Rental car tips for Italy

Rental car tips, Italy, Italy (Photo Public Domain)

Hints, tips, and advice for renting a car in Italy

Read the fine print

  1. Check the rental restrictions. Most rental companies have restrictions on where you can drive. With some, you must stay in the country of rental (usually this is only mandated by smaller, national outfits). Most won't allow you to take a car rented in England to Ireland or the continent. Few let you drive from any western European country into Eastern Europe.
  2. CDW can be worth it. If your regular auto insurance doesn't cover rentals abroad (check), you might want to buy the collision damage wavier, or CDW. This peace of mind comes basically allows you to total the car and not be held liable. Your credit card may cover the CDW if you use it to pay for the rental, so always check with your company, and it is also an option on many trip insurance plans. Note: Some countries (Italy, Ireland, Spain) —for evil reasons that have never been made clear to me—refuse categorically to honor CDW or other insurances provided by a credit card, even if you're renting from the local office of a major company like Avis or Hertz.
  3. Do not fall for the "fuel plan." One of the rental company's ways to make a few extra bucks off of you is to pre-charge you for a full tank of gas. Yes, this saves you the "hassle" of having to find a gas station just before returning the vehicle, but it also means that, unless you coast in on fumes, you are, essentially, gifting them whatever is left in the tank. In other words, you always end up buying more fuel than you use. 

Picking up the car

  1. Remind them you've already paid. Make sure you know exactly what you paid for when you arranged the car rental. For reasons I'll never understand, the pick-up office in Europe often somehow "overlooks" the fact that your credit card has already been charged for the rental cost, and they double-charge you. The hassle of working this out with the credit card people after you return isn't worth the trouble. Usually, you will get one charge on your card from the European office for the first full tank of gas it provides (which is almost never included in the original rental price).
  2. Inspect the rental car before you drive away. I know you want to jump in and get out on that motorway, but if the agency doesn't know something is wrong with the car when you drive it off, it will assume you broke it and charge you accordingly. If what's on the inspection form they want you to sign doesn't match the state of the car, point it out. Otherwise, once you drive it away, you are legally liable for its condition.

    Make sure all locks and doors work, check the various lights, and peruse the whole thing quickly for dents, scratches, and rips in the fabric. Scrutinize the contract and the vehicle well. Check for the repair and safety equipment. Check the trunk for a jack, inflated spare, snow chains in winter, and a hazard triangle (most countries require you to hang this on the trunk if you're broken down by the side of the road).

    Make sure that any existing damage on the car is noted on the rental form before you drive it away—and also that you don't scribble your initials next to anything on the form that promises you will pay $15 a day for some insurance coverage you already have by virtue of the fact that you put the rental on your credit card.

Dropping off the rental car

  1. Be sure to drop off your rented car on time. One of the great institutional rip-offs in rental cars is that you must drop it off on your final "rental day" at the same time you picked it up on your first day. Think about that, in terms of a realistic itinerary.

    You pick up a rental car early in the morning (say, 9am) on the first day so you can get the highway under your tires and move on with your vacation. But on the last day, you want to be able to coast into your final town in the evening, drop off your bags at the hotel, and then return the car to the rental office before heading out to find some dinner. Problem is, the car was due back at 9am that morning, and they'll charge you insanely high daily rate of the "extra day" that you kept it.

    The only solution: book the vehicle for a period that ends the day after you expect to be finished using it. That way you coast into town at night, drop off your stuff at the hotel, then return the car early. Sure, technically you have it until 9am the next day, but there's no reason to (a) pay for a garage overnight or risk parking it on the street, or (b) waste your next morning driving in rush hour to the rental office then filling in forms and such.
  2. Always gas it up to the brim before returning it. You think European gas is expensive? Well, it is—but you ain't seen nothing like the charges a rental place feels free to impose (gas charges of over $100 aren't unheard of).
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.).



 (Photo Public Domain)

The most important things to know before booking a rental car in Italy