italy/sicily car rental
January 13, 2020 6:45 PM   Subscribe

i love to travel however there are few things I dislike more than organizing travel arrangements, and up there at the top of the awful list is figuring out car rental in such a way that it doesn't cost twice what the price tag says.

We want to drive from Naples to Cefalu (Sicily) then drop the car in Palermo after a week driving around Sicily. We are four sturdy folks with bags so either a compact SUV or large wagon might be best.

- can i pickup in naples and drop off in Palermo? I'm guessing that yes but want to confirm
- is there a single recommended company?
- are there tricks of the trade like pickup/drop off midweek
- what's the deal with car insurance (i have amex platinum in case that helps)?

pls help a jaded daddy out
posted by lapsang to Travel & Transportation around Italy (11 answers total)
I bet you can book using amex's travel website and have some good results.

Note: just checked. totally doable.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:25 PM on January 13

Ran a random week in June (6/3-6/10) for one way NAP-PMO and got a quote for a compact car from Thrifty for total of $140/week, including all taxes and fees, free cancellation.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:31 PM on January 13

  1. Yes.
  2. No. The usual travel websites (Expedia, Kayak, your credit card travel portal, etc.) all show you effectively the same data. The savings to be made by spending more than an hour or two on this are more than your time is worth. That said, you may prefer to choose a global chain (Hertz, Avis, Sixt, Budget, etc.) to make getting hold of an English speaker on the phone easier.
  3. You can sometimes save money by booking just over (rather than just under) seven days.
  4. Do you have auto insurance in the US (I assume that's where you live)? If so, then that may cover you in an overseas rental. It depends on your policy and there may be restrictions. Call your insurer and ask. And even if it covers you, you may not want to use it because claims result in premium increases, and claims while driving a rental are more likely because rental companies always claim for even minor dings and you're driving an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar country. With that in mind, it's better to book the rental using a credit card with primary car rental coverage than to rely on your own auto insurance. (Note you must pay for the rental using this card. Just having it in your wallet is not sufficient.) "Primary" coverage here means that the insurance that comes with your credit card is on the hook, not your home auto policy (which is good). The Amex Platinum does not come with this coverage. Check that link for credit cards that don't have an annual fee if you want to go this route in the cheapest way. If you don't have a home auto policy, any credit card that comes with secondary coverage is fine. That's most of them, including your Amex. Your final option is the simplest but most expensive: take the rental company's offer of insurance. This will be a few tens of dollars a day (depending on the car you choose). That's primary coverage.
And one bonus answer to a question you didn't ask: unless you ask for an automatic, they will assume you want a a manual/stick transmission car in most European countries. It's even possible they will have no automatic transmission vehicles available on the lot. So book an automatic in advance if that's what you want.
posted by caek at 8:03 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Honestly? This is the stuff where having a travel agent help you with it can save you money. For complicated trips, I usually pay my agent $50 to deal with all my travel arrangements. I know she will do a great job, everything will be correct, and I'll get the best deal I can. Totally worth it, imo. I know using an agent is not what people do much anymore, but if you can swing it, it can be a time and money saver.
posted by gemmy at 8:07 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Good advice from caek above. There are very few credit cards that offer primary insurance, which is what you need. Anything bigger than a Fiat 500 in Italy is going to cost you, so you might as well buy the full coverage while you're at it if you're planning to get something like an SUV. I usually find it's best to rent directly from a major company once you've gotten a sense of prices via Kayak, Expedia, AutoEurope, etc.

If you haven't rented in Italy before, know that they're much more rigorous about catching you for minor damage than in the US (if that's where you are accustomed to renting). Definitely examine the car closely and take plenty of photos of both the exterior and interior if you see anything amiss before taking it out of the garage. Point out any dents, dirt, or damage to the staff and make sure they make note of it (and keep your copy).

Also be aware that if you are not an EU resident, you are required by law to have an International Driving Permit to drive a car in Italy. It's likely you won't be asked to provide it to the rental company, but if you have any police encounters they will definitely demand to see it.

I rented from Hertz in Palermo recently, but it was just for a day trip out to Segesta and Erice. I had no problems. They definitely do one-way rentals in Italy.
posted by theory at 12:11 AM on January 14

I rent enough cars (and if you're going to rent a car for a trip in Italy than you do too) that having an annual car hire excess policy is worth it. It costs about £50 a year but it will cover the excess (deductable) charge if there is any. This means that you just get the insurance that comes with hiring a car through expedia (or another provider) and then not the expensive no-excess insurance that you always get them trying to upsell you when you get the car. This is usually something like £20 per day of the rental and is where they try and get you by saying if you get this you will be fully covered. It would be easier to get this rather than having to pay us and then claim back etc etc etc. You obviously would need to have access to the excess amount, but I've easily saved the excess by not having to pay the insurance in just a single rental. If you travel a lot and rent cars often then it makes a lot of sense to get this, especially if your credit card doesn't come with it as it is very cheap and would save you a lot. (renting a car for 2 weeks would incur a ~$300 charge to possibly avoid a ~$500 deductable vs a ~$50 annual insurance policy to do the same)
posted by koolkat at 1:01 AM on January 14

I'm with koolkat on this... take an excess policy - they are also available for single trips. I did this in Italy in 2015 and it cost £29.20 for a two-week holiday (I used 'Direct Car Excess'). Easily paid for in savings. But be very careful about what you sign when you pick up the car. In my case, the agents still circled all the boxes on the policy for initialling that you want the cover, the full tank of fuel, etc - you have to pretty actively insist that you're not paying for the excess cover beyond what comes free. And be extremely careful in Italy to do a full inspection and document the condition of the car before driving off, and again on your return - I've had this fight before as well. Charges posted to my card after my return when I wasn't there to document / defend them - and this was with Hertz in Rome. I had to dispute the credit card charges to get them reversed. YMMV, but in my experience a lot of the car-hire places are franchisees and are not so preoccupied with the reputation of the corporations they represent, but rather with what fees and charges they can trouser.
posted by sagwalla at 1:23 AM on January 14

And be extremely careful in Italy to do a full inspection and document the condition of the car before driving off, and again on your return

Take photos of the car from every angle, making sure to show any existing scuffs or scratches no matter how small, at pick up and drop off. I've never been scammed by a rental place for damage I allegedly caused, but I have seen so many stories about it happening. I did once have someone point out "hey there's a scratch here that wasn't there before" but since I could show them photos that it was there already, they didn't try to charge me for it.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:59 AM on January 14

Kolkata, sagwalla: buying rental car insurance from someone other than the rental company is a great idea if you live in the UK but those policies are essentially non-existent in the United States, which i think is where the OP lives. Car insurance works very differently in the US.

And +1 to photos of every minor scratch and dent before you take the car!
posted by caek at 7:13 AM on January 14 was something that came up when I looked. It seems to be quite similar to what I've got before. $120 for a random 8 day trip in Italy in April as a simple check. Quite a bit more expensive as mine was £50 for a year, but again mine only covers the excess and this would be more of a full fledged insurance. I bet you could get something from an Italian company somehow.
posted by koolkat at 7:24 AM on January 14

Seconding the advice to take pics of the car before and note any existing damage. We rented a car in Sicily for several days and there were several times we drove over really crappy roads like while getting to beaches.

When we returned the car they said there was damage that totaled up a few hundred euros and you pay on the spot. I had primary insurance through my credit card and recovered the money, but it took a few weeks and was something of a hassle (had to contact Avis/Budget in Italy and get them to send the picture, details, etc.) so if you feel your time is worth more than a few hours, get the excess insurance before you start.

When we picked up our car (Avis/Budget) in Catania it took a couple of hours waiting for the 2 agents to get through the dozens of people. I doubt it's available, but if there's any agency that offers electronic pickups definitely go for that if you can, even if it costs a bit more.
posted by homesickness at 11:10 AM on January 14

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