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Thinking about renting a car in Italy for your next trip? Having a car at your disposal during your stay is a great way to explore places that are off the beaten path. It gives you great flexibility regarding what to see and do – and when.
Driving in Italy can be fun, but there are a few things you need to know before you go. Here are our top tips for booking car rentals in Italy.
1. Car rental companies
Large international car rental companies like Hertz and Europcar operate in Italy as well as smaller local groups. We usually do a sweep of sites Rentalcars.com and Autoeurope to compare offers and find the best deals. Autoeurope usually has the best offers for one-way rentals and have a useful service for longer-term rentals.
2. When to book your car rental
Car rental supplies, especially of automatic cars, have always been limited in Italy. The pandemic has compounded this situation as people prefer to drive rather than take public transportation options. Make sure to book your car well in advance to avoid disappointment.
3. Where to rent your car in Italy
Where should you collect your car rental in Italy? Airports are the best places to start from as they are located in less congested areas, away from city center traffic. Central pickups are best avoided. As well as being extremely busy, you may also run into historic zones (ZTLs) where big fines can apply to anyone entering.
The choice of cars may also be limited when collecting your Italy rental car from a city center. Pick up from the airport, and you’ll have a bigger choice of cars as well as a better driving experience.
4. Choose your rental car wisely
The type of cars commonly driven in Italy differ from those used frequently in other parts of the world. The average vehicle tends to be much smaller than what you may be used to, due to the country’s narrow, twisting roads and less spacious parking lots.
This means the trunk size is also likely to be limited, so think about how much luggage you’re taking. A medium sized car should provide enough space, but a larger vehicle – such as a Mercedes or VW van – can mean you have more room. Bear parking in mind though – spots in some places can be very tight.
Like many European cars, most Italian cars have a stick shift gear system. If you do want to rent a car in Italy with automatic transmission, then it’s advisable to book well in advance. You may not even be able to secure this type of car at all outside of major tourist areas.
5. Get your paperwork in order
An International Driving Permit is required for residents of the US, Canada, Australia and anyone from outside the EU and Schengen Zone. While it may not be required when renting the car, it would be needed in the case of an accident. By not having one, you can risk being hit by a huge fine.
You can obtain the permit from your local automobile association. A small fee will be payable. You must be aged at least 18 and have held your standard driver’s licence for a year or more. In the US, for example, you can get your permit via the AAA website.
6. Understand the insurance coverage required
Anyone booking car rental in Italy needs to know that basic Collision Damage Waiver car insurance is mandatory. This protects you against any liabilities caused while driving in Italy, such as those resulting in injury to others, property damage or even death.
The good news is that all car hire rates in Italy include this insurance, so make sure you check the coverage and make sure you are comfortable with the provisions. A decent personal travel insurance policy may also provide extra protection. We use WorldNomads insurance for all our trips on top of the mandatory Collision Damage Waiver.
7. Know the Italian road rules
There are some differences between driving in Italy and other countries that it’s best to be aware of. Here are some key points to note from the codice stradale (Italy road rules):
- Italians use kilometers rather than miles to measure distance
- In Italy you must drive on the right
- It is illegal to make a right turn when a traffic light is red
- All passengers must wear seatbelts
- The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%
- You must carry ID, car rental and insurance documents in the car as well as a warning triangle, reflective jackets and headlamp beam deflectors. Apart from the ID and personal travel insurance, these should be provided by the car rental company
- Car seats are required for children up to 36 kilograms (usually around 12 years old) with huge fines applying for non-compliance
The speed limit varies according to the type of road:
- In built-up areas, the limit is 50km per hour
- On the freeway, motorway or autostrade it’s 130km per hour
- Otherwise the standard limit is 90km per hour
Limited Traffic Zones
As touched on earlier, there are Limited Traffic Zones (ZTLs) in major Italian cities. Anyone illegally entering these historic areas may face a heavy fine. Cameras are used to enforce this and the charge would be passed to your car rental company. This may result in them charging an additional admin fee. Penalty notices may be served for up to 2 years after your trip.
The best way to avoid these ZTLs – and the associated fines – is to park on the city fringes rather than centrally. You can then use public transport to access the historical zone.
When it comes to parking in Italy it’s wise to be prepared. Research the options before you travel. We recommend finding a secure underground car park where possible, which you can easily find on Trip Advisor or via Google. The main reason being that people seem to park a little more carefully within this kind of car park than they do on the street.
If you want to use on-street parking, look out for blue zones with clearly marked spaces. You will need to pay by machine, or at the closest tobacco shop (tabaccaio) before displaying the ticket. It’s best to have a stash of coins for payment, as not all parking spots can be paid for with cards.
A word of warning. People do not tend to park neatly on the street. The seemingly random Italian style of parking can verge on the comical – but it’s not quite so amusing when someone actually blocks you in.
More information about Italy’s highway code.
8. Maps and GPS
As we found out the hard way, a GPS, Sat Nav system or Google Maps can only take you so far in certain areas – especially the countryside. Ask at your hotel for detailed directions, and if possible do take a physical map with you too.
9. Car rental costs – more than you think
There are various extra costs to expect, in addition to the basic car rental cost. These include the cost of gas or petrol, toll fees, parking and any one way rental charges. Booking a child’s car seat will also cost extra.
Tolls are to be expected when using Italian highways. Again it’s a good idea to find out about these in advance when planning your route. We like to use this toll calculator so there are no nasty shocks in store.
Visitors can pay the toll charges at an attended booth or via machine. Cash or credit card payments are normally fine, although debit cards may not be accepted – even if they are international ones. So do make sure you have an alternative way of paying.
If you’d like to speak to a person rather than paying a machine, make sure you enter the correct lane as soon as you can when approaching the toll. There tend to be more tolls in northern Italy; on trips to Calabria and Sicily we barely encountered any.
Gas or petrol
Gas, petrol or benzina – as it’s known locally – tends to be more costly in Europe than in North America. The prices are displayed per liter rather than per gallon.
One way fees
While it may make sense logistically to pick up your rental car in Rome and return it to Florence, in this case you may be liable for hefty one way fees. In this case we use Auto Europe as they generally have the best deals – so check there first if you’re looking for cheap car rentals in Italy.
10. Picking up your car
There are several factors to bear in mind when collecting your rental car. Do make sure to check the vehicle over thoroughly for any pre-existing damage – you don’t want to be hit by charges later on for what someone else has done.
Before driving off, familiarize yourself with the vehicle controls and their layout as these may differ from vehicles at home. Make sure you know the fuel type, as the car may run on diesel rather than gas or petrol. Also, do check if there are any ZTLs close by or en-route. This useful resource helps you understand where they are.
It’s also a good idea to know what you must do in case of an accident or emergency before setting off. Any accident should be reported to the ‘polizia’ within 48 hours. Where there is vehicle damage, a ‘CAI Constatazione Amichevole di Incidente’ (CID) must be completed. You should find this inside the vehicle, provided by the car rental company. This will be required for insurance, so take a photo and keep the original safe. The emergency numbers to know are as follows:
- Police 113
- Fire Brigade 115
- Ambulance 118
11. Plan your parking
As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to plan your parking before going out for the day. Research parking lots and add any you’d like to use to your GPS.
It’s worth checking out some reviews before making a decision. It’s also wise to choose those that have good security – particularly if you have luggage stored in the vehicle. This is not advisable but is sometimes unavoidable if you want to make a stop in between destinations.
If you are renting a car in Italy, opting for accommodations that offer free or paid nearby parking is a great idea.
12. Returning your rental car in Italy
As your trip to Italy nears its end, it’s time to think about returning the rental car. Before you do this, make sure you check the terms very carefully. Do you need to return the car with a full tank of fuel?
You also need to check for any damage to the car. This way you’ll be prepared in the event of any issues.
Important – when renting a car is not a good idea
Whether you’re considering short or long term car rental in Italy, it’s not always the best way to get around. When your itinerary includes major cities or tourist areas, these are often easier to access by train. In Italian cities, parking tends to be expensive, and the roads are often choked with traffic.
During summer, driving in coastal areas may also be adversely affected by high levels of traffic. Driving near Italian seaside resorts in summer can lead to slow, time-consuming journeys.
Driving in Italy is also best avoided if you’re not a confident driver. Drivers may pass you on the autostrade at terrifying speeds, yet you need to remain calm while sticking to the speed limit and other rules. As mentioned above, adapting to the Italian style of parking can also be a challenge.
Read this article for more information on your transport options when in Italy.
Summary – Should you rent a car in Italy?
If you’re asking ‘should I rent a car in Italy’, then the answer depends on your plans. Where you want to venture beyond the major cities and tourist areas, then yes. Renting a car gives you so much flexibility in terms of where to go and when, and driving in Italy can also be very enjoyable.