Renting a car in Italy – 12 top things to know – Untold Italy

Are you thinking of renting a car in Italy for your next trip? Having a car at your disposal during your stay is a great way to explore places that are off the beaten path. it gives you great flexibility regarding what to see and do, and when.

Driving in Italy can be fun, but there are a few things you should know before you go. These are our top tips for booking rental cars in Italy.

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1. car rental companies

large international car rental companies such as hertz and europcar operate in italy, as well as small local groups. we usually do a sweep of and autoeurope sites to compare offers and find the best deals. autoeurope usually has the best deals for one-way rentals and has a helpful service for long-term rentals.

2. when to book your rental car

car rental deals, especially for automatic cars, have always been limited in italy. The pandemic has exacerbated this situation as people prefer to drive rather than take public transportation options and many companies have sold part of their shares. be sure to book your car well in advance to avoid disappointment.

3. where to rent your car in italy

where should you pick up your rental car in italy? Airports are the best places to start as they are located in less congested areas, away from the traffic of the city center. it is better to avoid the central pills. As well as being extremely busy, you may also come across historic zones (ZTLs) where large fines can apply to anyone entering.

The choice of cars may also be limited when picking up your rental car in Italy in the center of a city. Pick up at the airport, and you will have a greater choice of cars, as well as a better driving experience.

4. Choose your rental car wisely

the type of cars commonly driven in italy differs from those frequently used in other parts of the world. the average vehicle tends to be much smaller than you may be used to, due to the country’s narrow, winding roads and less spacious parking lots.

This means that boot size is likely to be limited as well, so think about how much luggage you’re carrying. A midsize car should provide enough space, but a larger vehicle such as a Mercedes or VW van may mean you have more room. however, be aware of parking – spaces in some spots can be very tight.

Like many European cars, most Italian cars have a stick shift system. If you want to rent a car in Italy with an automatic transmission, it is advisable to book well in advance. you may not even be able to insure this type of car outside of the main tourist areas.

5. order your papers

An International Driving Permit is required for residents of the United States, Canada, Australia and anyone outside of the EU and Schengen area. while it may not be required when renting the car, it would be necessary in the event of an accident. by not having one, you can risk a huge fine.

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You can get a permit from your local auto association. a small fee will be paid. You must be at least 18 years old and have held your standard driver’s license for one year or more. In the United States, for example, you can get your permit through the AAA website.

6. understand required insurance coverage

Anyone booking a rental car in Italy should know that basic collision damage waiver insurance is required. This protects you against any liability that arises while driving in Italy, such as those that result in injury to other people, property damage, or even death.

The good news is that all car rental rates in Italy include this insurance, so make sure you check the coverage and are comfortable with the provisions. a decent personal travel insurance policy can also provide additional protection. we use worldnomads insurance for all our trips in addition to the mandatory collision damage waiver.

7. know the Italian traffic regulations

There are some differences between driving in Italy and other countries that it is better to know. Here are some key points to note from the codice stradale (Italian traffic rules):

  • Italians use kilometers instead of miles to measure distances
  • in italy, you must drive on the right
  • it is illegal to turn right when the light is red
  • all passengers must wear seat belts
  • the blood alcohol limit is 0.05%
  • You must bring identification, car rental and insurance in the car, as well as a warning triangle, reflective vests and headlight beam deflectors. in addition to personal travel insurance and identification, these must be provided by the car rental company
  • safety seats are required for children up to 36 kilograms (usually around 12 years old) with huge fines applied for non-compliance
  • speed limits

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    the speed limit varies according to the type of road:

    • in built-up areas, the limit is 50 km per hour
    • on motorway, motorway or autostrade it is 130 km per hour
    • otherwise the standard limit is 90 km per hour
    • limited traffic areas

      As mentioned above, there are limited traffic zones (ztls) in the main Italian cities. anyone trespassing into these historic areas can face a hefty fine. cameras are used to enforce this and the charge would be passed on to your rental car company. this may result in them charging an additional administration fee. penalty notices can be served up to 2 years after your trip.

      The best way to avoid these ztls, and the associated fines, is to park on the outskirts of town rather than in the center. you can then use public transportation to access the historic area.


      When it comes to parking in Italy, be prepared. research options before you travel. We recommend finding secure underground parking where possible, which you can easily find on trip advisor or through google. the main reason is that people seem to park a little more carefully in this type of parking than on the street.

      If you want to use street parking, look for the blue zones with clearly marked spaces. You must pay at the machine or at the nearest tobacconist (tabaccaio) before showing the ticket. it is better to have a reserve of coins to pay, since not all parking spaces can be paid with cards.

      a word of warning. people do not tend to park neatly on the street. the seemingly random Italian parking style may border on the comic, but it’s not nearly as funny when someone’s blocking your way.

      more information about the highway code of italy.

      8. maps and gps

      as we found out the hard way, a gps, satnav or google maps can only take you so far in certain areas, especially in the countryside. ask your hotel for detailed directions and, if possible, take a physical map with you as well.

      9. car rental costs – more than you think

      There are several additional costs that can be expected in addition to the basic cost of renting a car. these include the cost of gas or gasoline, toll fees, parking, and any one-way rental charges. reserving a child safety seat will also cost extra.


      Tolls are to be expected when using Italian motorways. again, it’s a good idea to find out about this ahead of time when planning your route. we like to use this toll calculator so there are no nasty surprises in store.

      visitors can pay tolls at an attended booth or through a machine. Cash or credit card payments are usually fine, although debit cards may not be accepted, even international ones. so make sure you have an alternate form of payment.

      If you want to talk to a person instead of paying a machine, make sure you get into the correct lane as soon as you can when you approach the toll booth. there tend to be more tolls in northern italy; On our trips to Calabria and Sicily, we barely come across any.

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      gas or gasoline

      Gasoline, gasoline or benzine as it is known locally, tends to be more expensive in Europe than in North America. prices are shown per liter instead of per gallon.

      one-way fares

      While it may make logistical sense to pick up your rental car in Rome and return it to Florence, you may face steep one-way fees. In this case, we use auto europe as they usually have the best deals, so check first if you’re looking for cheap car rentals in italy.

      10. pick up your car

      There are several factors to take into account when picking up your rental car. be sure to thoroughly check the vehicle for any pre-existing damage; you don’t want to be blamed later for what someone else did.

      Before setting off, familiarize yourself with the vehicle’s controls and their layout, as they may differ from your home vehicles. make sure you know the type of fuel as the car may run on diesel instead of gas or gasoline. Also, check for ZTLs near or en route. this useful resource helps you find out where they are.

      It’s also a good idea to know what to do in case of an accident or emergency before you leave. any accident must be reported to the ‘polizia’ within 48 hours. in the event of damage to the vehicle, a ‘cai constatazione amichevole di incidente’ (cid) must be completed. you should find it inside the vehicle, provided by the car rental company. this will be needed for insurance, so take a photo and keep the original in a safe place. the emergency numbers you should know are:

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