Top 12 car rental tips for Italy

Top 12 car rental tips, Italy, Italy (Photo Public Domain)

The most important things to know before booking a rental car in Italy

  1. Book from home. Don't wait until you're over there to rent a vehicle. It is invariably cheaper to rent a car from the United States. Most major European rental agencies are now part of, or affiliated with, the big U.S. agencies (Hertz, Avis, etc.), so going direct to the European ones doesn't yield a better deal. » more
  2. Use an aggregator to determine a base fare. Research the going retail rates at various major rental outfits, booking sites, discounters, and travel agencies by using a meta–search engine called an aggregator. Then see if you can beat them with a consolidator (next step). » more 
  3. See if a consolidator can beat those prices. Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com) offers consistently lower prices than the major agencies—even though you'll actually be getting an Avis or Europcar or whatever. This is almost always my first choice when I need to rent in Europe, and since they now do leases as well, it's the best one-stop-price-shopping for the best option. » more
  4. Always get the full rate. Rental companies love to stick it to you with low initial per-day rates, then add on all sorts of bells-and-whistles at the last moment (insurances, taxes, road fees, one-way charges to pick up in one city and drop of in another, etc.).
  5. Do not fall for the "fuel plan." in which they pre-charge you for a full tank of petrol. Yes, this saves you the "hassle" of having to gas up just before returning the vehicle, but it also means that, unless you coast in on fumes, you are gifting them whatever is left in the tank. In other words, you always end up buying more fuel than you use. 
  6. Inspect the car before you drive off. If any pre-existing nicks, scratches, dents, or other damage is not indicated and initialed by a local employee on your rental form before you leave, you will be liable for it when you return the vehicle (oh, and they will charge you an arm and a leg, believe me; even with CDW, you will still have a deductible to satisfy before the insurance kicks in). » more
  7. Don't rent more than you need. We're talking both the time period in which you'll need the car, and the kind of car you'll need.
    • First, rent for as short a period as possible. Don't rent a car for the full two weeks if you're spending your first four days in Rome. You don't need a car in Rome. Nor Milan. Nor Florence. Nor—for obvious reasons—VeniceIn fact, you don't need (or want) a car in any major city, where public transport is fast, efficient, and cheap (see Tip 6 below for more). Arrange to connect major cities by train, and just rent the car for the shorter period when it is truly useful (Tuscan hilltowns, the Italian Lakes, Sicily—pretty much, anywhere countryside). » more
    • Second, don't rent more than you need when it comes to the car itself. A smaller car will give you better gas mileage, cutting down costs (and make it easier to navigate the winding road and narrow streets). If you can drive a manual, stick-shift is always cheaper than automatic (and also gives better gas mileage). » more
  8. Forget driving in cities. See above. Not only are many cities—notably Florence and Rome—implementing a ZTL ("Zone of Limited Traffic"), which makes driving into the historic center either impossible or expensive, it just makes no sense to have a car in a city. traffic is crazy, many streets are pedestrianized or one-way, and parking is impossible and expensive—all while public transit is wonderfully efficient. Avoiding having a car in the city also also niftily helps you avoid the airport pick-up surcharges, since the ideal itinerary has you picking up a car at a downtown office on your last day in one city (rather than at the airport when you arrive, only to drive the thing downtown and garage it for several days), and then dropping it off as soon as you arrive at the last big city. Congratulations. You just shaved several days (and several hundred dollars in rental and parking fees) off your rental period. » more
  9. Look into short-term leases. If you're renting a car for four weeks or longer, look into a short-term lease. All things being equal, this will often cost less than a similar rental, plus it comes with all insurances, no deductible, and a brand new car. » more 
  10. Follow all driving rules and regulations and road signs. Drive defensively and cautiously. Yes, European drivers can seem aggressive. Do not attempt to imitate them. See, they know the rules of the road—both the meanings of all the road signs and official regulations, and the unwritten rules of how people drive in Italy (like how you should slow down and drive a bit on the shoulder to let a larger, faster car pass you, even if he insists on doing this on a blind curve of a meandering, two-lane country road). You do not know these rules, and that is a formula for trouble. Also: obey all no-parking signs. Italian cops have gotten brutal about ticketing (and even towing) illegally parked cars (and any unpaid tickets will find their way to you via the car rental agency, which will attach a whopper of a fee for their troubles, along with the probable late penalties on the ticket itself). » more 
  11. Leave the driving to someone else. A rental car is great—but not always the right choice, even when you need to take a road trip. The truth is, if you plan to take a classic daytrip or excursion you can often hire a private driver and guide more cheaply than it would cost you in rental fees, gas, tolls, and sight admissions to do it on your own. Plus, this way someone else—who already knows where he's going—gets to worry about the logistics, traffic, tolls, parking, etc. You just have fun and see the sights. Also, this is the only truly fair way to tour vineyards, since otherwise the driver in your party would have to abstain. » more
 
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for car travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
car automobile ow-toh-MO-bee-lay
scooter/motorboke un motorino oon mo-tair-EE-no
gas station stazione di servizio stah-zee-YO-nay dee sair-VEE-tzee-yo
gas benzina ben-ZEE-nah
diesel gasolio [or] diesel gah-ZOH-lee-oh [or] DEE-zell
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the highway l'autostrada lout-oh-STRA-dah
...the state highway la statale [written "SS"] lah sta-TAHL-eh
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
to cross attraversare ah-tra-vair-SAR-ay
toll pedaggio peh-DA-jo
parking parcheggio par-KEH-jo
road map carta stradale kar-ta stra-DA-lay
where can I pay the fine? dove posso pagare la multa DOH-veh Po-so pag-GAR-ray la MOOL-tah


Typical road signs / terms » more

English (anglais) French (français) 
Stop Stop
Exit  Uscita
Staffic light Semaforo
One-way Senso unico
Dead-end Strada senza uscita
Parking prohibited No parcheggio or parcheggio proibito
Pedestrian zone Area pedonale
Limited Traffic Zone (you pay to drive in) ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).

 
 

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 (Photo Public Domain)

Hints, tips, and advice for renting a car in Italy