidelines, followed by extra information on key destinations.

What car hire normally includes in Europe

  • Third Party Liability insurance is included. In Western Europe these is normally around €5m, so very adequate. It can be less in Eastern Europe.
  • Collision Damage Waiver insurance will also be included (unless you have bought European car rental through a website which targets US or Canadian visitors - watch out for this if you are asked to pay in a currency other than £ sterling or the local currency).
  • Standard Breakdown Insurance covering Mechanical Breakdown

What most agreements exclude

  • An excess - the amount you are liable for before the car hire firms insurance kicks in.
  • Damage to the tyres and wheels, glass and windscreen, underbody and roof.

Watch out for

  • Expensive Excess Insurance Insurance (guide price from rental firms £10 per day)and other add ons sold at the desk
  • Make sure you don't voluntarily opt out of full CDW at the desk - we have had a few users report they have done so, leaving themselves liable for the whole cost of the car in the case of an accident.
  • Limited mileage deals if you plan on driving any distance
  • Additional Breakdown Cover - tends to be expensive and excess insurance policies can cover this at lower cost
  • Prepaid fuel deals - normally more expensive than a full to full offer

Top Moneysaving Tips

  • Buy standalone excess insurance (guide price £2 - £2.20 per day)
  • Airports are often the cheapest places to rent from

Additional Country Specific Information

Croatia

  • Read your car hire terms carefully when booking if you are planning to visit parts of Croatia or Montenegro via Bosnia - many car hire firms do not allow their car to be taken into Bosnia and some car hire excess insurers do not cover travel to the country.

France

  • High Excesses compared to the European average
  • We have had reports of Hertz Firefly levying a Cleaning Fee if the interior of the car is not spotless on its return

Italy

  • Very high excesses levied
  • Theft excesses often are high than CDW claims - make sure that if you are taking an independent excess insurance policy you cover the higher of the two
  • Excess insurance at the desk is probably the most expensive in the World - Hertz charge well over €20 a day!
  • Read contract small print carefully for insurance exclusions - LocAuto, for example, exclude any CDW cover if its a single vehicle accident - so if you hit a tree after swerving to avoid a child you are responsible for the full costs of the damage to your vehicle.
  • Watch out if you are planning to take your car hire on a ferry, say from Sicily to the mainland - many car hire firms Collision Damage Waivers do not cover ferry journeys.

Malta

  • Car Hire Excess Insurers report this is a destination where they receive far higher than average levels of claims, suggesting you are more likely to pick up an excess charge here.

Greece

  • Watch out if you are planning to take your car hire on a ferry - many car hire firms Collision Damage Waivers do not cover ferry journeys.

Spain

  • Penal Fuel Charges are difficult to avoid here - especially in Malaga, Alicante and Murcia - use our car hire comparison service and select the 'fairer fuel filter' to help you calculate the best deal for your trip
  • We get lots of reports of a very hard sell on their in house excess insurance from users of Goldcar and Record Go. Some have apparently even been told it is compulsory or that independent policies are worthless. The company have already provided all the compulsory insurance you needed, and the independent policies are great - so ignore this and stand firm.
  • Record Go have a condition in their small print that the over 70s must take their own excess insurance, which is very costly.

Switzerland

  • Switzerland insists their cars are kitted up with winter tyres in the colder months. This is clearly safer but if you are planning to travel from say Basle or Geneva to lowland France consider hiring from the French side of these airports where you can hire a car with standard road tyres (although if poor weather arrives you may have to arrange to get a set of snow chains from a local rental station). Be aware tough that if you then drive a car into Switzerland you need to make sure its safe to use in the prevailing weather conditions.If you block a road on a mountain pass expect problems with the police.

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This content was last reviewed on 24/07/2014