Here's a tiny mistake that, in the process of renting a car in Europe, could cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. You have a pre-paid rental but there's a small vehicle license fee that must be paid in Europe. You reach into your pocket and hand over the few euros required. If you are relying on a credit card to cover the collision (CDW) and theft insurance, you've just canceled the card's insurance protection. For the credit card's insurance to be valid, you must pay for everything on the rental invoice with your credit card. The other two credit card requirements are that you decline the rental company's offer of insurance, and that you advise the credit card company of damage to the car within the required period of time.

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There continues to be controversy over whether any U.S. credit cards provide collision damage waiver and theft insurance on cars rented in Ireland. Last week, our free email newsletter, Europe Travel Report, contained the following item:

  • CDW/Theft Insurance in Ireland: There's a lot of bad info at web travel forums that says no credit card will cover CDW (collision) and theft insurance in Ireland. Not true. The MasterCard Business Card, MasterCard World Card, and Diner's all cover. However, you must obtain a certification of coverage from MasterCard to show at the rental counter. Call MasterCard at 866-934-1138.

Since then, however, we've received emails from readers who claim to be holders of these cards who say they are not covered. Here is my own experience:

Many travelers who plan to rent a car in Europe are looking something more than the average Volkswagen, Opel or Ford. The idea of driving a Mercedes, BMW or Audi on the Autobahn has strong appeal. If you are in that category you are probably interested in at least a Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series, or the Audi A4. Since these are all German manufacturers, Germany is the country where you have the best chance of getting into one of these at a reasonable price.

Remember, however, that no rental company will guarantee a specific make or model, so you must choose a rental category that includes those brands. In Germany that’s the full-size (FDMR) category which is usually priced about double the cost of an Intermediate (IDMR) VW Passat or Opel Insignia. Currently, for example, you can book a full-size Mercedes C-Class (or similar) for a week for $440, with tax and satellite navigation.

But why do that when, in what may be the very best European rental car deal in Europe, you can now book an Intermediate category car and be guaranteed an upgrade to the Full-size category? The one-week price for rentals commencing before April 1 is $225, with tax and navigation. After March 31 the price is $254. True, there are vehicles other than Mercedes, Audi and BMW in this category, but in Germany you are very likely to get one of those three. Get a quote.

Customers who contact Gemut.com regarding rental cars in Geneva, Basel, Zürich or St. Gallen, Switzerland, are advised that prices in nearby cities of other countries are much, much less expensive. Switzerland's car rental rates are among the highest in Europe and, depending on the city, a five-minute walk, a 45-minute ferry crossing, a 15-minute taxi ride, or a 90-minute train trip can save hundreds of dollars.

The "no-brainer" is the Geneva Airport where an intermediate car for one week on the Swiss side of the airport with tax is $444, including airport fee. But walk through the airport to the French side and the price is $298 plus the airport fee of €39. In Basel, the tab for an intermediate sedan is also $444 but just across the Rhine in Lörrach, Germany, it's just $253. The numbers are the same for St. Gallen and Zürich where the best rate for an intermediate car is $503. From St. Gallen, cross the Bodensee on a ferry to Lindau or Friedrichshafen, however, and get the same car for $253. The closest alternative to Zürich is Singen, Germany, about 90 minutes by train. The same intermediate vehicle that costs $444 at the Zürich airport is $253 in Singen. Oddly enough, this year there seems to be little difference in the price of cars picked up Swiss airports vs. downtown locations. Get a quote.