A Few Things You Might Not Know About Car Hire in Italy

There Are Both Speed Limits and Speed Cameras in Italy

Hard as it may to be imagine, as you cruise down the autostrada at 180kph (110mph) while someone whizzes past you in the fast lane, Italy does, in fact, have both speed limits and speed cameras. The maximum speed on an autostrada is 130kph (80mph): if traffic slows to this, or lower, there’s almost certainly a camera. Note that car hire firms in Italy will charge your card for both the price of the fine and an admin fee if you’re flashed.

Car Hire Excess Can Be Thousands of Euros

Yes, really. While every company you hire a car from in Italy provides insurance, the excesses (“deductibles” if you’re from the other side of the Atlantic) are ludicrous. Avis, for example, has a “Vehicle Damage Cover Excess” of 850 euros, plus an extra “Vehicle Theft Cover Excess” of 1700 euros — that’s around $3500, or well over £2000. The purpose is to encourage you to buy their excess cover, which can cost as much as half the headline rental price of the car.

Most travel insurance doesn’t cover car hire excess, but an annual, worldwide car hire excess policy generally costs much less than a week’s cover bought on your car hire in Italy – though note that you’ll still have to have space on your card to reserve that four-figure excess.

The Best Deals Online Usually Aren’t

There is big money in showing up as the cheapest provider in car hire comparison engines – which means that most of the best headline prices come stacked with hidden extras. Besides insurance excess waivers, a lot of companies, such as Goldcar, make extra euros on gas. They supply you with a full tank, charge you over the market rate for it, then expect you to bring the car back empty (ever managed to return a hire car empty? Me neither…).

Look for a company with a full-to-full policy, not full-to-empty, and bring the car back full — Avis charges 15 euros for filling a tank.

Many Cities Close Their Historic Centres to Traffic

Most Italian cities close part or all of their historic centre to traffic, and almost all, including some popular small towns, have a residents-only policy for the centre. Parking is often designed for only the dinkiest Cinquecento and, while Italy has nothing on Lebanon or Asia when it comes to crazy, Italians do drive with a certain, umm, verve.

Satnavs May Not Be as Current as You Think

Traffic systems change all the time in Italy, and hire car satnavs aren’t necessarily up-to-date. Rather than spend 100 euros hiring something that might not work, buy an Italian SIM with a data plan and use Google Maps, go the paper route, or bring or buy your own.

Everyone Needs to Wear a Seatbelt

EU law states that everyone, including back seat passengers, needs to wear a seatbelt. Children under 18kg (40lb) need a proper seat; children up to 1m 50cm (4’9”) or under 36kg (80lb) have to sit in the back, but only need a booster. Most of the time, it’s best to bring or buy a car seat rather than rent one.

Automatic Cars are Exxy

It is possible to hire automatic cars in Italy, but they come at a premium – almost all the cheapest cars are manual, because it’s pretty much only foreigners who hire automatics. There are many more relaxing places than Italy to learn to drive a stick.

Thanks to carrentals.co.uk, who provided us with a car for a week in Italy, and 12th St David for his picture Cinquecento at Terrapille, near Pienza.

13 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the tips. I would love to hire a vintage sports car and drive around the Italian coast line!

  2. Rebecca says:

    I have been reading your blog – very inspiring! My daughter and myself are wandering the world next year and plan to spend quite a bit of time in Italy… are you finding it easy to get around and about or is a car required? And as far as expense goes – what sort of budget would you recommend per day ish?
    Many thanks

    • Theodora says:


      Thanks for reaching out to me. The budget question is always difficult to address, because it depends on how you like to travel, how fast you’re travelling, and more variables. You don’t need a car to get from city to city — there are good, cheap, reliable trains (taking the slightly slower one saves a tonne). Check train prices and frequency on http://www.trenitalia.com to give you an idea of costs – be sure to check tutti le treni rather than just frecce, which are the expensive expresses. There’s also public transport options for many smaller towns – we got a car largely because we wanted to see food museums &c in Emilia Romagna.

      These are the cheapest places we found for short-term stays in Italy, if you’re doing ultra-budget: http://www.escapeartistes.com/2014/01/13/cheapest-place-stay-italy-ways-venice-budget/. Mid-range, we had no problems, even in high season, finding decent 3*s with en suites for 50 euros a night or less. If you look at taking holiday lets in a single city for a month, that will slash prices significantly, because you’re paying a few hundred euros for that month. You can also save money by self-catering if you decide to go that route — even weekly/fortnightly stays can work out cost-effective compared to nightly rates.

      Foodwise, again, it depends. Do you want to eat out for every meal? Or will you do hotel breakfast + bread and bits from the supermarket + cheap meal at a cafe bar?

      Museums and attractions can rack up very quickly, depending how fast you’re going. Going slower and shoestringing, but still seeing some sights and eating out once in a while at cheap places, I reckon you could scrape by on 60 euros per day for two: note that that does mean staying ultra-cheap, going out of your way to find supermarkets and shopping in them, doing a lot of stuff on foot, and not moving on too quickly (so you’d really need to work hard to meet that budget). Travelling faster at 3* levels with one decent meal out per day, attractions, transportation and the odd coffee and gelato, you’d be looking at closer to 150 euros per day.

      Hope this helps! Budgeting questions are always difficult, because it very much depends on your personal travel style and requirements…


  3. Wow! Just enough information I need to travel to Italy this fall. I’d like to stick on my budget for a couple of days and just splurge a little bit on food. Thanks

  4. Heather says:

    Very informative … guess I will have to watch my lead foot when I make it to Italia!

  5. While travel within around any big tourist city I always prefer to hire any taxi, car or private vehicle. I haven’t been to Italy yet but would be very soon. I will definitely keep your tips in mind during my trip plan. Thanks for post.

  6. Jason says:

    Thanks for sharing, you provided some great tips! I really liked the one about cities closing their historic centers to vehicle traffic. Really enjoying your articles, keep up the great work!

  7. Italy is Italy! It’s Splendido! But car hires at thousands of Euros? Thanks. I’ll walk. Besides, I need the exercise.

  8. I laughed at your comment about speed limits. We did some hitchhiking back in the day and if there were speed limits on the highways, they weren’t obvious. I agree about Google Maps, definitely the way to go.

  9. Veronica says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing such a vital post. I am glad I came across it, very interesting to learn about Italy.