10 Essential Tips for Renting a Car in Italy

Planning a road trip in Italy can be an exciting adventure, given the country’s diverse landscapes, rich history, and delicious cuisine. Here are some tips for renting a car in Italy that will make your trip successful!

I’ve rented cars in Italy twice now, and while it is a relatively simple process, if it’s your first time renting there, it can feel intimidating! These tips for renting a car in Italy will make it much more manageable. From regulations and requirements to knowing which car to book, let’s get your trip started!

roads in tuscany
Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

1. Ensure you have navigation options

If you’re coming from the US or another country where you likely won’t have cell service automatically, make sure you plan ahead and have navigation options. For the most part, if you get an international data plan, your phone will work well in Italy, but I always recommend a backup, just in case.

Most rental car companies will offer GPS navigation for a daily fee. Still, if you have an international data plan, you’ll likely find that the price is about the same, so I would go with that and make sure you bring a battery pack and charging cord for the car.

I’d also recommend you download some maps from Google onto your phone with the area you’ll be driving in or bring a physical map as a backup.

2. Get to know driving regulations

Familiarize yourself with Italian driving regulations and road signs. Speed limits, parking rules, and other traffic regulations may differ from those in your home country. I used Italy Explained to help me get familiar with the different road signs in Italy.

Be aware of the ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato) zones in some cities, where only authorized vehicles are allowed. We discovered this while driving in Florence. We couldn’t get to our hotel because of ZTL rules, and we had to drive around for about 45 minutes to figure out how to get there. I was using Google on my phone, which did not have the proper roads blocked off.

The minimum driving age in Italy is 18, but anyone hiring a car must have had their license for at least a year. Any driver under 25 will have to pay a young driver’s surcharge. Insurance companies usually set a maximum age for car hire, and the cutoff can be as young as 70, so do check.

Another thing to remember is that turning right on red is prohibited in Italy. Seat belts are required in Italy, and you can be fined if you don’t wear one.

Key Vocabulary for Driving in Italy

  • Pedaggio: toll
  • Sinistra: left
  • Destra: right
  • Dritto: straight ahead
  • Uscito: exit
  • Benzina: this is petrol (UK) or gas (US), not to be confused with diesel at the pump
  • Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL): restricted drive zone reserved for cars with permission; more on this later
  • Zona Pedonale – Pedestrian streets or streets reserved for pedestrians.

3. Choose the right rental car and company for your trip

Choose a reliable car rental company and book in advance to secure the best rates. I like using companies like rentalcars.com or Hopper, where I can compare prices across multiple companies for the best deal.

Consider renting a smaller car, especially if you plan to navigate narrow streets in historic towns. Few (if any) large vehicles are on the road, and you will likely have trouble getting into parking spots if you don’t choose a smaller car.

If you’re going with a group or more than two people, choose a car with a trunk. The smallest option won’t have much space for luggage in the back, so you may not have enough space.

The default for car rentals is a manual transmission. Automatic transmissions will likely be at least double the price. Make sure you look at the selection when reserving online, and don’t book a car you’re uncomfortable driving!

Book a car far before your trip if you want the best deal possible. Cars do sell out and get more expensive (just like flights) the closer you bring to the trip’s date.

4. Potential fees to be aware of

You should be aware of potential add-on fees when renting a car before renting a car in Italy. Here are some fees to look out for.

One way fees: These may apply to your rental if you plan to drop off your rental car at a different location than you originally picked it up from. The fees can be paid locally (at the rental desk when you pick up) and charged in local currency or included in your pre-paid rate. Be sure to pay close attention whenever you are taking a rental car one way because these fees can sometimes be expensive!

Rental Car Equipment: GPS, child seats, and winter tires are a few of the pieces of equipment you might need. Children under three or measuring less than 150cm must be seated in an appropriate child restraint for their size. You have to pay a fee and have the car seats.

view of mount vesuvious naples italy

5. Decide on rental car insurance

Rental car insurance is not required in Italy. However, you could be stuck with a high bill if anything happens. Just like in the US, they will ask you if you’d like coverage and put a hold on your card. Decide if rental car coverage is something you need.

Many different travel credit cards offer rental coverage as well. We always use our Capital One Venture X  card for rental car coverage.

Your credit card may cover the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), so it’s worth checking with your card provider before you travel. You will need to declare this when you pick up the car so make sure you have cover on your credit card if you decline to purchase additional cover when you pick up.

Save emergency numbers on your phone in case any emergencies come up as well. You can call the following numbers while in Italy: 

    • State Police: 113 (accidents, thefts, etc.).
    • Fire brigade: 115 (fires, weather emergencies).
    • Urgent and emergency medical attention: 118 (health-related needs). This number is also relevant for mountain or cave rescue.
    • Roadside Assistance: at all hours of the day for motorists in an emergency, assistance is provided by the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI), a federation of 106 provincial Automobile Clubs representing and protecting the interests of Italian motoring. You can contact them at 803.116 or visit the official ACI website.
    • Forest ranger: 1515
    • Travel information: 1518

6. Get your International Driving Permit (IDP)

Americans are required to have an International Driving Permit to rent a rental car in Italy. If you have a US driver’s license, learn how to get an IDP from the American Automobile Association (AAA).

atrani amalfi coast

7. Where to find fuel and paying tolls

Italy has an extensive toll system on highways. Keep some cash on hand for toll booths, as not all accept credit cards. You will most likely be on toll roads multiple times during a trip to Italy!

Be aware of fuel prices and fill up when needed. Some rural areas may have limited gas stations. We found the areas around Tuscany and Amalfi Coast to be the most difficult to find gas stations.

Gas costs are also by the liter and can get expensive. Many have self-service (fai da te) pumps that you can use at any time. Simply insert your card into the payment machine and press the number of the pump you want.

Remember to distinguish between benzina (petrol) and gasolio (diesel).

8. Parking suggestions

Parking in city centers can be challenging. Look for public parking lots or garages. Plan ahead and ask the hotel you’re staying at where they recommend parking. They will likely have some good suggestions. We found parking everywhere we went, thanks to our Airbnb hosts or hotel staff!

In smaller towns, you may need to park outside the city walls and walk to the center. Before parking, make sure you look for any restrictions!

Other Parking Rules to Know:

  • Yellow lines are for disabled parking
  • White lines indicate parking spaces reserved for residents. If your car is parked in a white space and you fail to show a resident pass, you will receive a fine.
  • Blue is paid street parking. Prices vary. Once you have your ticket, leave it on the dashboard.

If you intend to park your car overnight, check local signs which indicate when street cleaning is done. Cars left in a street where cleaning is scheduled are towed away.

driving on streets in italy

9. Traffic and driving style

Italian drivers can be assertive, and traffic in cities can be hectic. Stay alert and be patient. I found most Italian drivers will go above the speed limit, especially on highways, and you can expect them to use their horns. I experienced the most assertive driving in Naples and on the Amalfi Coast.

While drivers can be more assertive, this is not to say that Italian drivers are rude, but you will find that they may honk, make gestures, and generally fill any empty space, even if you think it’s small. It’s not scary by any means, but just let it go if it happens, stay confident in your driving skills, and do your best driving!

Be prepared for narrow roads, especially in rural areas and historic city centers. Florence and Amalfi Coast are two areas where we experienced narrow, historic roads.

When driving on two-lane motorways, the left lane is not a fast lane but a passing lane. So stay in the right lane unless you are overtaking another vehicle.

Last, large cities, just like anywhere, can have a lot of traffic. Avoid rush hour around cities like Rome and Naples, or you’ll probably be stuck trying to get home with everyone else!

driving in la spezia italy

10. Safety tips for renting a car in Italy

The biggest safety tip is not to leave your belongings in your car. Leave nothing seen when you get out of the vehicle, and keep your valuables with you. If you can, don’t leave your bags in your car; keep them at your hotel or your next accommodation instead.

If that’s not possible or you are making stops along the drive, put bags in the trunk, pack your car up to a wall, or place it where it’s less likely anyone can peek in.

Watch out for cyclists, mopeds, and motorcycles. Italy is a popular destination for cyclists, and many people use mopeds, especially in the cities or scenic places like the Dolomites or Amalfi Coast.

Last, all rental cars are required to come with a safety vest and warning triangle so that if you run into any trouble, you are safe!

Planning a road trip in Italy? Learn essential tips for renting a car to make your adventure stress-free and enjoyable.
Planning a road trip in Italy? Learn essential tips for renting a car to make your adventure stress-free and enjoyable.

I hope this post helps you think about everything you need to know to rent a car in Italy! I loved our Italy road trip, and I know you will, too.

Meghan

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