If the rental company's basic rental car price were all the renter had to pay, renting a car in Europe would be much less expensive. However all rental companies tack on a host of additional charges. Some, such as the home country's value added tax, are required by law, but others, such as extra driver fees and charges for a diesel engine, are simply at the rental company's discretion. Here are some charges to look out for:

Value Added Tax: Virtually every car rental quote includes this tax. It ranges from 8 percent in Switzerland to 25 percent in Norway. Germany is 19 percent, France 19.6 percent, Italy 20 percent, and Austria 21.2 percent. You must pay it and, except in very rare, extraordinary circumstances, it is not refundable.

Premium Station Fees: In Germany, if your rental originates at an airport or rail station the fee is an additional 20 percent. Here's how it's figured: if the base rate of the car is $100 you add the 19 percent VAT to get a price of $119. That's if you pick up downtown. If the rental commences at an airport or rail station, however, the price becomes $119, plus the 20 percent "premium station" fee, for a total of $143. Austria's "premium station" fee is 15 percent, Switzerland's is 20 percent; and Italy is 14 to 17 percent. For these countries, substantial savings can be achieved by arranging to pick up the car at an off-airport/rail station office. Some countries charge a flat fee; in France it's about $45, Holland is around $80, and Belgium about $40. There is no additional charge for returning a rental car to an airport or rail station.

One-Way Charges: If you want to rent a car in, say, Berlin and drop it in Munich, it's very likely you'll pay no more than if you returned the car back to Berlin. With a couple of minor exceptions, this is true of most European countries; seldom will you be charged a one-way fee within the same country. But if you want to drop that car in another country, you'll pay an international one-way charge. These range from about $100 to over $2,500. One-way fees on rentals that involve Italy are expensive, typically in the $500 to $1500 range. A one-way rental between Scandinavia and Italy, provided you can find a rental company that will do it, will be at least $1500, prohibitively expensive for most. It's the same when pickup is in an eastern European country and the drop is in a western European country (and vice versa); very expensive or impossible. So don't paint yourself into a corner by booking "open jaw" travel that has you arriving in, say, Frankfurt and leaving from Rome, or Warsaw, without first fully understanding the cost of travel between the two cities, be it car, air, or rail.

Extra Drivers: Must be arranged at the rental counter, not when booked. The added drivers must be present and have a valid driving license. Be sure, however, to inquire about cost when you book the car in the U.S. Prices range from free to as much as 17 euros per day.

Insurance: This is a complicated topic but here, in general, is what you need to know:

  • Liability and fire insurance is always provided in the basic rental rate.
  • Collision (CDW) and theft insurance is optional. The renter is responsible if the car is damaged or stolen. Except in countries where you must purchase it (Italy and Ireland, for example), we recommend rentals be paid for with a credit card that provides free CDW and theft coverage. Don't listen to those who say your credit card offers only "secondary" coverage. That's true, but you don't have any other coverage in Europe unless you purchase it from the rental company-something you don't want to do, especially since the credit card coverage is so much better. The CDW/theft insurance sold by rental companies costs $10 to $25 per day and usually has a high deductible, between $400 and $3000. Your credit card insurance is free and zero deductible. Proponents of CDW/theft are fond of saying that in the event of damage you "just walk away" at the end of the rental. Not so. You don't "walk away" until you've paid the deductible. In addition, failure to file a police report is often grounds for invalidating purchased insurance. Some CDW policies also exclude one-car accidents. In other words, if you get a dented fender while your car is parked and you can't locate the driver of the other car, you're on the hook for the damage repairs. Many CDW policies also exclude damage to the car's roof, windows, wheels, undercarriage and interior.
  • Be sure to decline the rental company's offer of CDW/theft. Your credit card company can easily email you a letter that proves you have insurance coverage. We suggest you carry that letter with you to Europe to show at the rental counter. If you do not refuse the proffered insurance two bad things happen: one, you pay for expensive CDW/theft insurance, and, two, your better credit card coverage is invalidated.
  • American Express card members may find it worthwhile to enroll in the company's Premium Car Rental Protection. The cost is about $20 to $25 per rental but coverage is "primary" and there are other benefits.

Transmission: The ability to drive a car with standard transmission will save you money if you rent a car in Europe. In addition, automatic transmissions are rare in vans and station wagons. Earlier, we mentioned a price of $567 for a compact car for two weeks from the Frankfurt airport. The same car with automatic is $831. The message is clear, learn to drive a stick.'

Navigation: When available, GPS (Global Positioning System) only works in the country of rental, though some devices may cover major highways in other countries. GPS is sporadically available on European rental cars and it's safe to say the larger and more expensive the car, the better chance it will come with a factory-equipped device. In Germany, if your car is midsize or above, and the supplier is Avis or Europcar, you have a good chance of getting a free GPS. In other countries, however, there is much less availability. The one-way rental of cars with GPS is often not permitted. Portable GPS is sometimes an option and the daily charge ranges from about $10 to $20 per day.

Other Costs: There are plenty of other ways rental companies pile on extra charges. The most common are registration fees, road taxes, contract fees, cross-border fees (usually to go into eastern countries), winterization charges, congestion charges, eco surcharges and a fee for a diesel engine. Inquire when booking.

Book your rental car in Europe with Gemütlichkeit's travel department and get the best rates, personalized, knowledgeable service and our unique at-the-rental-counter safety net that ensures our customers get what they are promised. We book with all the major companies in more than 35 countries. If you have questions about rentals in Europe, or simply prefer to deal in-person, phone us at 800-521-6722.