Renting a car in France

I’m planning on returning to France in November, and was looking over some of my travel notes. I realized I had not finished my “France travel-tips” triptych – car rentals in France.

There are a couple of things to consider when renting a car, and my recommendation for a car rental agency:

Insurance:

  • As in the US, car rental agencies make most of their money off the insurance they tack on at the counter. In France you are usually charged for car damage “CDW” and / loss “LDW” (I think they are referred to this way, even in France). There is usually a theft insurance too..
  • Used to be that you could avoid the (astronomical) additional daily insurance charges by using a credit card that would provide insurance instead. However, many places I’ve visited in the last couple of years have wised up to this tactic. Usually what happens is you’ll see a price listed for a car – let’s say 20 Euros a day. OK, you figure you’ll avoid the additional 30 Euros a day of insurance (maybe that’s an exaggeration) by using your credit card….. Ooooh no. That 20 Euros a day is their promotional rate, when you accept the insurance they provide. Otherwise, the price jumps up….


Manual vs. automatic:

  • If you’re like me (sadly), you don’t know how to drive stick. Well, you’re gonna have to find a place that rents automatics. A lot of the bigger agencies (Avis, Hertz, EuropCar, etc) can provide an automatic, in the larger cities and at airports. However… there are “horror” stories of getting there, and the previous renter of their single automatic in the entire fleet has still not returned the car, and you’re out of luck.
  • You could try out AutoEurope, a 3rd party rental broker, which can guarantee you an automatic – depending on the metropolitan region, and guarantee you a price. A lot of Americans like this service because you can call an 800# from the US and set up your reservation; and when you’re done, you know what you’re paying. However, you’re paying the price for these guarantees – i.e. roughly a 30% premium.

Diesel vs petrol:

  • Unlike war-subsidized oil prices in the U.S. 😉 France does not subsidize gas prices. When you see gas at about 1.3 Euros, that’s PER LITRE (multiply by 4 to get a rough gallon price). Yeah, driving costs money, don’t it? That’s a fact the rest of the world is much more intimately familiar with than we are.
  • So your best bet is to rent a diesel if you can. Diesel is about the same price – but are far more efficient (i.e. you’ll be refueling about 1/3 to 1/2 less often).
  • Unfortunately, getting an automatic diesel is like finding a car rental place open during lunch – not impossible, but very difficult. (Remember that when you schedule your car return to coincide with that noon train!)

What I do when I’m in France:
I use UCar

Insurance: The UCar agencies specialize in having a published, inexpensive rate including CDW/LDW insurance (your liability is 500 Euro damages and 1000 Euro theft – not great….). They have big charts in their offices that will show you the exact price you’ll pay, for a certain car, for a certain number of days. When you come back with your car, you leave with that exact amount charged on your credit card (i.e. they don’t send you a racked up bill later). It’s that simple – I’ve done it several times now.

NOTE – A lot of the UCar rates include a specific mileage limitation. This makes it ideal for local exploring, but a bit more expensive for trekking across the country. Their miles are nonetheless pretty generous.

Locations: UCar agencies are everywhere – there’ll usually be a couple in a good-sized town, and then a few more scattered along the villages outside of town. However, these UCar locations are invariably in the middle of friggin’ nowhere. For example, the UCar spot in Avignon is several kilometres outside of the quaint central part of town – you have to take a bus into the Avignon “banlieue” to get there.

Automatics: This gets a little tricky, and again it’s very helpful to be able to speak French. I called the toll number and said I was looking for an automatic in a particular region. The central reservation place in turn called the local agencies to find who had an automatic, and called me back with a reservation. Awesome. Except I needed to enlist the help of another driver with car to get me to that location. (In this example, the Aix-en-Provence UCar is in the commercial section a good dozen kliks outside of town. Yes, you can take a bus, but come on! The best thing about it is there is a great organic store and outdoor restaurant around the corner form the Aix UCar place).

Of course, if you don’t speak French, it’s harder. If you don’t have a cell phone to call back, it’s even harder (I will try to call form the US for this next trip, and see how we can work out the call-back for the reservation).

Nonetheless, one of the great things about UCar is that they all seem to be local owners, and many will get to lengths to help you out (the guy in Avignon drove us to the train station because it was his lunch time, and we were running late).

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3 Responses to “Renting a car in France”


  1. 2 General World Travel Information December 9, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    “I’m planning on returning to France in November, and was looking over some of my travel notes. I realized I had not finished my “France travel-tips” triptych – car rentals in France.”

    General World Travel Information – Things you should do before you take that much needed vacation. Before you go and see the World.

    Find out where you’re going. Take the time to read up on where you’re going. Find out what has to be seen or the best restaurant to eat at. Knowing a bit before hand can help you pack and plan.

    Want more Information?

  2. 3 Chauffeur Hire Melbourne December 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    I am planning to go France by car hire. This article is so helpful for me. Thanks for this…


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