Q: Hi, Peter. My husband and I are thinking about taking an extended trip to Europe next spring to see all the places we've missed in the past. What is the best way to get a long-term rental car?
–Kathy Stevens, Sequim, Wash.
Kathy, the best way to get a long-term rental car depends on where you're going and how long you plan to rent the car. But I can give you some important things to keep in mind so you won't get surprised by extra costs or restrictions.
Keep in mind that most cars in Europe have manual transmission. If you don't know how to drive a stick, I suggest you learn. Since companies have a limited supply of vehicles with automatic transmission, they can cost much more to rent or lease.
Another important thing to consider is which countries allow foreign cars. Car companies allow you to drive through most European countries, but there are certain Eastern European countries that may not allow you to enter with a foreign car. Make sure you ask the company about restrictions or extra insurance fees when booking.
Also keep in mind that certain countries, like Spain and Italy, may require you to have an International Driving Permit before picking up your car. Other countries, including Germany and Greece, may fine you for not carrying an IDP (along with your American driver's license) with you. These permits are only $15, and you can pick one up at your local AAA office.
To start comparing prices, try a travel-booking site, such as Expedia or Travelocity, to get some ballpark figures. If you find a rate you like, compare it with the rate on the rental-car company's Web site. Make sure to give yourself options.
Along those lines, you might think about renting from a consolidator company, such as AutoEurope.com or EuropeByCar.com. These businesses compare rates among car-rental companies to find the best deals. The catch with the cheaper deals through consolidators is that you may have more difficulty modifying a reservation or making a complaint.
Depending how long you need a car, you may want to consider leasing one. Auto Europe and Europe By Car also have leasing programs. If you're going to be driving around for a month or longer, you may want to consider leasing a car.
A car is a nice convenience, but don't rule out doing some of your travel by train. Eurail has a variety of discounts, and going by train is a great way to experience each country. So if renting a car turns out to be too much of a hassle or too expensive, you can always get a Eurail Pass.