I have read an International Driving Permit is required to rent a car and drive in Austria. Is that correct and if so should get it in the states before I go?
You can't get one in Austria. Only in your home country, since it is essentially a certification that it is a valid drivers license, and the information is correct and in a universal format that an Austrian cop understands. Otherwise, he may not be able to tell if you got it out of a bubble gum machine or not.
You can get one at your local AAA, whether or not you’re a member.
For all things related to renting a car and driving in Europe, talk to the folks at Gemut.com. They are actually in Oregon and their phone number is on the website.
Before calling, should you decide to do that, it would be good to read their free, downloadable brochure called, What You Need to Know About Renting a Car & Driving in Europe. It will provide answers for lots of your questions and for ones you didn't know you needed to ask. The Gemut guys can provide details and explanations for anything you are unsure about, like the vignette you'll need to drive in Austria.
I'll second the recommendation for gemut.com.
One correction: your rental agency may not (probably won't) care at all whether you have an IDP or not (I've rented many, many times and only once I think has a rental agency asked for an IDP). What you need to be legal to drive (not rent) is your valid driver's license from home and the IDP you get from AAA (which is essentially an official translation of the terms on your license). It's cheap, quick and easy. Get one.
Lo, the link to the Gemut guide is a great resource, thank you. But I have a question: since the guide says Gemut books its rentals through Auto Europe, what is the advantage of going through Gemut?
FYI the vignette mentioned a couple of posts above is completely separate from the IDP. The brochure will explain!
To clarify, the car rental agency will not ask for an International Driving Permit - they will ask to see your US Driver's License.
To further clarify, the police will always ask for your IDP if you are stopped or involved in an accident. It is the law in Austria that US Driver's have an IDP in their possession when driving a car in Austria.
Bottom line - you are not a legal driver in Austria if you are a US Citizen and do not have an IDP.
Get an IDP at AAA before your trip.
Also, the IDP is valid for 1 year from the date you put on it. Not 1 year from when you purchase.
since the guide says Gemut books its rentals through Auto Europe, what is the advantage of going through Gemut?
Barbara - You call Gemut and tell them what you want (be specific about preferences for date, time, location - in town, at the airport or rail station, kind of car, etc.). Then they do all the leg work, hunting down what you want (or at least as close as they can find), and at a price you will be hard-pressed to beat (if you find a lower price on your own, I believe they will match or perhaps beat it). They get back to your with the proposed rental agreement. If you like it, you pay through them. So they do the work of sifting through options for you. Then, once you've rented, they will provide a 24 hour, USA-based, staffed-by-a native English speaker, phone number you can call, in case you have trouble at the rental counter or on the road. They may not be able to fix everything for you, but at least you have someone you can contact (someone who is not representing the interests of the rental agency) who you can be confident of reaching and with no language barrier. Their office is in Oregon although I believe for the overnight hotline calls, they use some service based elsewhere (so if you call at 3 am Oregon time, you won't be speaking to the owner).
The above points are why I generally use them for rentals in Europe. They are a good choice if you are feeling skittish or worried about the whole process, as it adds someone who you can turn to if you need help with the business end of things. I've generally had good experiences with them -- though they have been unable to find rentals at a decent rate, or at all, in exotic or non-European rentals (they couldn't help with the Faroe Islands, or in Japan or Mexico, but anyplace else I've needed a car in Europe they've been helpful and it worked out fine). No skin in the game, just a generally satisfied customer.
Barbara, sorry about the slow response which turns out to be what David said. 🙂