In our article “Are European Rental Companies Honest?” we assured readers they are indeed honest and that no company has a policy of charging hidden fees. So what about the thousands of car rental horror stories posted at online travel forums? Surely some of them are true. Of course, they are. Most rental car company employees are not highly paid and they possess varying levels of expertise and competence. They make mistakes, they fail to communicate, and, yes, perhaps a tiny few even shade the truth to sell extras such as insurance.

But the reality is that ignorance, impatience, and inattention on the part of the renter are responsible for most unexpected rental car charges. Renters who arrive at the rental car counter alert, knowledgeable, and prepared can avoid these charges.

Here are five Europe rental cars survival tactics that can save you thousands of dollars:

Use the Toll-Free 24/7 Help Line

This is the single most important piece of advice we give to our customers. Most problems are best solved at the rental counter. Do not leave there unless you are satisfied with the car, the equipment and the terms and conditions. Once you drive away, problems are much more difficult—sometimes impossible—to solve. (Of course you must have a toll-free help-line to call…our customers do.)

Understand Credit Card Car Rental Insurance Coverage

Don’t, for example, pay for a small item on the rental contract in cash. Doing so will invalidate the card’s collision and theft and could cost you thousands. Credit card insurance rules are simple: pay for everything on the contract with the credit card, don’t buy the rental company’s collision and theft insurance, and report damage promptly to the credit card company. (Keep in mind when it comes to insurance, European rental agents deal mostly with Europeans whose credit cards do not provide free insurance, so if you’re inattentive and sign a contract that charges you for insurance, you probably haven’t been cheated, it’s likely the rental agent was just doing what comes naturally.)

Know What You’re Signing

Every year we hear from half dozen customers who have unknowingly signed for collision and theft insurance that is already provided by their credit card. They want a refund, of course, but there can be none when the rental company has a signature on a contract that calls for optional collision (CDW) and theft insurance. You’ll sign your rental contract in the local language but ask for a copy in English.

Do Not Rely On Verbal Assurances

Get it in writing. Let’s say you inspect the car for the first time and note scratches on the paint. You point them out to an attendant who dismisses you with “Don’t worry, no problem.” He just wants to get you out of his hair. Ask him or a colleague to note the damage in writing and initial it. If the rental agent offers a free upgrade, and your reservation doesn't already call for one, make sure it's free and so noted on the contract.

Take Before and After Photos

Sometimes, when rental cars are returned there is no attendant to confirm the car is not damaged. Later you may need visual proof that on a certain date and hour your car was undamaged. Your digital camera can provide that proof.

For more on this topic read “Are European rental companies honest?” and “Why we use Auto Europe Exclusively.”

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.