Senior drivers of rental cars

This item appears on page 38 of the December 2018 issue.

Ireland’s narrow Wild Atlantic Way is “No Country for Old Men.” Photo and caption by Ron Carlson

After reading Robert Carrelli's letter about self-drive travel (Dec. '17, pg. 27), Linda Beuret of Santa Barbara, California, wrote, "For 12 years, my husband and I planned and organized our own trips, mostly driving throughout Europe. Now, at 79, we seem to do more tours, leaving the driving to others. Mr. Carrelli stated that, at 86, he still rents cars and drives on his vacations. I know that, in some countries, many agencies will not rent autos to persons over 75. I am wondering if other travelers have found any difficulty renting autos anywhere in Europe due to age."

We asked our subscribers who recently had trouble renting vehicles outside of the US because they were above an age limit to each tell us which country it was, which rental company, what was said, what alternative was found and when it all occurred. Here are a few of the responses, and more will be printed in next month's issue.

Subscribers with more to share may email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Senior Drivers of Rental Cars, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address.


As an octogenarian (84) who continues to rent cars outside of the US, I've been refused many times in various countries, usually at the Internet-booking stage.

When renting, I read all the fine print very carefully so there are no surprises. As for age limitations, it doesn't matter who is imposing them, whether it's an individual rental agency, insurer or government, rules are rules.

I've often gotten by the age limit by shopping around, and I have settled on Hertz (800/654-3131, www.hertz.com) as a reliable rental agency with no upper age limit.

At least that was the case until I began planning for a week-long drive with my wife, Joy, on the 1,500-mile Wild Atlantic Way along the west coast of NORTHERN IRELAND and IRELAND, March 17-28, 2018. I found that Hertz refused to rent to anyone 75 or over in those countries, even with a doctor's OK. The restrictions were, for me, insurmountable.

In Ireland, older drivers are required to submit a doctor's letter of fitness, which I presume I could have managed, but I could not meet the tough, 5-year clean-driving-record standard (due to a ticket 4½ years prior for a lane-change violation in Minnesota, my first moving citation ever).

My first online attempt was to rent a VW camper in Ireland's capital, Dublin, but I came hard up against a 75-year age limit that could be extended to 79 years only with a doctor's statement of my fitness to drive, in addition to an incident-free driving record. I switched to looking for an ordinary compact car but ran into the same barriers.

Instead, I tried to rent a car in Northern Ireland (with the intent of driving across the border). I found that requirements in the UK generally were free of both the age and accident-free limitations, but I would learn that Northern Ireland is a special case. Still hopeful, I applied to Bunk Campers, the UK's biggest camper-rental agency, but they were unyielding for drivers age 75 and beyond.

Back to a compact car, I tried US-based renters and again hit the age barrier. Avis would rent to me with a doctor's endorsement if I could find a way around their 5-year accident-free requirement and pass a behind-the-wheel evaluation. The latter was a nonstarter that I would not risk, given the right-hand drive, unfamiliar controls and manual transmission of a rental car in Northern Ireland.

I kept looking, digging into the fine print of any offer I could find that might work. I expanded my search to Rentalcars.com, a UK firm that claims to be the world's largest auto-booking service, and found that Europcar had no age or accident-free requirements (if you count 99 as no age limit).

Through Rentalcars.com, I tentatively booked an Opel Corsa compact for eight days with Europcar with no questions asked, then dug into the rental policy statement. There was no mention of an upper age limit, but well into the 70-odd pages of general and country-specific policies, I discovered the need to buy a special permit to cross into Ireland to insure recovery of the vehicle if it broke down there. I could accept that, but I worried that it could trigger some unstated age requirement for entry.

I sent an email to Europcar confessing my age and asking for confirmation that all would go well, but I never got an answer beyond an immediate "Thanks for inquiring. We're working on it."

After waiting a week, I called the Rentalcars.com toll-free US number (866/966-3620) and had a long conversation with cheery Natalya in Bulgaria. She was all assurances, but I remained skeptical enough to take along a doctor's statement, my accident record and evidence of the full collision-damage waiver (CDW) and theft coverage that would be provided by Visa if I charged it all to that credit card.

At this point, I had spent nearly a month making this reservation.

The tidier the restroom, the better. The one where this sign was posted — in Portmagee village, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland — was in a substantial structure right at the entrance to the docks where all the commercial fishing boats were tied up. Photo taken in March 2018

After flying from London to the George Best Belfast City Airport in Northern Ireland and spending our first three days in Belfast sans car (instead using the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus plus cabs), Joy and I took a taxi back to the Belfast City Airport, where things went well at the Europcar rental counter.

My written proof of having insurance coverage through Visa provided savings and proved necessary to avoid the high CDW fee. The opt-out option with proof of coverage is defined in Europcar's obscure, country-specific policy document and applies to Americans and Canadians only. Others must buy the CDW and theft insurance from the rental agency even if they have insurance coverage through their credit card.

But we couldn't avoid that special vehicle-recovery fee, which added $10 per day to our 8-day rental.

We were offered an upgrade to a better Opel Vectra compact with automatic transmission (automatics are expensive and rare in Ireland and not even guaranteed, if booked) and a GPS navigator. Both were blessings well worth the extra $4 per day they cost. (I'm a stick shifter, but automatics are preferable when faced with driving on the "wrong" side of the road, having to shift with the left hand and other local peculiarities.)

Those charges, and a 20% tax, increased our rental cost to nearly $50 per day — quite high for a shoulder-season rental in Europe.

With the car finally in our possession, we sprinted 264 miles across the Irish Island from Belfast to Cork for an overnight just a few miles from the official starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way at Kinsale.

From there, we drove north (and sometimes south and east and west) over the corkscrew route, encountering gorges, mountains, sheep, farm tractors, ferry crossings, spectacular and distracting scenery, uncountable photo-cops and -ops and at least 50 shades of green.

After 1,500 miles of driving from Kinsale (though just 250 miles as the crow flies), we ended up in Londonderry. A subsequent half-day drive along Northern Ireland's picturesque northeast coast had us back in Belfast to end the trip.

We had made it all up as we went, since we had no idea of how much ground we could cover in any one day. It surprised us that we could drive the whole route, including some side trips, stops at local attractions and even a boat trip to the Cliffs of Moher, in just six full days on the Wild Atlantic Way.

This trip was a road-rally test of driving skill and endurance (my kind of thing, though any octogenarian should know better). The Vectra was not too big for the narrow roads, at least one segment of which was only 6 feet wide with absolutely no shoulder.

In fact, virtually all narrow, the back-country roads I drove had no shoulders but, instead, abrupt vertical hedgerows right at the pavement's edge, many disguising ancient stone fences eager to shred fenders and doors.

Overall, it was a great travel experience. Joy, the navigator, also had a ball.

Ron Carlson
Lakeland, MN



I rented a car from Europcar (www.europcar.com) in Perpignan, FRANCE, in March 2018, dropping it off in Bordeaux. The renter's website specifically asked for my age, which was 80.

On location, picking up the car, it went very smoothly, with no remark about my age. There were no surcharges.

The only slight problem was hunting down the rental offices in the railroad stations.

Renting a car in Italy a couple of years ago was also easy, although I got two parking tickets, which I paid promptly to avoid the expense of being chased down by the rental car people.

Carl Boyer
Newhall, CA



A friend and I rented a car in Rovaniemi, FINLAND, for a few days in July 2017. We were just meandering, as is our wont.

At the time of rental, with Europcar, I was a month short of my 87th birthday. They asked if I would be comfortable with a stick shift. I told them my own car was a stick shift. That was the only question.

Ed Deaton
San Diego, CA

In 2016, while doing research for a driving trip in IRELAND in 2017, I learned of two car rental companies that would allow someone age 75 or over to rent a car there.

One was Enterprise* (800/261-7331; www.enterprise.com), based in the US. I spoke to an agent on the phone, who answered my questions.

The other rental agency I called was Dooley Car Rentals** (phone +353 1 844 5151 or, in the US, 800/331-9301; www.dan-dooley.ie), based in Ireland.

I learned about Dooley from ads placed in the free monthly newspaper The Irish Herald (Burlingame, CA; 650/344-3765, www.irish-herald.com), which is distributed to Irish establishments along the west coast of the US.

My trip, which will be my ninth to Ireland, got postponed until spring 2019, but my plan is to visit the stained-glass windows of Harry Clarke, who created them in the 20th century for churches all around the country.

I read about him in the book "Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke," by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen, which I bought in Ireland. It's in limited print in the US but can sometimes be found on Amazon.com. It has beautiful photos.

On my trip, I plan to use a guide who I'll find at Toursbylocals.com, a great source for day guides worldwide. A tour with such a guide can be cheaper per person the more who go.

Carolyn Mackay
Thousand Oaks, CA

*In Ireland, the only age requirement for a basic rental from the Enterprise corporation is the renter "must have been eligible to hold a license [in Ireland] for eight years…" (RVs and luxury rentals have different requirements.) However, locally owned and operated locations may have further restrictions, so Enterprise recommends you contact the rental location directly before making a reservation.

**For someone renting an auto in Ireland, Dooley Car Rentals told ITN that it has no upper age limit and they do not require a doctor's note regarding health nor documentation about the renter's driving record. A driver only needs to be holding a valid, unendorsed, no-restrictions driver's license from his or her own state.



Though I have occasionally rented autos from both Kemwel (877/820-0668, www.kemwel.com) and its sister company Auto Europe (phone, in the US, 888/223-5555, www.autoeurope.com), the majority of the time I have leased autos with them, with pickup at the Nice airport in France.

For each short-term lease, or "buy back auto lease," I fill out all the paperwork, which results in the car's being titled to me. I am ordering a specific car for a specific price, which includes insurance.

The lease is for a specified length of time, after which I agree to return the car to the pickup site. (There is no additional drop fee if it is returned to one of their listed sites in France.) My understanding is that I am liable for the full price of the car if I fail to return it. 

I usually use these companies' Peugeot Open Europe Lease program. [Go to the website of either Kemwel or Auto Europe and search for "Short-term Lease" or "Peugeot Open Europe Lease." — Editor] The program has only a couple of requirements: non-Europeans must be over 18 years old and have a valid driver's license. There is no maximum age limit!

At 80 years old, I continue to lease Peugeots from Kemwel. I have never encountered any problems. I prefer Kemwel because they are located in Portland, Maine, and are responsive to my phone calls.

A major advantage of the Open Europe Lease program is you are guaranteed to get exactly what you order, plus it is a new car. Also, there are no excesses/deductibles with the included insurance.

Each of my leases has been for at least 21 days. Some companies lease for shorter periods, but, according to a rental agent at the Nice airport, you will be charged for 21 days.

More time is required to arrange a 21-plus-day lease, so I arrange mine months in advance. While you must pay in advance, most companies have liberal cancellation policies. Kemwel will give you the lower price if, after you have arranged a lease, they advertise a lower rate, but you must request the change.

My cost in leasing a new car is more than the cost of a regular rental and insurance, but it certainly is much more convenient, considering ease of pickup and return, time saved at the counter and included road service 24/7.

I detest the pressure exerted by car-rental agents to have you increase the insurance coverage and costs. In contrast, I never wait in line for an agent when I lease; I simply present the voucher to a representative at the pickup site and am given the keys in return. The rep makes sure I know where everything is located on the car and even sets the GPS up for me.

When I used Kemwel for my last lease of a new Peugeot for Sept. 11-Oct. 2, 2018, the leasing agent at the Nice airport told me that I might get even better prices by leasing online directly from Peugeot (www.peugeot-openeurope.com/en) or even Renault (www.renault-eurodrive.com/en) or Citroën (www.citroen-europass.com/en).

If you desire to utilize one of these programs, contact these three car companies and compare costs.

Paul A. Huizenga
Grand Rapids, MI