Driving in a foreign country can be a prodigious endeavor, especially if you’re like me, and not a very good driver in your own country. The roads are narrower, the speeds are faster and, depending on your destination, you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the road. If that isn’t enough to resolve yourself to taking public transportation, the prices for renting a car can be exorbitant if you go unprepared.
On my recent girls’ trip to Ireland, my friend informed me that she couldn’t drive a stick so that left me, and only me, in the driver’s seat. To say that I was a little nervous, is an understatement. I hadn’t driven a manual transmission since I was 17 years old, which is, er, many, many years ago
In an effort to quash my blatant fear of killing us both and going for broke, I exhaustively researched the ins and outs of renting a car while there. To save you from this tedious process, here are seven tips to make your experience of renting a car in Ireland a little less stressful.
1) Recognize what is included in the quoted price of the vehicle. Many car companies advertise prices for renting the vehicle only, leading you to believe that you’ve gotten the best deal. However, when you tack on the insurance, mileage, and fuel costs, the price can double, or even triple, the total cost of the rental contract. When researching car companies, make sure that you are comparing apples to apples pricing where each company’s advertised rental price includes the same terms across the board.
2) Buy the insurance. Your personal car insurance at home likely won’t cover damage to the rental vehicle abroad nor will your credit card’s CDW insurance protection apply. By declining the optional CDI (Collision Damage Insurance) and Theft Protection insurance offered by the car hire company, you are accepting full responsibility up to the value of the vehicle for any loss, damage or theft that may occur while the vehicle is in your possession. To cover this possibility, the rental company may put a hold on your credit card as a damage deposit, sometimes in excess of 3,000 euros.
3) Buy more insurance. You purchased the insurance…you’re good to go, right? WRONG! Buying the standard insurance only reduces your financial liability in the event of damage to the vehicle. To obtain full coverage and reduce your liability to 0, get the “excess” coverage at the time of pick-up. Again, if you decline it, you can expect a hold on your credit card in the range of 1200-1500 euros until you return the vehicle and any damage is assessed.
4) Manual v. Automatic Transmission. If you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, you’ll be faced with renting a vehicle with automatic transmission, which could double your rental costs. Driving stick shift is not easy if you are accustomed to an automatic. To further complicate things, the Irish drive on the left rather than the right side of the road, making it even more daunting to drive there. Re-read Tips 2 and 3.
5) GPS. Although paper maps are available at the airport, using a GPS is the most convenient option. You can rent one for an additional nominal fee per day, but this can add up depending on the length of your stay. An alternative to renting a GPS is to take your own. For my trip, I downloaded Ireland maps on my portable GPS and brought that with me. It easily plugged into the cigarette lighter and proved to be accurate when navigating the city streets and country roads.
6) Gas and Mileage. Make sure that your rental contract includes unlimited mileage. On our 8-day trip, we logged over 1,000 kilometers! Read the fine print. Gas is more expensive in Europe than what we are used to in the States. It costs us about $70 to top off our little gem. Verify with the rental agent at the time of pick-up if you are pre-paying for gas and whether you should return to tank full or empty so as to avoid this extra expense.
7) Tolls. You’re in a foreign country. You have no idea where you’re going. Change some money at the airport for any unanticipated toll bridges or tunnels that you may encounter on your trip to your accommodations. What we found out is that they only take cash and exact change if you’re unfortunate enough to enter the lanes unmanned by a toll booth operator.