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Without a car, you will never discover places like Gourdon in the Alpes Maritimes.

Auto Leasing vs Renting a Car or SUV in Europe (France, Germany, UK, Italy)

Are you from the USA, and wondered whether it’s better in Europe to rent a car or SUV or secure a short-term lease? (short-term leases not available to EU Citizens). We’d never before considered leasing an auto. If staying 21 days or more in Europe, renting might be the wrong choice. Here’s how we found out the hard way.

Driving our leased small SUV to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Dacia Duster
This was our leased Dacia Duster we picked up in Frankfurt. Perfect sized 4x4, did the job and great on gazole.
Cracked Tailight
Cracked Tailight to the tune of $800 Euros.
Sometimes, you just have to get up and...
Jeep Compass
Toby liked the extra room of our Jeep Compass in France. But his Master had trouble parking and had to back out of a few medieval narrow roads.
Jonathan with smart car
We got a camera ticket for speeding in a Smart Car in Italy, and we were the slowest on the road. Good thing one of can't fit in this car.
Smallest Renault
This was the smallest Renault we could find, which makes it really easy to park, less easy to get into or win a demolition derby.
Polka dot car
We'd like to claim this car for the mountain stages.
Smart Parking sign
The advantages of small cars. Parking and narrow medieval streets.

Rental Car Insurance

We had arrived in Paris and thought the price of our rental car for three weeks was a bargain at $1200 Euros, until the agent let us know that the price of the insurance would be almost as much as the rental fee. We figured that if something minor happened, it wouldn’t cost that much to repair, and if major, we’d just flee the country (and never come back? Wait!). The old curmudgeon frowned upon the added expense (that’s outrageous!) and declined on principle. It wasn’t what we had signed up for online. The agent pushed and pushed, but the old curmudgeon held his ground with a frown.

Disaster Strikes

Of course, the next thing that happened was the storm of the century, just as we were nearing Carcassonne. Cars and trucks were floating down the river. A branch flew off a tree and nailed the top of our car. Then, in Avignon, someone smashed our taillight, just for the heck of it. Suddenly, we were very sorry we had not purchased that $900 Euro insurance. 

Perhaps we could have it all repaired in time, for less than we would have paid for the insurance? We wasted a day finding a Jeep dealer and getting a quote. How to say Nope in French? 

After that episode, we may have never traveled to France again, as we couldn’t afford the insurance, or at least the thought of it. Then, we tripped upon an old book written by Rick Steves. During our last hotel stay, we found it castaway in the poubelle, the garbage can, torn in half. Fortunately for us, the better half remained (unlike our marriage had the curmudgeon complained one more time about how our vacation had been ruined).

Rick Steves to the Rescue

Up until that point, we had never been a big follower of Rick Steves guides nor his PBS travel shows. We were a fan of the more colorful, photo-packed DK Guides, or entertaining and creatively written shows like Anthony Bordain’s No Reservations, if for nothing more than the entertainment factor. But now we needed some good, cold-hard information; and for that, you go to Rick Steves.

We flipped through the pages to see if there was anything about what to do if someone had smashed your taillight and the victim had not purchased the outrageous insurance. About this, there was nothing in Rick’s book. We already knew that Visa was not covering anything overseas. But here on page 77, amongst all the fluff was a solid piece of advice, a cold grey hard curmudgeon pleasing fact: If staying in France for more than 21 days, take a short-term lease. It comes with free insurance.

Short-Term Auto Leases

What? Why? A short-term lease?

A short-term lease comes with free insurance

Wait. What’s the Catch?

And here we were, staying 21 days. Woulda shoulda. What’s the catch here? Other than having to keep the car for 21 days, there is only one. Most likely you will not be picking the car up nor dropping it off at the auto rental hub. You know, the one where all the other rental cars are kept? As well, you will not be able to make the transaction on weekends nor off business hours. The latter is typically not an issue, at least of us, as we always fly on Tuesday-Thursdays, and come in on the red eye. By the time we’ve cleared customs, the agency will be open.

Our Experience with a Short-Term Lease

The next time we visited Europe, we planned on staying in France for the max of a US Citizen’s allowable visit (or anyone not living within the Schengen zone). For us, the max allowable stay without a visa is 90 days. (On one stay, we actually stayed 91, which was every bit as stressful at the Passport checkpoint as returning the damaged rental car. So much for tangents. Back to the subject).

For this trip, we leased a Renault Captur Hybrid at the Nice airport. As mentioned with the one downside, that most of the leasing centers do not have a location within the rental car center, even thought it was located next to one of the giant parking garages, we had a heap of trouble finding it. Though we practice Duolingo daily, our understanding of fast-spoken French is like catching the sleight of hand by a good magician. 

 

Avoiding Panic Attacks with Pre-Coordination

Thus, you do have to coordinate with the leasing agent which may cost you a bit on your phone plan, unless you emailed ahead of time and secured a specific person who will be on that site and get their WhatsApp number. Make sure that is works ahead of time. Otherwise, it can be a bit of scavenger hunt and a lot of pardoning your French to find their location, unless they are meeting you at the airport with the car (much preferred!) Still, at less than 2k for three months, insurance included. it was well worth the extra effort.

On our following travels, we leased for a few months as well, from Auto TT, only this time we flew into Frankfurt. Here the agent came and found us in the airport and drove us to their location, which was about 20 minutes away. To stress again should you make a plane reservation error, we had to make sure we flew in on a day and during regular business hours in which they were open, not on weekends. 

Coordination, Registration and Stickers Oh My

On the upside, along the journey to their rental center, the Auto TT agent gave us a ton of valuable insights to use for our travels. When we arrived at their center, because we had filled out all paperwork online ahead of time, we just had to sign the registration papers. The car is now in your name, and your car now has red plates, which might tag you as a traveler, but at least not a tourist. Yet, it still tags you as not a local, so don’t leave your valuables goes without saying, but at least a warning in writing. If you arrive in a town earlier than check-in, place your luggage with the front desk.

The agent also provided us with regulatory stickers to place on the windshield for each country we were planning to visit. These are required in Switzerland, Austria, and some German cities. They can be purchased at gas stations near their borders, but to save us that inconvenience, we purchased them from the agent. That was 3 stickers for us, which can add up.

Leasing an Auto Outside of France

The best place to lease an automobile is in France. Why? Renault and Citroen are keen to these programs and offer the best prices. To deliver outside of France, they will charge a fee, and rightly so, as someone has to travel to France and get your car for you, as well as return it. However, if you book before Dec. 31, AutoTT has a special and will waive the fee. Otherwise, they offer $200 off France rentals.

The main reason we flew into Frankfurt was due to the French manifestations, or protests, which the media had reported were creating fuel shortages. As we did not know how to manifest our own gas, we decided to visit a few neighboring countries including Switzerland. That way, if the gas hit the fan, we could fuel up in Germany and pop over the border to Annecy and Alsace to get our Francophilian fix. Since we were going to then need to get up to the ski resorts, it would be mandatory to get a 4×4, and went for the cheapest small SUV on the market, the Dacia Duster. It’s made by Renault, and fuels up on Diesel… gazole, which was more available than what we use here in the USA… gas. Don’t worry, if you someone asks you what kind of fuel you need and you reply, “Gazole,” they won’t be offended.

Price of Leasing 

The price of leasing skyrocketed post Covid, but so has renting. When they don’t make enough cars to warrant the leasing, the price goes up and availability down. Another reason we flew into Frankfurt, was that there were no leases available at CDG, Paris. However, they charged us that six hundred euroskees to deliver it from France. We thought about taking a train to Strasbourg and leasing there to save the delivery fee, but lugging our crap onto a train or bus after a nine-hour flight plus plus was not going to happen. As well, the train tickets were about as much, and the buses hit and miss. We ponied up the fee gladly. Taking a train with a dog and luggage will make your trip hyper stressful.

As it turned out, this was one of our rare wise decisions, due to the plus plus being plus plus plus after a perfect rental car storm stirred up out of nowhere in Charlotte. To avoid going to NY JFK airport at all costs… and to avoid any connecting flight at all, we decided to drive from Charlotte to ATL, as American does not fly pets overseas and that is their hub, CLT. But when we showed up to rent the car, all systems were down at Avis. This was shortly followed by the anomaly that all rental cars within a hundred-mile radius were not available for one-way travel. a perfect storm of canceled flights had people scrambling… not a car in sight. Fortunately, our daughter was visiting, and drove us to ATL, a ten hour round trip. The moral of that story is, “things” happen, so best to eliminate things.

Auto Variety with Leasing

The type and make of car you will have for options will also go down for leasing. As well for the leases, the price for automatics goes up, as well as for SUV’s and 4x4s. For the most part, Renault, Citroen, and Pugeot are the main auto manufacturers who lease through agents like Sixt, Auto TT and EuropCar. We opted for the small SUV with the small leasing fee from Auto TT. Anything larger is too big to park in the super small parking garage spaces or squeeze through some alleyways. The Dacia Duster, owned by Renault, did the trick, and was better on mileage than the Captur, most certainly better than the Jeep. The only issue with the Dacia was the stick shift and one of us can’t drive one and the other forgot about his bum shoulder and the fact that he hadn’t used a stick in about 40 years, almost sending the whole kit and caboodle flying off an Alsace cliff. At that point, the insurance would not really have mattered.

So, thanks Rick Steves. You’re okay in my book, the many books I’ve bought of yours, and countless videos watched since. There’s always a good nugget in there. Hopefully, our readers will find a few in here as well. As for Anthony Bourdain, we hope you’re up there in culinary travel heaven finding happiness, eating escargot, and drinking a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2005 with Mork.

 

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