Leasing a car in Italy

Leasing a car, Italy, Italy (Photo courtesy of Europe by Car)

How to arrange for a short-term lease on a brand-new car in Italy—cheaper than a rental for longer periods, and far better insured

Short-term car leases—often called a buy-back, or purchase/repurchase, program—were once the best-kept secret of long-term travelers—way cheaper than a rental for three or more weeks.

The good news is that rental rates have since come way down.

The bad news is that lease rates have not come down (instead, they've crept up). So leases are no longer such a phenomenal deal—though for certain kinds of long-term trips, they can make great sense (especially if your time in Italy is part of a longer European vacation and you can arrange to pick up the vehicle in France, which would save several hundred dollars)   

The benefits to leasing a car in Italy

  • For long periods (two months or so), it can cost anywhere from 18 to 30 percent less than renting.
  • You get unlimited mileage and 24/7 roadside assistance.
  • You get a brand-new car of your choice (exact make and model) direct from the factory.
  • Rates are guaranteed in US dollars.
  • There are no additional driver fees.
  • The minimum age to lease 18 (not 25 as with most rentals).
  • There no maximum age for leasing.
  • Since it's technically a buy-back program, there are no taxes. There are none when you first agree to the deal, and no VAT, airport fees, or road taxes will suddenly materialize when you go to hand in the keys (a chronic problem with rentals).
  • There are no airport pick-up fees (as with rentals). In fact, airports are pretty much the only places you can pick up a lease.
  • It's a cheap way to get specialty vehicles: Vans, 4WD, convertibles. "A four-wheel-drive or coupe convertible is very hard to get, or very expensive, with a rental," said Guy Geslin, vice president of Renault USA (which offers a greater selection of specialty and larger vehicles than Peugeot). "But with a lease, we can get it very easily, and for a very fair price."
  • There are no one-way fees to pick up in one city and drop off in another.
  • You car comes with a factory warranty and FULL INSURANCE coverage. There's no fiddling around with separate CDW, theft protection, and liability, each of which, on a rental, adds an extra $7 to $24 per day. What's more, with absolutely no deductible. This is key. Once I turned in a regular rental with a scratch on the door (it got sideswiped while parked in Palermo), and the rental company charged me the full $300 of deductible to fix it. On the other hand, I once returned a leased car missing its entire back windshield (wouldn't ya know it, the car got broken into the night before I was to turn it in). The backseat was still glittering with shatterglass when I drove it up to the leasing agent at the airport, but since the lease came with full insurance and no deductible, I just handed over the keys with a sheepish grin and an apology. I was not charged a single cent.
  • You get something no rental can give you: That new car smell.

The downsides to leasing a car

OK, you know there's got to be a downside, and there is: the 17– or 21-day minimum (it varies company to company). Leasing won’t work for your two-week vacation—though even then, the math sometimes still works out in your favor to do a minimum 17-day lease and simply turn in in car three days early.

There are other cons (or at least considerations):

  • You must be non-EU citizen (or at least live outside the E.U.)
  • You must arrange the lease at least a month in advance (though you can do it up to two weeks or so ahead by paying an expedite fee).
  • Leased vehicles can only be retrieved or returned at only a few dozen locations in Europe, most of which are in France. Other pickup locations elsewhere Europe include major airports.
  • Note that outside-France pick-up and drop-off fees range from $49 to $285 each way (priciest in Spain, Portugal, and Italy).
  • You can only pick up and drop off vehicles at airports; there are no downtown offices.
  • For periods of less than six weeks, rentals can often be cheaper—but only if you forgo all rental insurances. Once you start actually comparing apples to apples and pile on all the insurance rates to a classic rental, the break-even point comes out closer to six weeks (see "The price point," below).
  • In addition to that minimum lease period of 17-21 days, there's a maximum rental period of 170–175 days. (Though some allow you to extend that to 355 days.)
  • Yes, you get a make and model of your choice, but "your choice" is limited to a Renault, Peugeot, or Citroën since leasing is offered only by French car manufacturers (it's complicated, but basically these programs take advantage of a loophole put into place 60 years ago as an attempt to lure French émigrés back home after World War II).
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for car travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
car automobile ow-toh-MO-bee-lay
scooter/motorboke un motorino oon mo-tair-EE-no
gas station stazione di servizio stah-zee-YO-nay dee sair-VEE-tzee-yo
gas benzina ben-ZEE-nah
diesel gasolio [or] diesel gah-ZOH-lee-oh [or] DEE-zell
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the highway l'autostrada lout-oh-STRA-dah
...the state highway la statale [written "SS"] lah sta-TAHL-eh
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
to cross attraversare ah-tra-vair-SAR-ay
toll pedaggio peh-DA-jo
parking parcheggio par-KEH-jo
road map carta stradale kar-ta stra-DA-lay
where can I pay the fine? dove posso pagare la multa DOH-veh Po-so pag-GAR-ray la MOOL-tah

Typical road signs / terms » more

English (anglais) French (français) 
Stop Stop
Exit  Uscita
Staffic light Semaforo
One-way Senso unico
Dead-end Strada senza uscita
Parking prohibited No parcheggio or parcheggio proibito
Pedestrian zone Area pedonale
Limited Traffic Zone (you pay to drive in) ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).