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Renting a Ride

By JEANA COLEMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 23, 2013

Perhaps you want to rent a car because you just arrived to your new duty station. Or, you are traveling and want to go sightseeing.  Whatever the reason, it is good to understand some of the differences in car rental in Europe.

Have valid I.D.

Although most off-base rental car businesses will let you rent a vehicle with only a valid U.S. license and International Driver’s Permit, that is really valid for only tourists. As a U.S. military member or Department of Defense civilian living in Europe, your status of forces agreement states you need a valid U.S. Army Europe (or Southern European Task Force/U.S. Air Forces in Europe/3rd Air Force) license to drive any vehicle, including a rental, while stationed overseas. 

The IDP certifies the validity of your U.S. license in 10 languages, and most countries require it when crossing borders. Contact the Driver’s License and Testing Center on your installation about both the USAREUR license and where to obtain an IDP.

Where to rent and smaller is better

You can make rental reservations in person, over the phone or online. Check major travel sites, credit unions and insurance agencies where you are a member to see what car rental services they offer. Local cities and airports always have rental agencies, so check those as well. Some rental companies will send someone to pick you up either on base or at the airport.

Most cars in Europe are compact because gas is more expensive and roads are narrower than those in the U.S. Consider renting a small car with manual transmission that runs on diesel. You’ll save on gas and get better handling while you learn the roadways. Cars with automatic transmissions are not as available and cost more to rent. Beware — if you do rent a car that runs on diesel, don’t fill up with unleaded! It’s more common than you think.

Restrictions, rates and insurance

Before making a reservation, discuss restrictions or requirements such as international driving restrictions, insurance and age requirements. There are minimum and maximum age requirements for drivers of rental cars per country, vehicle type and rental agency. Drivers under 25 may be charged extra fees and may be denied the use of luxury vehicles.  Skip the additional driver fee and authorize only one driver for the vehicle to save money. 

Some rental rates include collision damage waiver insurance and theft protection, which is required in some countries. Check your credit card companies — they may offer CDW coverage — and verify how much is covered. You can use that card to pay the rental fee and be covered through your card company’s policy. Also check with your international insurance company, such as USAA or Geico. If you have opened a policy on your personal auto that is being shipped to your duty station, you may already have CDW coverage.

Read the fine print and do your research before signing the rental agreement. There are many scams that involve CDW coverage. And driving your rental car into another country may be restricted or require additional insurance, so ask before you do it or you may void the insurance coverage.  Also, countries in Europe have their own car seat and booster seat laws for children. Be sure you know those before you cross borders.

Compare prices for GPS rental at car rental agencies and Outdoor Recreation. Or, consider purchasing one at your Exchange. You will use it continuously during your stay in Europe and after your car rental is returned.

If you plan to rent a car for more than two weeks, consider a short-term leasing program. Renault and Peugeot offer these programs, they can save money in taxes (up to 20 percent in rental fees) and you will have a brand new car during your traveling. For more information, visit www.renaultusa.com.

C.Y.A., or check your auto

Before driving the car away, go over it thoroughly. Take photos of scratches, dings or damage. Use a date/time stamped feature for your photos, and be sure to have someone sign off on any damage.

Verify the mileage and the agency's fill-up policy; it will be cheaper if you fill it yourself and not pay for any offered “fueling fee.” Get two sets of keys, if possible, for safety reasons while traveling.

Verify what time you need to drop off the car, and what the agency's business hours are. 

Be sure the car has the safety kit required for European vehicles. If you are driving in winter, make sure the car has the required winter tires. When returning the car, go over the car carefully again and take photos to verify its condition when returned.

With a little planning and shopping around, you should be able to locate a reasonable car for your travel needs. Be safe and have fun.

coleman.jeana@stripes.com

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Want more great articles and advice for living in Europe?
Check out the digital version of the Stripes Welcome to Europe Guide online: http://www.stripes.com/special-pubs/welcome-to-europe

Need your own copy of the Stripes Welcome to Europe Guide?
Order yours at the Stripes Store: http://www.stripesstore.com/welcometoeuropeguide.aspx

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