Before we talk about tips for renting a car in Italy, it is worth mentioning that before we had children we were firmly in the ‘backpacker who uses public transport camp’. It rarely crossed our minds to rent a car and we never did until our second trip to Italy with our baby, when we made a last minute decision to get a car.
It has to be said having a car makes travelling with children a LOT easier (especially with babies and toddlers) and it has become our preferred option when travelling in Europe.
It gives you greater freedom to travel at the time you choose and that best fits in with nap times, it is easier to break up journeys and also allows you to visit places that are harder to visit on buses and trains.
At first, we were a bit worried about renting a car in Italy. We had read plenty of horror stories about extra charges for insurance or for damage, but after several trips by car, we have had really positive experiences. We hope that the tips below help you to plan your journey through Italy by car.
Italy Car Rental Tips
Book in Advance for Massive Savings
Arranging a hire car couldn’t be simpler, but to get cheap car rental in Italy, make sure that you book it in advance. Even if it is just the day before.
We always book through RentalCars.com which has a great comparison site that will help you to pick the best deal and find cheap car hire in Italy.
They are a booking agent that will get you the best deal with a local provider.
You can filter based on your requirements and then choose the car, company and price that best suits you and your family.
You shouldn’t really need to deal with RentalCars.com after you have made your order, but they are there for you if you need any help.
Our Experiences with Car Rental
The first time we booked car hire in Europe I used my credit card but put my wife down as the driver. This caused all sorts of problems when trying to pick up our car at the airport in Rome as they needed to use her credit card, and she didn’t have one.
I know, this is a bit of a rookie mistake, everyone knows you need a credit card in the driver’s name! But I didn’t and learned the lesson the hard way. (yet again I am blogging about my mistakes to hopefully save someone else the same pain!)
The guy behind the desk was no help at all saying the only option for us to take the car was to pay for the full insurance package at a cost of over a thousand euros.
We already had yearly excess insurance so didn’t want to pay this and this was way more for the insurance than we paid for actually renting the car!
We made one call to the booking website and they quickly transferred the booking into my name and we were away 5 minutes later. The car rental firm themselves were no help at all and I am sure that if we had booked direct we would have had to pay the extra or leave without the car.
On a trip to Lanzarote we were forced to stay longer (hooray!) when our daughter caught chicken pox (boo!). This meant we had to extend our car hire by a few days, so we called in at the rental office to try to extend the deal.
We should have known better but we thought it might be easier this way. The local office could only offer us the full price far in excess of what we had been paying.
So we arranged a new car at a third of the price online using our smartphone – easy.
(I have also sat in hotel lobbies booking through Agoda or Booking.com on my phone as the people on the desk want to charge double the price)
Choosing the Best Rental Car for You
Which Car Size?
A strange thing about renting a car is that you will never ever get the car that you booked. You will get the choice to choose ‘Fiat Punto or similar’ but the chance of actually getting the car in the picture is slim to none.
We find this compact class to be ok for our young family and our hand luggage only travel bags.
We can fit in a Baby Jogger City GT pushchair, 2 hand luggage sized bags, 1 Trunki, 1 Osprey Kestrel Backpack, 2 Ergobaby baby carriers, 2 small backpacks and 2 kids backpacks plus the 2 car seats (yes, we push the limits with carry-on luggage!).
It is a squeeze though, particularly with this pushchair, to free up more space you may want to consider one of the great lightweight strollers we reviewed recently for some amazingly compact options like the Ergo Metro, Yoyo by Babyzen and Babyjogger City Tour.
You may find that they give you a bigger car than you booked as the compact ones are the most popular. If they do, you should not be charged any extra for the upgrade.
Which Car Rental Company?
When booking you will be given a range of options with different rental companies. Some of them you will have heard of but some of them you might not have. Either way, you can check out company reviews here or through Rentalcars.com who display a score rating and have links to customer reviews. We have used Maggiore in Italy with no problems.
It is always best to go for a full to full option when hiring a car. That means that you only have to pay for the fuel that you actually use.
Some companies will try and make you pay for a full tank upfront which could leave you out of pocket if you aren’t driving very far or will mean that you have to try and judge the return of your car when there is just a drop left in the tank.
If you have a full to full arrangement be sure to fill up before returning the car otherwise you will pay over the odds for them to do it for you (if you have a really early flight you might want to do this the night before – assuming you are close to the airport)
I touched on an important point earlier, never ever take the inflated insurance that they will try and sell you at the car hire desk. Take out a separate excess insurance policy before you go away.
You can get it for a single trip but we always take the annual option for excellent value over several trips. Be sure to do this in advance so you don’t feel pressured at the desk to buy all the extra cover.
Not sure you want to hire a car?
Read our post on Italy by Public Transport for a fabulous route through Northern Italy by public transport.
It is really easy and offers a great mix of history, culture and stunning landscapes.
Hiring a Car Seat
Car hire companies charge a premium to rent a baby or toddler car seat.
Before paying for one it is worth checking if you can take a car seat on the plane, many airlines will allow you to do this for free.
We bought an extra car seat just for taking away. This was a bit cheaper and simpler in design than our main car seat so we were happier to have put in the hold even doing this was way cheaper than taking the hired one (also, the ones we have seen piled up in the car rental offices always look pretty tired).
Many car hire companies will charge you £80 for a week’s use an in-car sat nav.
This is a rip off as you could buy one to take with you for that for less than that.
Better still, use an app on your phone. There are loads of specific sat nav apps but Google Maps is free and works really well, be sure to download some maps for offline use before you go.
Car Hire Damage
Whenever we have rented a car they have been pretty relaxed about the damage and checking the car over but we always make sure that we check the car thoroughly before signing the papers, and we take photos if there is any damage.
We haven’t yet had any issues but we have read some horror stories about people being charged for damage that they did not cause.
Renting a Car in Italy
We hope you have enjoyed our tips for renting a car in Italy. Hiring a car can be a bit daunting at first but we have had no issues at all so far (including in Mexico where you will read all sorts of horror stories before you go).
Our top recommendation is to use RentalCars.com to find the best price and then get yourself some excess insurance. Then, at the desk, just refuse all the upgrade options that they try and sell you.
Please check out some of our posts on Italy to find great ideas for your own itinerary.