Car Rental in France: The Return of M. Hulot
May 4, 2009 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Car rental in France -- how easy or difficult to get an automatic?

I'm hoping to be able to travel to France later this year. I'd like to rent a car, but like a typical American, I've never had to drive a manual transmission. If I reserve a car with automatic in advance, how likely is it that I'll actually get an automatic--or how likely that the company would substitute a stick? Any company more likely to stock them than others? I'm aware that prices are higher for automatics. Pick up/drop off would probably be in Toulouse.
posted by gimonca to Travel & Transportation around France (15 answers total)
No problem. Prices may be higher for automatics, that is true, but all major car rental companies have them available. We drive sticks, but it's easier to get an automatic when you have to focus on driving on the wrong side of the road. FYI, it's been significantly cheaper for us (Europeans, but U.S. residents) to rent cars in Europe from the U.S. websites of U.S. companies like Hertz, using our U.S. driver's licenses, than doing it locally. I have no idea why. YMMV.
posted by halogen at 9:30 PM on May 4, 2009

Also, it only takes about a day to learn to drive stick. It might be worth the savings.
posted by halogen at 9:33 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I rented an automatic in Paris about 6-7 years ago without a problem. I don't recall which car company, but it was probably Avis or Hertz.
posted by DavidNYC at 9:54 PM on May 4, 2009

I can drive stick, but when I went to France last November for work, my company would only rent me an automatic. I told them stick was fine, but they chose it for me. It seemed pricey, but I didn't pay for it :) I think ~$800 for 2 weeks. It didn't seem like getting an automatic was any problem at all. And I rented through Hertz.
posted by j at 10:15 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: In Toulouse? You'll get one if you book one, since it's a big enough tourist/business city to cater to North Americans, but you'll probably only have one or two models to choose from, at a price that starts around mid-range. Hertz has one auto option, and specifies "Focus or similar"; Avis has "Citroen Picasso or simiiar" or a Merc. Book in advance, from the US, and know enough French to handle any small print about pickup and drop-off times, and potential overage fees.
posted by holgate at 12:41 AM on May 5, 2009

If you go through Hertz online, call ahead to make sure they actually have an automatic. The last time I tried they gave me a manual, which I can't drive, even though I booked one of their automatic-class cars. It's a "best effort" kind of thing, not a guarantee.

I've rented from Sixt many times and they've always had an automatic on-hand, at least in German cities, but check the car carefully for damage prior to driving off.
posted by cmonkey at 1:15 AM on May 5, 2009

When I went over there last year we ended up renting a car for a week and I couldn't get them to give me a stick even though I wanted one. You'll have no problems with getting an automatic.
posted by barc0001 at 1:51 AM on May 5, 2009

Don't fear the stick. Driving a stick is not really that hard and if you are going to learn there is no better place than a rental car. Take a test drive on a stick at your local dealer to assure yourself how easy it is. The only difficult thing is starting on a hill and there you can just cheat with the hand brake until you get the hang of things. Oh, and they don't drive on the "wrong" side of the road in France. ;)
posted by caddis at 4:17 AM on May 5, 2009

Best answer: Toulouse airport certainly has several pretty large car rental companies and I would not be concerned about you having problems getting an automatic - especially if you have requested one beforehand.

I am not qualified to comment on how easy it would be to learn to drive stickshift - but I am going to suggest that the busy roads surrounding Toulouse, when you have possibly just flown the Atlantic - would not be a good place to try it for the first time.
posted by rongorongo at 4:29 AM on May 5, 2009

They may try to automatically (!) sign you up for the most expensive model, as they did to me. "Bonjour monsieur, voici les clefs." "Mercedes?? Ce n'est pas quoi j'ai dit." "Mais la Mercedes est tres chic, non? You like, non?" "Non, madame. vous n'avez pas raison." "Ah oui, bien sur." "That's right bitches."
posted by metastability at 6:36 AM on May 5, 2009

Best answer: I'd only expect to find an automatic transmission at the Toulouse airport or maybe the train station. Smaller city offices will likely only have manuals or an automatic as a special (expensive) option. If you are reserving online and there's a box to check for "automatic", you will very likely get the automatic you are promised. European car agencies are pretty specific about allocating specific cars.
posted by Nelson at 7:47 AM on May 5, 2009

I've rented both in Paris using this site which has always been the cheapest whenever I check (plus all insurance is included). The automatics are usually larger cars and when I've looked, around 100-200 Euros more per week.
posted by dripdripdrop at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2009

I've spent my life driving 'stick' and there's no way I would suggest that getting off a plane; driving in a foreign country and learning how 'drive stick' is a good idea !

I find it a bit weird when I've spent two weeks driving an automatic going back to a manual. If you possibly can find an automatic.
posted by southof40 at 3:15 PM on May 5, 2009

I find it a bit weird when I've spent two weeks driving an automatic going back to a manual.

This has never happened to me, and I have been driving a stick for longer than many mefites have been alive. It is like riding a bike. Even after a long pause it seems pretty natural. Sometimes a car has an odd shift pattern, or whatever, that deters an optimal usage, but the basics of getting the car moving and not stalling are pretty damn easy no matter what, even in a so called race car with a heavy duty performance clutch, although there you might experience a few stalls along the way. Stalls are usually merely embarrassing, no big deal. Don't jump out into an intersection in front of traffic if you might have one though. Play it safe. Really, a stick is no more difficult for the uninitiated than a BIC lighter. Get the rhythm and it all seems fine.
posted by caddis at 7:57 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, folks, all great feedback.

I am going to suggest that the busy roads surrounding Toulouse, when you have possibly just flown the Atlantic - would not be a good place to try it for the first time.

Not to mention the mountain roads in the Pyrenees...
posted by gimonca at 8:00 PM on May 5, 2009

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