Resources for car rentals and driving
The best websites and online resources to help you find the cheapest rates on car rentals for your travels and some tips on driving abroad• Rental Resources• Leasing Resources• Driving Resources
Research the going retail rates at various rental outfits, booking sites, discounters, and travel agencies by using a meta–search engine called an aggregator: RentalCars.com, AutoSlash.com, Momondo.com, Vayama.com, DoHop.com, Kayak.com, Mobissimo.com. Once you have that lowest retail fee in hand, see if you can beat it using the companies below:
Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com)
Though it offers consistently lower prices than the Big Five, Auto Europe actually works a bit like an airfare consolidator, so you still pick up the car at some local European office of, say, Avis or Europcar... you just end up paying less for it. This is almost always my first choice when I need to rent, and since they now do leases as well, it's the best one-stop-price-shopping for the best option.
Major Agencies (search all at: Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com)
I rarely find the best prices by going directly to the big rental agencies (Hertz, Avis, Budget, National, Dollar)—though for Europe, do check out the local outfit Europcar (www.europcar.com)—but occasionally there will be some special sale or promotion that will bring the rates being charges by the majors down to the discounted prices you'll find at the companies listed above. The easiest way to compare prices quickly at all of them is to go through a search engine: Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com.
Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com)
Since Auto Europe does both short-term leases as well as regular rentals (at the best rates in the business), they're the best place to shop first to see which method—renting or leasing—will cost you the least in the long run. They do cheap cell phone rentals, too.
Europe By Car (www.europebycar.com)
Europe By Car saves you some legwork by grouping together all of the factory programs, allowing you lease a brand-new automobile direct from a European manufacturer (mostly French—lots of Peugeots, Renaults, and Citroëns—but also everything from Fords and Nissans to Audis, Alfas, BMWs, or Mercedes) at prices a fraction of what rental rates would run for similar long periods of time. Plus, their Web site lets you peruse pictures, stats, and strikingly honest reviews of all the models available.
Renault Eurodrive (www.renaultusa.com)
Direct line to the Renault short-term leasing program.
One stop shopping for International Drivers Permits, traveler's checks, and some free maps and stuff (not great outside of the U.S., but decent for an overview of other countries).
Fuel costs in Europe (www.theaa.com)
The British version of AAA provides a monthly chart, downloadable in pdf format, showing you how much gas (er, "petrol") costs per liter (er, "litre") in countries across Europe. That should be a direct link above, but if not: it's usually kept under "Motoring: Motoring Costs."
The price might look at a glance to be great—but remember to multiply the per-liter price by 3.8 to get the per-gallon price (then multiply that by the current exchange rate to understand the true cost in dollars). This will give you a sense of just how insanely expansive gas is in Europe. For example, in spring 2011 gasoline ran roughly €1.58 per liter in France, £1.33 per litre in the U.K. Do the math, and that's $8.65 a gallon in France, $8.24 per gallon in Britain. Now maybe you understand why Europeans think we're crazy to complain about the price of gas in the U.S. (and why they drive such tiny, fuel efficient cars).