Tips for Renting a Car Abroad

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Tips for Renting a Car Abroad

“Throw the keys through the open window of the kiosk. We'll pick up the car when we open later.” These somewhat unorthodox drop-off instructions, which I once received from a Hertz manager in Croatia, illustrate some of the differences U.S. travelers may encounter when renting a car abroad.

It's worth familiarizing yourself with local guidelines and protocols beforehand. Here's what you need to know before you pick up the keys.

If you have a US driver's license, an international driver's license is officially required (along with your state-issued driver's license) in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Slovakia. , Spain and Thailand, although its use is not widely enforced. If you're renting a vehicle in a country whose language isn't written in Latin letters, it's also a good idea to carry an IDP, a booklet — slightly larger than a passport — that contains a U.S. driver's license in ten languages translated.

An IDP costs $20, is valid for one year, and is issued to each applicant by a local AAA office (the only State Department-authorized issuer in the United States). You must apply for this in the country where your regular driving license was issued.

Car rental brands well-known to Americans operate all over the world. These include Alamo, Avis, Hertz, National, Sixt and others. You can reserve a vehicle through a company's US website or through a rental aggregator such as Autoeurope.com to compare prices.

The foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies may not always be owned by the parent company. Discussion forums on sites like Tripadvisor are filled with commenters bashing large chain franchises for not providing the service they expect from a U.S. company.

Franchise or not, disputes with a foreign branch should always be directed to US customer service, according to Hertz and Autoeurope.

The minimum age for renting a car varies by country and company and is specified on each rental agency's website. Most countries charge a “young driver” surcharge for renters under 25. However, some countries, such as France and Germany, allow (require) companies to rent to 18-year-olds, but in most countries the typical minimum rental age is 21.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hertz does not rent a vehicle to anyone over the age of 79 in Northern Ireland; People aged 75 to 79 need a medical certificate stating that they are in good health and a letter from their insurance company stating that they have not been in an accident in the last five years.

Manual transmission cars are still popular in many European countries. So if you don't have any problem with driving then choose this option. Renting a car with an automatic transmission can typically cost an additional 30 percent or more.

Many US-issued credit cards will cover damage to your international rental car if you are in an accident, as long as you charge the entire rental price to the card. Some providers also require that the same card be used for the reservation in order for the insurance to be valid. This collision coverage is primary, unlike in the United States, where your personal auto insurance covers the cost while your rental insurance covers the deductible. Even if your credit card covers damage to your rental vehicle, you are still responsible for the cost of damage to other vehicles if the accident was your fault.

Please note that standard rental insurance is not available to American Express cardholders in Australia, Italy and New Zealand and other restrictions may apply to other cards.

Before you set off, find out the rules of each country, including the meaning of various road signs and markings. For example, just because you see other vehicles parked with their wheels on the sidewalk – which is common in European cities with narrow streets – does not mean it is legal.

Autoeurope.com offers driving tips for dozens of countries, not all in Europe, and the British Automobile Association lists the road rules for six European countries. Don't forget that many places other than the UK drive on the left (including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and numerous Caribbean islands). And if you get a ticket, don't ignore it. The rental agency ultimately charges you an administration fee.

Seat belt laws are often strictly enforced, with each occupant not wearing a seat belt receiving a separate fine – sometimes imposed immediately.

Finally, many European cities restrict driving in central or historic areas only to residents or to drivers of low-emission vehicles. Entering these restricted traffic zones can result in hefty fines as well as an additional fee from your landlord. Watch out for signs and gates (usually marked “ZTL” in Italy).

Diesel engines are widespread in other countries; Adding diesel to a gas engine or vice versa can cause serious – and costly – damage.

While fuel pumps are color-coded to indicate what they deliver, these colors vary by country and region. The fuel requirement is listed on a sticker on the inside of the fuel filler flap.

In the United States, black represents gasoline while green represents diesel. In Iceland and other European countries the opposite is the case: green for petrol and black for diesel.