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Some have asked for recommendations of websites or agencies they should try for car rentals in Europe.

Tourists in a miniature car slip into a space between cars to enjoy a view of the Golden Gate Bridge

Not all rental car companies are equal — San Francisco CA

Here are the sites I use:

1) https://www.autoeurope.com/

Auto Europe is an agent for Europcar (a pan-European car rental firm) and Avis. You may never have heard of Europcar, because they have no presence outside of Europe, but rest assured they are a highly reputable car rental firm. Auto Europe specializes in online and phone car bookings and typically have good prices as they do a lot of bookings. I’ve rented from them several times in the past, and they can be very good value. You typically pay a deposit for the rental and receive a voucher in return. It is vital that you print out the voucher and take it with you — it’s a cash pre-payment and the car firm needs to credit it to your rental. If you don’t have a print out (yes, I learned this the hard way…) then you’ll be spending a lot more time at the rental counter while they try to find it. You pay the balance of the amount at the end of the rental.

2) https://www.avis.com/

Avis may be the second largest car rental firm overall, but they are stronger in some countries than the leader (Hertz) — especially France. You will almost always find an Avis location in or right next to French railway (SNCF) stations, for example. This is a major boon as you won’t have to haul your luggage far from the platform to the car. Avis has a frequent renter program for customers in the US, which means you won’t have to wait at the counter to collect our car. Well worth it.

3) https://www.hertz.com/

Hertz is the world’s largest car rental firm and can be especially good value for pre-paid car rentals in Europe. You pay the entire amount up front, but in return for a bigger discount. They also have “green fleet” of low emission (AKA low fuel consumption) vehicles which are obviously cheaper to fuel up than regular rentals. It really pays to sign up for Hertz’s Gold Club frequent renter program, as it means you can collect your car without stopping at the counter.

In a previous posting, we’d discovered that American Express Card rental car insurance covered a lot less than in it has in the past. And we weren’t sure if we’d be covered for a claim on a “free upgrade” to a Jaguar car in London.

The good news is that Amex paid the claim, as they have in the previous 2 instances where our rental was damaged or vandalized. It takes a while — mostly waiting on the rental car company to provide their documentation of the charges — but has worked every time so far.

The take-away is the same: take the time to read the small print before you go to make sure you’re covered.

I’m a fan of not paying for rental car CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance, because it’s usually unnecessary and expensive when many credit cards already offer coverage. I’ve written before about positive experiences with American Express’ rental car insurance, but a recent trip highlighted the importance of re-reading the small print.

Francesca, one half of LodgePhoto, had rented a car at London Heathrow, and was pleased to get a free upgrade to a Jaguar, which is this rental car company’s standard intermediate model. Now, there are Jaguars and Jaguars, and this was one of the former — i.e. at the low end of the range, nothing exotic, but a pleasant step up from the more typical Ford or Peugot. At the end of the rental, there was a small chip in the windshield, which American Express explained would not be covered “because Jaguars are exotic cars”… which, if true (there’s some doubt, see below), means that she’d been driving around without insurance for a few days.

Some digging on the Amex website revealed the small print of Amex’s rental car insurance (it is hard to find — it took two failed searches before following a series of links). There are some fairly substantial limitations in the current rules:

  1. Exotic cars: anything by Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini (and other supercar makers). Also listed is the Jaguar XJS, which is not what Francesca rented. Also the Mercedes E320, which I would not consider remotely exotic. Check the document for the full list.
  2. Expensive cars: an MSRP greater than $50,000. This can be a really tough one to figure out when renting overseas — is that the price of the car when purchased in the US, or the price of the car in purchased in Europe converted to dollars? How would you know either price when presented with a particular car at the rental counter? Is that price at the current dollar exchange rate, or when it was purchased?
  3. Full sized SUVs and Vans: Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition, Chevy Van etc. If you have a lot of stuff and/or a large family, this might also be a surprise. In Europe I always recommend getting more, smaller cars vs. one huge one, if that is possible, as smaller cars are easier to drive and park on narrow European roads (especially in medieval cities).

This is not the full list of limitations, by the way, just some edited highlights.

So, it’s not clear if the windshield chip is covered or not, since Francesca wasn’t driving an expensive or exotic car per the small print. We’ll find out.

The take-away from all this: re-read the small print. Even if you read it before. It might have changed!

Don’t let this happen to you

With gas prices at record highs, the folks over at Auto Europe are running a timely promotion where they’ll give you $30 towards the cost of gas on your rental. In the grand scheme of a trip, $30 doesn’t seem much. But, at $10-$12/gallon (depending on the country and exchange rate), for a typical mid-sized European diesel rental car this is 90-130 miles’ worth of gas… which suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

For more on car rental in Europe see this earlier article: Guide to renting a car in Europe

Auto Europe is at https://www.autoeurope.com/

Their travel blog is at https://blog.autoeurope.com/