Travelin' East

Germany is the place to rent the car if you plan to drive from a western European country into former Eastern Bloc countries. For example, this December you can rent a compact car in Germany for a week for $152 and drive it in Zone 1 eastern countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary). Travel east from other countries is either prohibited or more expensive. The east travel rate for the same car from Vienna is about $275, from Zürich $273, and from Venice $353. With a few exceptions east travel is typically limited to Fords, Skodas and Opels, so you can forget driving a BMW, Audi or Mercedes into Zone 1 countries.

Higher prices and more restrictions apply to Zone 2 countries such as Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Get a written quote.

“Outside the Box” Rental Car Advice

This story is illustrative of the car rental advice we offer on a daily basis. A family of three wanted to pick up a compact car with automatic in Salzburg and return it in Frankfurt. The Salzburg price for a week was $486 plus an international one-way fee of $171 for a total rental of $657. We suggested instead an 8-minute train ride from Salzburg to Freilassing, Germany, where they could rent a compact automatic from Europcar for $278. With the lower price and no one-way fee the customer saved $379. Get a written quote or phone 800-521-6722.

Use Your Smartphone for Navigation

Except in luxury and premium rental car categories, GPS is seldom included in the price of a European rental car. The cost to add navigation—often a portable device rather than factory installed—ranges from about $5 to $25 per day. Even after you pay, your troubles aren't over. You may get one that is difficult to set up or doesn't work properly because it's been abused by previous renters. But you don't have to worry about any of that long as you take your smartphone to Europe. You see Google announced today that it isn't necessary to have an Internet connection to use its super app, Google Maps. That's right, turn-by-turn directions, no Internet required. For step-by-step directions on how to make the app work on your phone, see the Google Blog Post.

One customer's rental car return experience at Frankfurt Airport

Here's a report from a customer who just returned a rental car to the Frankfurt Airport that he picked up in Dijon, France ($236 for the one-week rental but an additional 400 euros plus tax for the international one-way fee).

“You probably know that rental car returns are getting much more stringent on vehicle dents, dings, scratches, etc. On this rental, we carefully noted everything we saw on bumpers (especially the part under the car), mirrors, wheels, door dings, hood scratches, you name it....except for the roof.

"Our eyes were focused on the body from door level downward; we did not look at the roof carefully enough, which had a couple of very small dings that you probably would only have seen in a low angle light.

"The return agent focused in on these two small dings and started to make an issue of them. Luckily, this vehicle had numerous other imperfections that we had marked at the pick-up location; so much so that the vehicle looked as if it had not been cared for very well, and I made that argument forcefully that this car had been "beaten up" long before our renting it. A supervisor reluctantly agreed and we left with our wallets unscathed. This was Frankfurt Airport (Hertz) and we experienced the same thing last year (Avis) as well!

"Please advise your readers that a thorough inspection of the vehicle must be done, from roof to rocker panel—before you leave the pick-up location. Mark EVERY ding, no matter how small. Be polite, but be firm in documenting anything that might give the vendor cause to charge you (as in over-charge you) for a repair that you had nothing to do with. As you know, these charges are "profit centers" for the lessors, who have a captive vulnerable traveler just trying to end their trip and get to the check-in counter. My guess is the vendors make out more times than not as most travelers don't know how to combat this borderline "scam." Just my observation. Feel free to publish my comments, without my last name.”

Fortunately, had he been charged for damage, this customer would have been reimbursed by his credit card...but only after the hassle of obtaining damage documents from Hertz (with our assistance) and submitting them to the credit card company. But had he purchased the rental company's insurance he probably would have discovered that coverage doesn't include the roof and has a large deductible (unless, of course, he purchased additional insurance to reduce the deductible to zero), thus he would have still paid for the damage. In our experience, “small dings” are seldom billed at less than 500 euros. That Hertz didn't charge for the damage is much to their credit as that is not the usual outcome.

Remember, though, the rental company provides liability insurance to cover persons and property outside the rental car. You as the renter are responsible for your vehicle. The collision damage waiver and theft insurance available from rental companies is expensive, usually excludes the wheels, glass, interior, side mirrors, undercarriage and roof, and comes with a large deductible. A credit card with CDW/Theft insurance offers free, zero deductible coverage of virtually the entire car. We especially recommend American Express Premium Car Rental Protection and the American Airlines' AAdvantage Card issued by Citibank.

Get a car rental quote here.