11 Useful Tips for Renting a Car in Italy

The burning question that many confront while planning their trip to Italy is whether they should rent a car or not. And this contemplation is well-founded, considering Italy’s incredibly diverse landscape that offers an ideal setting for thrilling road trip adventures.

While Italy boasts a reliable public transportation network that crisscrosses the nation (with some exceptions, naturally), opting to rent a car opens the doors to an unparalleled journey through the very heart of the nation. Not to mention, there are areas where four wheels are not just recommended, but practically mandatory! 

With this in mind, here are 11 tips covering the key aspects you need to be aware of when it comes to renting a car in Italy.

11 Useful Tips for Renting a Car in Italy

1. To rent or not to rent?

Start by considering your travel plans and the places you intend to visit. If your adventure mainly revolves around big cities like Rome, Florence, or Venice, it’s best to skip the idea of renting a car. In such urban areas, a car could actually feel more like a burden than a blessing, plus public transportation networks are well-developed and can efficiently get you around.

On the other hand, if your itinerary involves venturing into quaint towns or picturesque countryside regions such as Umbria, Apulia, or Sicily, renting a car becomes a necessity. Public transportation options in these areas might be pretty scarce and having a car allows you to access all the beautiful places that might otherwise be impossible to reach by alternate means.

A special note regarding the Amalfi Coast – unless you’re an absolute zen master on narrow, twisting roads right above the sea, forget the idea of renting a car there. Seriously, the roads along the Amalfi Coast require a lot of caution, especially when encountering larger vehicles like buses or campers on those challenging hairpin turns. And as for parking, it’s a rarity that could sneakily eat up your holiday budget!

2. Opt for a smaller car… but with exceptions

Unless you’re hauling around half your life’s belongings, going compact is your golden ticket. Italy’s charming cities and towns are often characterized by narrow streets and limited parking areas. Driving through such settings becomes much more manageable with a small car, allowing you to navigate tight spaces with ease and making your driving experience more enjoyable.  

Of course, there are exceptions. Take Tuscany, for example. Here, the idyllic rustic roads of the countryside, often unpaved and bumpy, call for a vehicle with higher ground clearance. This precaution is crucial to avoid potential scrapes and undercarriage damage, ensuring a smooth journey.  

Speaking of car types, remember that manual transmission is the norm in Italy. If you prefer an automatic car, it’s best to book it well in advance, especially in high season.

3. Remember the car seat

If you’re traveling to Italy with kids, don’t forget to make the necessary arrangements to ensure proper car seats or safety devices in accordance with the country’s regulations. According to Italian law, children must use a car seat until they turn 12 years old, reach a height of 150 cm, or weigh at least 36 kg. Moreover, there’s a recent update mandating the use of anti-abandonment devices for children under 4 years old.

Most car rental companies offer a variety of car seat options tailored to different ages and weight categories. However, make sure to book yours well in advance, simultaneously with your car rental reservation, to ensure availability. Another option is to consider renting car seats from specialized websites that focus on child-related products, such as Babonbo or Mammamamma.

4. Gather all the necessary documents

Prepara tutti i documenti necessari 

When renting a car in Italy, there are a few important things to keep in mind beyond just your regular driving license from your home country. An absolute must is having a credit card on hand (in the name of the primary driver), as cash payments and deposits won’t be accepted. 

Equally essential is your passport – while this might seem obvious, it’s always good to reiterate. Speaking of personal details, remember that the legal driving age in Italy is 18 years old. However, if you’re under 25 years of age, certain car rental agencies might apply an extra fee.

Additionally, if you are not a resident of the European Union, remember that the Italian law requires an international driver’s permit. You can get one from your local automobile association (more info here). And don’t worry, there are no exams involved! While the car rental company might not always ask for it, having the permit on hand is essential during police stops or in case of accidents. Not having one could lead to a significant fine.

5. Make sure the car is in good shape

Before you hit the road in your snazzy rental car, take a moment to walk around and carefully record its condition. If you happen to return the car with damages that weren’t on the pickup documentation, your wallet might take a serious hit because as you might find yourself held financially accountable for the repairs. Oh, and if you are renting the car in winter, make sure you’re all set with snow tires or snow chains, as they are mandatory between November and April. 

In any case, if you spot any issues with the car during the pickup inspection, don’t hesitate to raise the flag. You can request an alternative vehicle or have the rental company address the issues before you start your journey. Taking these steps could potentially save you both time and inconvenience during your trip.

White car on the road during a road trip in a Dolomites landscape in winter with snow on the trees, the Geisler mountains and the church of the village St. Magdalena or Santa Maddalena in the Villnoesstal (Val di Funes valley) in South Tyrol, Italy.

6. Know you car rental insurance options

All car rental rates in Italy typically include the basic Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection, and third-party liability car insurance, all of which are mandatory. Additionally, car rental companies provide optional add-ons for increased protection, such as coverage for mechanical or glass damage. These add-ons can be conveniently purchased either online at the time of booking or directly at the counter when picking up the car. 

While slightly more expensive, opting for an all-inclusive car rental insurance is the wisest choice for complete peace of mind during your trip. It is quite easy to unintentionally damage the rental car and the last thing you want is the stress of scrutinizing every minor issue while driving. Also, it’s a good idea to verify whether your credit cards provide car rental coverage that’s valid in Italy.

Lastly, remember that you need to have proof of insurance in the car whenever you’re driving, along with the car’s documentation. In the event of a police stop, they will ask to see these documents.

7. Familiarize yourself with the rules 

Familiarizza con le regole 

Driving in a foreign country can be challenging due to differences in driving rules, road signage and etiquette. Knowing both the official and unofficial rules, reduces the risk of accidents and fines arising from misunderstandings or misinterpretations. 

First of all, keep in mind that when driving in Italy, you must stick to the right side of the road and utilize the left lane for passing. At roundabouts (you’ll find many), priority must be given to cars coming from your left.

Don’t even think of speaking on your cellphone while driving. Not only it’s super dangerous, but it also comes with substantial fines. Also, remember that the legal alcohol limit is pretty low in Italy, so if you’re planning to take your rental car to dinner, you might want to slow down with those homemade amari.

Lastly, stay attentive to changes in speed limits indicated by signs along the road, and watch out for those “speed camera” signs as well or else you might get hefty fines. Oh, and an oncoming vehicle flashes its headlights, it is a courteous signal indicating a police checkpoint ahead. Although this practice is against official rules, it is quite common.

8. Steer clear of gas stations on the highways

Make sure  to plan your fuel stops strategically by choosing off-highway gas stations. While highway service areas might offer convenience, their fuel prices tend to be higher, often accompanied by surcharges in the range of 15-20%. This rule is particularly crucial given the current high gas prices in Italy.

So, when you find yourself driving on the highway and in need of a refueling, it’s worth considering taking an exit for a quick break and refuel – though this isn’t always the most practical choice. More in general, it’s better to start the journey with a full tank before entering the highway.

9. Use Google Maps with moderation

Google Maps, our trusty navigation companion, proves to be an incredibly valuable tool when renting a car in Italy, ensuring that you arrive at your intended destinations efficiently – well, at least most of the time. 

This digital navigator typically indicates the quickest routes to guide you to your desired spots, but sometimes it gets a bit too cozy with the shortest paths, leading you onto some seriously tricky roads. Not exactly the thrill you signed up for, right? So, when you’re driving through rustic landscapes like the picturesque region of Molise or the hills of Oltrepò Pavese, it’s wiser to trust those good old traditional road signs.

10. Watch out for the dreaded ZTL

In Italy, the ZTLs (Zone a Traffico Limitato) are limited traffic zones within cities or towns where access by vehicles is restricted or limited, usually to reduce air pollution and to protect historical and cultural heritage. They can be either permanent or temporary and where these restrictions are in place, only authorized vehicles are allowed to circulate in these areas.

ZTLs are typically monitored by surveillance cameras and marked by specific signs but it’s easy to miss them. So, keep your eyes wide open when driving in town centers because unauthorized entry into these zones can lead to big fines.

11. Have a parking strategy 

The quest for the perfect parking spot can feel like an epic adventure in itself when driving in Italy, yet it’s an integral part of the experience. When it comes to on-street parking, your guiding stars are the colorful lines: white means free parking (though a parking disk is sometimes required), yellow is typically reserved for residents and disabled people, while blue indicates paid parking. Keep coins at hand for parking meters and take a picture of your license plate, as you’ll often need to insert it to obtain a parking ticket.

Especially in popular city centers, parking garages are a safe harbor. But if you want to avoid the often steep rates, plan to arrive early in the morning to increase your chances of securing a parking spot before the crowds arrive. Alternatively, consider parking on the outskirts and either walking or using public transportation to reach the city center.

One last word of caution: while it’s generally wise to embrace local customs, this principle doesn’t extend to parking. Italians are renowned for their mastery of the double parking technique, but don’t emulate this practice, as it could result in fines or agitate the local residents.

useful tips for renting a car in italy

Ethics statement: Below you will find affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking the link, we will receive a small commission. To know more about our ethics, you can visit our full disclosure page. Thank you!

Lingopie (affiliate link) is the Netflix of language learning application that uses real TV shows and movies to help you learn a new language. You can choose a show to watch based on your fluency level, and use the interactive subtitles to get instant translations to help you learn quickly.

Are you interested in improving your Italian in a fun and stress-free manner? Then we highly recommend Serena Capilli's short stories in Italian (affiliate link), designed for beginners, advanced beginners, and lower intermediate learners (A1-B1 CEFR). These stories have been optimised for English speakers in search of a fun, laid-back learning experience! Read our full review here.

Leave a Comment