European Car Rental Tips

Rest Area in Portugal: Restaurant with gift items, picnic tables, and gas station on the other side.

Hadn’t rented a car in Europe in awhile and my how things have changed. This old lady sure had some challenges but met some wonderful people in the process. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Gas is expensive. Bring euros as in Portugal they don’t always take international credit cards and gas fill up on even a small car runs at least 50 euros, (about $60. with $1.2 conversion)
  • Waze didn’t work for directions as it is phone number based, and you must have GPS. Google maps is internet based and works with a European Sim Card. Get the Sim Card installed in your phone at the airport kiosk or do it yourself through vending machine purchase.
  • Portugal roads were great, drivers speed so move over when they come upon you. They let you know to move.
  • Vehicle speeds in Portugal had minimums and maximums. The signs are circular with red and black lines surrounding the value. Each lane can also designate minimum and maximum speed limits.
  • If you don’t love roundabouts, learn to love them as in Europe they are king. With roundabouts one is often on top of another so it’s a challenge seeing where to turn with the wide arrows on the GPS screen. Take another turn around the circle if this is the case because if you make a wrong turn it often is a long trip to get back on course.
  • If you do get off the wrong highway exit the next exit does not always have a way to get back on. Lost much time on this.
  • Get a highway transponder device for tolls. Rental companies install these automatically in vehicles and charge your card 75 euros. Toll roads in Portugal are pricey. Between Lisbon and Porto I paid close to 100 Euro for tolls and 175 for gas.
  • Use the appropriate lane to go through when using a transponder. If you get side swiped like I was and forced to go to a non-transponder lane you have to pay in euros as international credit cards don’t work. Even though you have a transponder you have to pay cash in these lanes as there is no dual system recognizing the transponder in these lanes.
  • Europeans drive standard cars. If you haven’t driven one in awhile, pay for the automatic. It’s worth it.
  • Have the rental staff put all the car announcements in your language. When I had problems with the hybrid everything was in Portugese. I learned the hard way.
  • GPS in rentals is possible but not always easy to calibrate. Rather than the site an address is needed however road diagrams were superior to phone GPS. I thought the Brit lady who gave the directions was a bit snooty, but that might be me. 🙂
  • As I drove I heard a ping on occasion. Terrified of further car problems I asked at the nearest gas station. European rentals have a noise every time the car exceeds the speed limit.
  • On Portugal’s roads they have human assistance. As I stopped on the side of the road to check the ping one of these friendly folk appeared. Don’t be scared.
  • Windshield wipers, directionals, and horns are in the same place with foreign rentals but all else was varied/complicated. Since rentals lack a car manual ask questions before leaving the rental garage or lot.
  • Purchase an international driving permit before departure. If stopped by police this can be a problem without one. Google for the information – it’s $100 and immediately after purchase print out the info.
  • Get the smallest car available for gas as well as parking concerns.
  • If a parking garage is available, take it regardless of price.
  • The hybrid car I rented was challenging. With the problems I lost a day in tourism. If you have a problem with a rental car return it immediately.

Having the freedom of a car is amazing traveling in Europe and it can work. While the stars were not in alignment with the hybrid I rented the Portuguese people were kind, courteous, and helpful, to me. Give it a try and let me know your experience.

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