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Roadtrip 2018 – Northern Italy, part 1: Renting the right car

Kamil Kaluski July 2, 2018 Redusernab Goes To... 32 Comments

My life was so much different before my kids were born. We used to travel a lot, all over the world. Even weekends spent home were not spent at home. Year round I’d find somewhere new to go, something new to see, near and far.

Over the last ten years I feel like I have lost that. Young kids require routines and schedules. To go somewhere, anywhere with them is a mission. They require stuff, lots of stuff. They’re on an eating, sleeping, and pooping schedule. They get bored of everything very quickly. I love my kids but admittedly traveling with them wasn’t always easy.

Time goes by fast. It seems to go by much faster as we get older, which is quite scary. Insert your choice a proverb about life being short here. My kids are older now, six and ten years old. They are easier to deal with, sometimes. They don’t get bored as quickly. They’re less scheduled. Therefore my wife and I concluded that we should hit the road.

This year’s trip is Italy. Specifically Rome and points north of Rome. She found cheap airfare. I’ve booked an AirBnB in Rome, near the Spanish Steps. Now we need a vehicle for time after we leave Rome.

I’m going to write a series of articles about the preparations for this trip. What I need to bring with me, where we need to go, where I want to go. I really haven’t figured out any of this it yet, so read along and perhaps help me out.

The trip includes more people than just my wife and kids. My wife’s sister and her husband are coming with us. They’re cool people and can only make my life easier. But now there are six of us. That means that any old European hatchcrap or estate won’t work. We will also have bags with us and my wife and assumingly her sister don’t pack light.

So we need a three-row SUV or a minivan. I asked my Facebook friends for a car rental recommendations and everyone said great things about Sixt. I checked out their website. I got slightly worried when they listed a VW Golf as a Premium Class vehicle. I kept scrolling for something that seats six people in relative comfort and has room for bags.

I found the Peugeot 5008 or similar. The 5008 seems like middle-sized cross-over with tiny third row seats and probably limited cargo space. Topgear said it’s dull to drive. The biggest vehicle in Sixt’s fleet is the Citroën Spacetourer or similar. In Europe they call that a van or a bus. In America, it’s a minivan. It would work: sits up nine, has five doors, air-conditioning, and a manual transmission.

Here is the painful part. Because it is Sixt’s biggest vehicle it’s also the priciest at $163.16 per day. Ouch! For much less than that I could have a 5-series or A6 wagons. Or a 7-series. Or three 3-series. Or eight VWs Polos! I’m thinking that perhaps renting two cars may be a better idea. It would also allow us to split up if we chose to. But having two cars also means fueling up two cars. And paying tolls for two cars. And paying parking for two cars. I am not quite sure what the best way to go around this is.

As of right now I am on the van/minivan boat. I would need to discus the two car option with my companions. I am also open to other suggestions and perhaps a less pricey means of renting a car in Italy. 

  • Papa Van Twee

    My Dutch father-in-law uses Sixt. It’s one of the better economy rental places in Europe. We have been going the two car route this year, but we aren’t on the road all that much.

  • Alff

    Order factory delivery of a new Giulia and let the others fend for themselves.

  • They are all companies, so they’re making money. Best pre-sales service I had (at the counter, or organising stuff) was from Avis in Scandinavia, worst from Sixt Germany. Worst “I have a problem” “service” was Avis in Spain, best Sixt Germany.
    Call and see what they can do for you in terms of vehicle choice.

  • Loping Camshaft

    Did a similar trip last year. Whatever you do, don’t use Hertz, they were a disaster multiple times. Sixt was great.

    • Sjalabais

      What happened? Hertz is my go-to, great cars, decent discounts, big enough to have some choice.

      For 6 people I’d also say that a two seater and a wagon would be feasible. There are a lot of nice roads in Northern Italy.

      • Loping Camshaft

        TL;DR – They take hours at the counter, a car was on the verge of breaking down, very little customer support, and phantom locations.

        2 Weeks, late September 2017. Over the course of my trip, I had 2 different Hertz cars for travelling in between stays in larger cities. Arrived at Milan Malpensa and had to wait 4 hours to get the car. It was first come, first served even if you had a reservation (I did of course). Dropping off in Venice was easy. I missed my reservation time a few days later and my car was already gone, but they had an upgrade of course. This was actually fine as it wasn’t that much more expensive and it was a convertible, which would be great for the drive to Modena and then Florence. Had to wait over an hour to get the car. It was a Mercedes C-Class diesel. When I walked up to the car, a guy topped it off with Ad-Blue, like it dribbled out of the spout. There was an error that said the car needed Ad-Blue and would no longer start after ~150km or so. They said it would clear up soon since it was just filled. It never did. I had enough range to get to my AirBnB in Modena. I called the local Hertz location, nobody answered. I figured I would go there in the morning. It didn’t exist. Called HQ in Rome. They said they would call back. I waited, had to skip Pagani, Lambo, and Ferrari factory museums becasue of range anxiety (went to the Ferrucio Lambo museum and the Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena). Got to Florence, well-past the KM limit and having not shut it off and got a call back from Rome (8 hours later) telling me to go back to Venice I laughed and got to the Florence drop off 10 mins later. The drop off was easy, but I told them the car might die, so I left it running. I cancelled my 3rd Hertz reservation and got a Sixt reservation.

        A few days later, I got a Sixt and the pickup and drop offs were super quick and easy.

        So I had to skip a few things due to that car, but like you said the roads and the scenery are epic. I’m planning on going back ASAP.

        • Sjalabais

          Wow, that’s absolutely horrible. I hope you went through the effort to send an email and get your money back afterwards?

          • Loping Camshaft

            No, I didn’t bother. Maybe I could have done something, but I just wanted to be done with them. Anyway, I’m sure you and lots of other people have had no issues, but I’m done with them.

  • smokyburnout

    I dunno, can you really put a price on being able to say “I drove a Citroën Spacetourer?”
    it would kind of suck if you put up that cash and they give you an Or Similar though

    really I just need you to make sure that during this trip you take a picture of a Spacetourer badge and tweet it

    • The Orsimmilah would be a Fiat. For their purposes a Talento fulfilled the requirements, a Doblo would be too small.

      • outback_ute

        Do they sell the Fiat Fremont in Europe?

        • No, but they do offer it.

          (I had to look it up, it is in the lineup indeed but I have never seen it in Scandinavia, which doesn’t tell how many of those are in Italy.)

          Wikipedia says it’s mid-size, with 1.7+ tons…. Tight fit I guess?

          • duurtlang

            I’ve seen a few in Germany. Not a common car at all. Looks a bit American Minivan-y.

          • outback_ute

            It is a rebadged Dodge Journey – so that is not a recommendation!

        • Sjalabais

          I know one of these locally. The driver is known to always be angry.

          I understand.

    • crank_case

      Yes, yes you can, and I’m not sure the joy of a 1.6 diesel stretches to $163

  • duurtlang

    I’m not sure which days you’re going and where specifically you’re renting, but I just picked 10 random days in August (for an easy per-day conversion) and Rome Fiu-something airport. And yes, I specified that the driver is American.

    Full size passenger van for $64 a day (at Europcar).

    I’m guessing the wagons are a lot cheaper because they’re rented out a lot more often, so they can be offered for lower prices.

    • crank_case

      Just remember that if you hire a full size van, you’ll need to potentially thread it down 3000 year old European streets – also driving is a sport, so it can be a good idea to get 3rd party car hire excess cover rather than getting it from the car hire companies. Never needed it myself as I just drive the mother in laws Kia Vengabus into battle when I’m over.

      • outback_ute

        It is worth checking if your travel insurance covers the hire car excess

    • neight428

      Save on hotel costs too, heck, set up an airbnb listing and rent it out as a hostel at night!

  • neight428

    Rental companies fling out boring sedans by the boatload at $35/day in order to catch people in your situation every now and then. Unless your family is staunchly committed to a more Spartan experience (try a themed trip to Greece next go ’round!) six people with luggage is minivan territory, and they have you cornered. You might break even with the divide and conquer on cash, but you’d also split up half of the vacation, which in my household would be a recipe for the kinds of drama I visit car websites to avoid.

    • Plus one for the themed trip!

      • Vairship

        But…but…8 identical VW Polos would be its own trip theme, wouldn’t it?

  • PaulE

    Aside from logistics and communications (much easier these days), I’d go with two cars.

    Many years back (2000?!) on the fourth annual “Mother in-law World Tour” (it was a regular thing before getting divorced the next year…), our group of eight (brother in-law + fam, now-ex, and MIL) had a similar driving situation in Italy. We ended up with a pair of brand-spankin’ new Passat TDI wagons with less than 100km on the clock, at the Venice airport to get us through Italy from north to south, eventually ending up in Rome, with Luigi diSqueegee trying to hustle for a few lira at stoplights in every town.

    Aside from literally having a mother in-law as a back seat driver and my then-spouse who normally freaked and barked at me to slow down if her butt speedo went over 80 mph in the States, the driving was fun if not great, except for the one time that the two cars got split up somewhere between Pisa and Florence. It was also entertaining to watch the BIL roast the front tires a couple times since he hadn’t driven a manual transmission in decades. Less entertaining? The passengers in my car.

    • Sjalabais

      It’s funny how I recognize my wife in that. We’re currently in a Slavic country and I’m a big fan of “do as the Romans”. If I just could get her to scream as much in other situations…

  • Troggy

    I’d consider the social factors over the costs. Money you can make back, a strained family relationship is a little more difficult to overcome.

    The kids will almost certainly be relegated to the third row, and likely with luggage jammed between them. Will they be OK with that? Is BIL and SIL OK to entertain kids/pass snacks/fix iPads/resolve conflicts if you or your wife are on a driving stint? Are there likely to be… discussions over driving duties – or privileges?

    I see three ways:
    1. If you’re going the single car option, get the 9 seater. Sure it’ll be a bear to maneuver, but stay on the outskirts of larger cities and catch public transport, you’ll be fine.
    2. The BMW 5 series Touring and a small 4-seater (VW Polo?), luggage goes in the BMW. Swap cars on a schedule or however you can work out with BIL and SIL. Both cars would be a joy on winding roads.
    3. Or go up to the 5008 _or similar_ and a small 4 seater. More expensive, but that way you have the option to leave one car behind and fold down the third row in the 5008 for day trips or runs into town.

  • Manic_King

    I guess the actual ideas where to drive there are welcome at later time?
    No idea when are you going, if it’s otside of July or August i.e. otside Southern European holiday season, there’s very good offers e.g. I rented Fiat 500 for a month in Spain for a 6 (six) euros per day.
    Anyways, Do Not hire an Big car! Epic PITA in small streets and roads in Italy, it’s warm there so you don’t need that many warm clothes e.g. do not over-pack, take smaller suitcases and rent smaller car. You will be happy afterwards when you are able to find some tight parking spot. Why not something like this, a small and cheerful Alfa or maybe Audi A4 (via CheapoAir and AutoEurope):

    • Manic_King

      Or if you want 1 smaller van, then:

  • Axel

    Here’s my general take ( from multiple experences) renting in Europe:

    1) it’s DEFINITELY NOT the same as using the same companies in the US.

    2) I’ve had AVIS screw me for 3000 Swiss Francs ( equivalent in USD 3000 USD!) over a 3 inch long scrape in the passenger door on a van.

    3) I used Europcar las time as my research came out that they are the least likely to try to screw you on that sort of thing.

    4) in general, any problem you encounter is likely going to become YOUR problem, not theirs.

    5) try for that 3rd party cover on the insurance, or bite the bullet and pay the 100% additional for their full coverage insurance.

    6) Don’t speed past a hidden camera, easier said than done. But if you do, get your wallet ready for a massive “service” charge in addition to the fine itself.

    7) Don’t get a parking ticket. See 6.

    8) Don’t even ding a door ( see 6, see 2).

    If you are doing more than 17 days, there is an amazing solution.

    You would have to tart in France though. It’s called Leaseback and you avoid the insurance, scammy return charges, any tickets, any parking tickets..

  • Mark

    We just returned from there last week, similar trip from Rome up the coast then Turin and across to Venice then back to Rome. Our rental was a VW Touran diesel. Three rows, worked great and got good mileage.

  • Vairship

    6 people, going to Italy? That’s pre-destined: you need to buy a used Fiat Multipla and sell/dump it when you leave!

    • Manic_King

      That’s great idea. This one seems OK, and in Rome too, haggle to €500 and you have not-so-stylish vehicle, Kamil: “body in good condition with small city dents, interior in good condition, alloy wheels, electric mirrors, heated and electrically folding. Towing hook with bike rack (three bikes), complete with license plate holder with position lights, stop and arrows, connectable to the hook socket. Radio with USB / AUX front included, air conditioner not working but resettable.”