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How to Rent a Car in Italy (the right way)

How to Rent a Car in Italy (the right way)

Traveling in Italy is a fantastic experience, from the rich cultural heritage to the spectacular scenery of lakes and mountains. You can use public transport, but for absolute freedom and flexibility, the best way to explore this wonderful country is by car. So how do you go about renting a car in Italy?

Renting a car in Italy requires a valid driver’s license, an international driver’s permit, a credit card, and mandatory CDW and theft insurance. Budget for gas and toll fees. It is cheaper and more convenient to book a rental car online in advance, as well as car seats and snow chains you require.

If you want to see more than a bus tour offers, renting a car in Italy makes sense: you can be spontaneous and explore those back routes and interesting rural roads that beckon around the corner. Provided you are willing to get to know Italian driving rules, you will be free to enjoy touring Italy, from the rolling Tuscan hills to the gorgeous Amalfi Coast, from the mountain villages of San Marino to the rugged landscapes of Sicily. 

What is the best car to rent in Italy?

Because Italian roads are generally in good condition, you can rent a standard-sized car. 

On the whole, Italian cars are small, so if there are only two of you, with a couple of pieces of luggage, a mini or compact car will be fine. Small cars are also suited to touring cities, as they are easy to navigate and park. If you’re traveling in summer, consider a convertible to live that Italian dream!

If you’re traveling as a group or plan to tour a large part of the country, it is best to choose a mid-size or full-size vehicle for comfort and luggage space. 

Automatic vs. Manual

In the US, most cars are automatic, but most cars in Italy are manual. You’ll need to specify that you want an automatic when you reserve, make sure that you aren’t charged a premium and ensure a car is available. 

Where should I rent a car in Italy?

You can wait to get to Italy to book a rental, but it is far cheaper and more convenient to book online.

Booking online

The cheapest option is definitely to book from your home country, mainly if you’re booking from the US. This is true regardless of the rental company you choose. 

When you book, be sure to secure both the rental and the required insurance – it will be cheaper than taking out insurance in Italy.

However, don’t be taken in by incredibly cheap-looking offers: rental companies tend to advertise prices that don’t include tax and are relevant only to the smallest cars. They also don’t tend to include the cost of insurance – which is compulsory in Italy. 

It is also essential to book a rental in advance if you’re going to Italy in summer – the country is a massively popular tourist destination so you might find they have no cars available.

You can use a couple of sites to compare rates across popular car rentals, including Hertz, Sixt, Europcar, Alamo, Dollar, and Enterprise. These sites are helpful as you can compare prices without jumping from one website to another, for example, AutoEurope.com or Discovercars.com.

Booking in Italy

If you decide to leave booking your rental until you arrive in Italy, instead book a vehicle in a large city, where it is far more affordable. You can rent a car for a reasonable price in Milan, Rome, or Naples, especially if you rent from the airport or downtown.

Be careful of renting a car in a small town, as fewer cars are available and prices are higher: the smaller the town, the more expensive the rental. You’ll also pay a premium for a one-way rental. 

Returning your rental

Where you return your rental will depend on where you booked and collected it. It’s not a problem to drop your car off in another Italian city, but be aware that you will be charged a domestic one-way fee. Dropping the car off elsewhere if you rented from a small town can be a challenge, though, and you will be charged a premium.

What do I need to rent a car in Italy?

To rent a car in Italy or even to pick up a rental you booked online, you will need to have your driver’s license, an international driver’s permit, a credit card, and car insurance.

A valid driver’s license

To start with, you will need to have a valid driver’s license and an international driver’s permit

Age restrictions

  • The legal driving age in Italy is 18, and you will have had to have had your license for a year. If you are under 25, most insurance will charge an additional fee.
  • Insurance companies also have a maximum driver age of 70 to 75 years old, depending on the provider.

International Driver’s Permit (IDP)

  • If you are from a non-EU country, you need an international driver’s permit (IDP). You will need to show the IDP, as well as your original license. If your license is not in English or Italian, you will need a translation.
  • You may be able to rent a car without an IDP, but you will be fined if you get stopped by traffic police.
  • In the US, an IDP costs $15 from the AAA. The IDP will be valid for a year from the date of issue.

A credit card

Just as in the US, you need a credit card to rent a vehicle. Typically, the rental agency will put a hold on your credit card for the period of the car rental in case you disappear with the car or write it off; the amount will be refunded when the rental is returned, less any fines or damages. Agencies refer to this as an “excess charge” and can range from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. This information will be in your reservation details, so be sure to check what the hold will be so that you don’t go over the limit on your credit card.

Car insurance

You won’t be able to leave with your rental car unless you have purchased collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection insurance first. These are mandatory in Italy. You can read more about this under the costs of car rental below.

Car inspection

Before you leave with the car, accompany the rental officer inspecting the vehicle. You both need to note any existing damage to the vehicle, or else you will be liable when you return the car. It’s a good idea to record the inspection.

  • Outside the vehicle, check for bumps, scratches, damage to the paintwork, and cracks in the mirrors and windshields.
  • Inside the vehicle, check the upholstery for cigarette burns.
  • Check the headlights, indicators, hazards, horn, and windscreen wipers.
  • Check that you know how to turn the car on and off, position the driver’s seat and use the GPS.
  • Check that there is a red warning triangle in the car in case of an accident or breakdown.

If you feel that the car is too damaged or not roadworthy, ask for another vehicle.

What costs are involved in renting a car in Italy?

Renting a car in Italy has many hidden costs apart from the rental fee. There are various compulsory insurances you need to take out. You also need to factor in the price of gas and toll roads.

Car insurance

Car insurance is essential because it protects you from any financial risk caused by driving your rental in Italy: this could range from death or injury to others, property damage or damage to the car, and outright theft.

According to Italian law, it is compulsory to purchase collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection insurance directly from the rental agency. Check first whether the rental price they advertise includes this insurance. You can buy other kinds of insurance, such as fire and third-party liability, through another agency. 

Although your credit card does offer some travel insurance, most credit cards do not cover car rental insurance in Italy, so make sure that you are adequately protected before renting a car. If you choose to use your credit card insurance, the rental agency will want you to sign a waiver saying that you are responsible for the insurance and will pay the costs upfront before claiming them back from the credit card company.

It’s best to take out additional insurance to cover all damage to the car so that you don’t have to pay any excess. This is because you are very likely to get some damage on your rental car if you are driving in Italian cities. Parking is limited, and parking spaces are tiny, so there’s a good chance of some minor damage as you (or others) navigate in and out. Taking out additional insurance avoids unpleasant surprises at the end of the holiday.

Kids’ car seats

Italian law requires all children under five feet to be seated and strapped into an appropriate baby or child seat in the vehicle’s back seat, never the front seat. 

If you are traveling with your children, you will need to rent a child seat – at an additional cost to the rental fee. Remember to book this in advance to ensure car seats are available, as you won’t be able to take the car if your children are not strapped in.

Snow chains

Another hidden cost can be hiring snow chains. These are mandatory in Northern Italy from November to April, and you can be fined if you don’t have them on your car – even if you don’t need them. Be sure to include them in your initial rental price so that you don’t get a surprise when collecting your vehicle.

Toll fees

Another cost associated with driving in Italy is the payment of toll fees, which is made more complicated because there isn’t a centralized agency collecting toll fees. So, different roads or even stretches of road are monitored by different companies, with varying toll fees for distance traveled. It’s best to carry cash to pay tolls, as not all toll booths take credit cards.

For the autostrade or superhighways, buy prepaid toll cards at banks or the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI) offices. 

Gas costs

Gas, known as petrol in Europe, is more expensive in Italy than in the US. It may appear cheaper at first glance, but the price displayed is per liter, not per gallon like in the States. (One gallon is 3.78 liters.) If you’re on a budget, look out for diesel-powered vehicles, as diesel is cheaper than petrol.

When you return your vehicle, you will be charged for a full tank no matter whether it’s empty or three-quarters full – so unless there is a gas station right next to the rental agency, don’t bother filling up before returning it.

Gas stations in Italy

Gas stations are common, well signposted, and often self-service. They are open from 7 am to 7 pm, with a break from 12.30 am to 3.30 pm, and often closed on Sundays. Only the gas stations on the autostrade are open 24 hours per day.

Important driving laws in Italy

If you are planning to drive in Italy, there are some critical driving laws that you need to be familiar with, or else you run the risk of getting a fine.

Italian police are permitted to collect spot fines for traffic violations, so ensure that you have cash on hand. Always keep your rental paperwork and insurance details with you in the car.

Drive on the right


Italians drive on the right-hand side of the road, as in most of Europe and the US.

Speed limits

Speed limits are displayed in kilometers, not miles in Italy. The official speed limits are:

  • Urban areas: 31 mph/50 km/h
  • Highways: 62 mph/100 km/h
  • Autostrade: 81 mph/130 km/h

If you are caught speeding by a fixed camera or police checkpoint, the fine will be sent to your rental car company. It can take months up to a year for the penalty to finally reach you, and you should pay it immediately as the amount will increase exponentially. 

Drinking and driving 

Italy’s legal blood alcohol limit is 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, which means a single drink. Don’t have any alcohol if you plan to drive.

Mobile phones

You may not use a mobile phone while driving in Italy.

ZTL zones

An essential part of driving in Italian cities like Florence and Rome is understanding Zona Traffico Limitato or no traffic zones. 

The point of a ZTL is to reduce traffic congestion to protect historic and heritage areas, so only authorized vehicles can enter a ZLT. You will get a hefty fine if you enter a ZTL without the required permits – they are monitored by traffic cameras. A ZLT penalty is the most common fine tourists get.

Most ZTL areas are signposted so that you can avoid the restricted area: the standard signage is a white sign with a red circle and the words Zone Traffico Limitado. If you pass the sign, you have entered the zone and will be fined.

If you book a hotel in a ZTL, you will need advance permission to enter with your rental car – this can be obtained from the hotel, which will register your car registration with the city authorities.

Smaller towns (like Verona and Siena) will often have a designated paid car park outside town, where you can park and take a bus or taxi to the historic town center.

Is it safe to drive in Italy?

Italy has a reputation for fast, aggressive driving and congested roads. However, this reputation is unfounded. It is safe to drive in Italy.

Roads in Italy are in good condition, and the road network is one of the most extensive in Europe, with the autostrade running throughout the country.

Driving in Italy is straightforward, so long as you follow the Italian laws and driving etiquette, remembering that defensive driving may be necessary. Drivers can be impatient, and tailgating is common, but keep calm and let drivers pass. Do watch out for mopeds and scooters, which pull out without warning.

Theft from cars is unfortunately common, so don’t leave any valuables in your rental.

Conclusion

Renting a car in Italy is a simple process, especially if you do it online from your home country. When collecting the vehicle, make sure that you have your driver’s license, international driver’s permit, credit card, and insurance paperwork. Renting a car in Italy is worthwhile and gives you the chance to explore small towns and mountainous areas that you’d never get to otherwise.