5 Important Things You Need To Know About Renting Cars In Italy

Are you contemplating renting a car in Italy? I do this all the time and have driven the length and breadth of the country, both the mainland and Sicily. Having a car gives you incredible freedom and opportunity to get to many towns and villages that don’t have train access. And it’s super fun!

Fiat 500 Italy

However, it’s not quite the same as renting cars in the U.S, so here are 5 important tips when renting cars in Italy:

1. Get A Really Small Car

If you live in much of the U.S, especially in the south and southwest, you will be used to really huge cars, trucks and SUVs. I live in Phoenix and most cars on the road here are really big. So it can feel really odd to rent a teeny tiny car when you’re in Italy. But trust me – it is crucial!

Parking in Rome. Note how tiny the spaces are.

Almost all the towns and villages you’ll visit have very narrow and frequently steep roads. Often your tiny car will take up much of the road. Parking spaces in Italy are ultra tiny, both for street parking and for parking lot spaces. Even a medium size car can be murder to park there. Also, they tend to park their cars with 6 inches clearance at each end – good luck trying that with a medium or large vehicle!

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2. Pick Up/Drop Off At The Airport

No matter where I am in Italy I always pick up and drop off my rental cars at airports, even when there are rental car offices closer to me or in the heart of town. I have a few reasons for this:

  • Just because there is an office in town doesn’t mean they’ll have your car there, or that they’ll have the car you ordered. The airport always has cars and at least have something close to the car you ordered.
  • Just because you have a timed reservation at the in-town office, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually be there. I’ve arrived to the in-town office before and found them closed for the day. This could be particularly difficult if you are returning your car to the in-town office and could have you missing your train/plane/whatever you had scheduled.
  • The in-town office is likely to be on a busy street and you may not be able to find parking. (Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.) This can be super stressful when returning the car.
  • Airport rental car places tend to be very close to the motorway. This means you can get in and out quickly and easily and with no stress.
  • There are always gas stations as you exit the motorway to go back to the airport, which is convenient when you need to fill the tank.
  • Collecting and dropping off your car at the airport means you avoid the ZTLs and nerve racking one way systems.

3. Get The Super Cover Insurance

Rental cars in Italy come with high insurance deductibles. I’ve seen them at €3000 and even €5000. The chances of your car getting dinged are quite high, even if you are a great driver, so it makes more sense to get the full insurance and have no deductible.

Roads are narrow, frequently cobblestoned, and parking can be challenging. Trust me – get the super cover insurance!

In my books Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy I tell the story of when my friend and I were on the Amalfi Coast Road and a tourist came flying around the bend too fast and too wide and hit our car. He came and had a look then got back in his car and took off. Had we not had the full super cover insurance we would have been on the hook for the €5000 deductible.

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4. Watch Out For ZTLs and Speed Traps

While driving in Italy you need to be aware of these two very expensive items. Expensive because of the fines that come with them.

The first are the speed traps on the motorways and some of the rural roads. Keep an eye out for signs saying Autovelox. These are camera monitored speed traps and come in many different shapes and sizes. Fines always catch up with you and can be steep.

ZTLs are limited traffic zones normally found inside the historic center of towns and cities. Only taxis, delivery vans and local residents with special passes can drive inside the camera monitored ZTLs. Your GPS is likely to send you straight into a ZTL, and the complex one way systems inside the historic centers can make it tricky to make a last minute change, or to get back out of them.

This can get really expensive as the camera catches you each time you cross in and out of the ZTL, which can easily be multiple times in a single drive or a single day. The size of the fine varies, according to Google from roughly €80 to €335. My ZTL fine was €276.

Inside a ZTL in Tuscany

A few months after the speeding or ZTL infraction you receive a letter with an inconvenience fine from the rental car company. The inconvenience being them having to track down who had the car that day. Then at some point after that – either weeks or months – you get the fine from the local municipality. It can get very expensive very quickly. My best advice is watch your speed and don’t drive inside the towns and cities.

*** One of my private drivers told me that if you accidentally get yourself inside a ZTL, drive straight to a public parking building. If your car gets registered as coming in to park it can get you out of the fine.

5. Shorter Off-Ramps and Fewer Exits

A simple mistake on the motorway can take you a very long way out of your way. The motorways have very many fewer exits than ours do, so you can find yourself 10 miles along the road before you can turn off and head back.

Also, the exit ramps are much shorter than those in the U.S, so you need to move into the exit lane quickly. This also applies when a motorway splits into several motorways. You get only a short warning and most of the time you’ll be in traffic trying to merge across multiple lanes. I recommend having someone sensible riding shot gun and working the GPS directions for you. If your spouse or significant other is an idiot, put them in the backseat and get someone quick, efficient, and not easily distracted up front with you.

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Want More Tips For Planning Your Trip To Italy?

If you want more tips to help you plan your trip to Italy, check out my best-selling Glam Italia book series. Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy helps you put together your dream trip on your perfect budget. It is full of insider info you need to know. The other books in the series (at the time of publishing this blog post) are Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do in Florence, and Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Venice.

You can also join the thousands of people around the world who belong to my monthly Glam Italia newsletter here.

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