Tips on driving in Europe

By: Ron Carlson
This article appears on page 15 of the September 2017 issue.

Rick Steves gave some good, solid advice on driving in Europe (Aug. ’17, pg. 55), but he skipped over a few items that I consider very important, based on my 60 years of driving rented, leased and owned cars in 75 foreign countries, much of it in Europe.

• Many agencies will not rent to drivers over 70 or 75 years old, spoiling the fun before it starts, but I’ve found Hertz (www.hertz.com) to be consistently liberal about renting to older drivers. 

• In the case of an accident, it’s best to have rented from a major US-based agency. The claims process can be frustrating if dealing with a small or European-based agency, even one of the majors like Sixt Rent A Car (www.sixt.com) or Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com).

• If an accident involves another vehicle or property damage, always get a police report.

• Many major US credit cards cover collision damage, with no deductible, but be sure to check the terms, and use the card for making both the reservation and the final payment.

• There should be no need to buy any insurance from the rental agency, itself, except in a few fringe countries where it may be required. It’s expensive and unnecessary, so always resist.

• Your homeowners insurance may cover lost or stolen contents, as my Minnesota policy does. Policy terms are written according to state rules, different for every state. 

(In Minnesota, policies written by all national insurance companies cover losses of owned property by theft, fire or just carelessness… anywhere. My wife and I have made successful claims for jewelry dropped, we think, between those single European mattresses that pass as a double when paired and for an item stolen from our car in Spain. We’re insured through USAA, the nonprofit insurance that’s available to US military veterans.)

• Large vehicles (standard sedans, SUVs and vans) can be a large problem on narrow roads, in tight parking situations and especially on ramps in garages, so I favor a compact or even an economy model. A compact delivers much better fuel economy, too, which is a significant factor in the land of $6-per-gallon gasoline.

Most modern compact models are comfortable, safe and well suited to challenging drives. Volkswagens are particularly roadworthy and well appointed.

• Having an automatic transmission is a big help when in countries with left-side-of-the-road driving (such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus) because shifting will be one less thing to have to keep your mind on. 

• Always empty your car of all contents when parking overnight in an unsecured place.

• Before driving away from the rental agency, thoroughly inspect the car to be sure all damage — even windshield chips and door dings — is noted on the rental documents. 

When you return the car, take photos of any damage that you may have caused, and get a signed acknowledgement of the description of the damage. 

Traveling by car is my favorite way to see a new country, and taking it on as an adventure is sure to yield a great experience. I acknowledge, though, that it’s probably the most dangerous thing I do (except for driving the busy freeways at home). 

RON CARLSON
Lakeland, MN