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Car Rental Recommendations

After a stay in Paris, we will be renting a car and traveling to Normandy, then traveling to the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Provence and ending our travels in Nice. We will be staying in or visiting towns such as Honfleur, Bayeux, La Caserne, Ambroise, Sarlat, Carcassonne, Avignon and Arles along the way, spending considerable time in the "rural" areas of France. I'm looking for vehicle recommendations. We need a vehicle big enough to seat two of us comfortably, as well as space for two suitcases and two backpacks. But we don't want a vehicle too large for the rural roads in France, which I understand can be narrow in the smaller towns. Any suggestions? Would a small SUV/crossover vehicle be too large? Thank you in advance for your ideas!

Posted by
10344 posts

Go to the AutoEurope website and you can find the correct size car for the number of passengers and pieces of luggage.

Posted by
794 posts

If you are going to be using the car for 3 weeks or more I would recommend doing a lease through Auto France or Renault USA. A bare bones minimum for what you described would be like a Peugeot 208. We get a 308, it is really bigger than the two of us need unless we are visiting my cousins and we go out in our car and still fits rural roads. The advantage to a lease program is that the car will be brand new and what you signed for, not "a similar vehicle", it is insured to the hilt and anyone in your party can drive it at no extras cast. If you are going into any of the high mountains you should consider a diesel, not only do they have great fuel economy, they are turbocharged and never know they left sea level. The only drawback to leasing is that it does take advanced planning and automatic transmission are in short supply since the lease fleet reflects the domestic market.

Posted by
739 posts

I guess it depends on what you are looking for and how much you want to spend..
I had a BMW 1 series (not an X1, it was a hatch. Back car)
It had plenty of room for our luggage for two (two bags and two backpacks) and we fit in it pretty well (I am 6’5 and my dad is 6-0) it was a nice size fit everywhere and handled reasonable well (it was fun in the hills of the Riviera).
We rented it from Sixt and it was not much more then a more standard car like the Kia. I find that you can generally get a bit nicer car from Sixt for close to the same amount as the other typical places.
Last year we had a problem with the car we rented and they bumped us up to a X5 (well out of my price range but it was all they had with no notice when my rental turned out to have a bad tire) and it was way the heck to big for comfort in Germany.
So take a look at the little X1 even with the baby engine (really good on fuel) it was peppy enough to get the job done

Posted by
5665 posts

We've always used AutoEurope for our European rentals- France, Italy, Germany etc and been completely satisfied- both Hertz and Europcar.
We did a driving trip similar to your plan last Sept- picked up car at Orly- drove to Honfleur, Bayeux, Amboise, Sarlat, St-Remy. We dropped our car in Arles and spent 2 nights there before training to Nice. Both Hertz and Europcar are very close to train station- walkable to town as well.

In our experience it doesn't really matter what make/model of car it "says" you are renting- if you request a "compact" you'll get whichever compact they happen have on lot. I don't think we've ever got the exact make/model- but we always chose 'Compact' which has been fine- in Germany we actually were given a small SUV, in France was more like a small station wagon. Husband is 6'4" and had no complaints. Our luggage (2 suitcase/2 large napsacks) fit in back/under cover easily.

In Italy we had a bit of a problem as the only automatic left on lot was a VAN- we freaked out but took it anyway and it all worked out OK- I'd say the roads in Tuscany and parking/getting into/out of small towns there was much more difficult than anywhere we visited in France- thankfully I am always very careful to pick lodgings that have easy access/parking.

Posted by
1186 posts

Hi from Wisconsin,

Whoa, how small do you think the cars in Europe are? From 40 years of traveling experience, rent the smallest car they offer and there will be room for two and your luggage. Maybe not four full sized suitcases, but don't over pack. You have heard this rule of travel before, but here it is again. Take your pile of clothes and cut it in half, take your pile of money and double it. To minimize our clothes we either rent an apartment periodically that will have a washing machine and we wash. Or in France, the Supermarches on the outskirts of the towns will have big washers ands dryers, coin operated. Get your clothes started then go into the store to shop, come out put your clothes in the dryer, get something to eat in the store, and grab your clean clothes. Painless.

So you are in Paris. Don't rent there. Pick a city that easy to get to by train that has a car rentals nearby. It is MUCH easier to launch yourself from Caen or Bois in to the countryside than to start from Paris. Google, Loire Valley Europcar, match locations with train stations. Or call Europcar and ask where outside of Paris you can rent a car near the Loire Valley.

In France, I believe it is illegal for car rental firms to charge dead head fees ( returning the car to a location other than where the rental started), so have no fear about starting in Bois and ending in Arles.

For Pete's sake don't rent the Beamer. You want a small car, big enough for two (why four suitcases I don't know, we have two carry ons and two small backpacks/day packs for 30-45 days and we rent the smallest car we can get. We do laundry once every 7 to 10 days.) so you can navigate tight corners in small towns, get good gas mileage (petrol is 6, 7, 8 dollars/gallon), be inconspicuous, pass by another car on a small rural road, and if there be dents at the end of the trip they are less expensive to repair.

Autoeurope is great place to start your search. Don't be hesitant to phone the US office of that or Europcar. Both have been very helpful and usually offer fully cancelable rentals. Your credit card should cover insurance. But you must reserve and pick up the car using the same card while also declining insurance offered.

The rural roads of France are superb, much fun and beautiful. Also in great condition.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
751 posts

If your road trip meets the 21 day minimum, definitely consider the Peugeot lease program. Particularly if you need an automatic transmission and want a small car to fit the narrow streets of Europe.

Small is practical. I’ve leased the 208 and 308. The 308 will probably be comfortable for most couples, while keeping a small profile. Look on to see the actual models and specs, just like if you were leasing a car in the US. (Google translate can help.).

For me, the best investment for a good road trip is the right car. The Peugeot lease program with all the insurance benefits (and getting the exact car you want) is worth a close look.

Posted by
16893 posts

I always choose "Economy," which is the next size up from "Mini" and practically the same price. Economy has always been a 4-door car, like a Peugeot 208, Ford Fiesta, or VW Polo.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you so much to all of you for your comments. They have given us a much better idea of the category of car we should look at. We are both proficient in manual transmissions, so that won't be a problem. Thank you Irv and Barbara for the comments re car leasing. I had read that recommendation in Rick Steves' book, but thank you for reminding me of the benefits of leasing vs renting. And, Wayne, we are getting much better at packing light, but not as good as we could be. I'm hoping to get us down to 2 carry-ons and 2 backpacks, but might end up with one check in, one carry on and 2 back packs. . . we'll see!

Because we plan on stopping in Giverny on our way from Paris to Honfleur to visit Monet's gardens, we will be renting our car in or on the outskirts of Paris. We are staying in the Rue Cler neighborhood in Paris. This is our first trip to Paris, so we are not used to driving there at all. Would we be better off taking the metro to an outer area of Paris such as the Porte Maillot to pick up our car? Or do you think we could reasonably navigate from the Rue Cler neighborhood to get to the A-13 i? ( I am going to make a second post specifically on this question). Thank you again for your comments!

Posted by
1631 posts

Personally, I would not drive anywhere in the city of Paris--too many one way streets. Take a train to the outskirts and start from there. You might even want to take the train to Caen or Bayeaux and rent the car from there. You do have a better selection of cars at an airport than a city location. I have rented cars from AutoEurope and Kemwel. I even found a better price directly on the Europcar site which has more and better "inclusions". Either way, make sure you read the fine print "My rental includes" and "my rental does not include" on each website. I also call AutoEurope or Kemwel directly to make my reservations. They will sometimes give me a AAA discount. I insist on them booking my car for the online price.

I generally get a compact which has space for the luggage in the covered trunk. As someone noted, you get whatever they have on the lot in that requested size.

Let's talk about a GPS. I bought one on Amazon years ago that has US and European maps. Even though all of the cars I have rented in the past years have had a built in GPS system, I bring mine. I do not pay extra for their GPS and do not request it, but I use it. You need to change the language to English. Often times, one of the GPSs does not work, so then I have a backup. I also take a Michelin map and look at my route beforehand--just to get an idea of where the GPS may be routing me.

Car rental insurance. Since many credit cards are eliminating car rental insurance coverage, I would definitely get my own. I have always used Travel Insured since I want the ENTIRE car covered. Many insurances do not cover tires, the undercarriage, side mirrors, etc.

AutoRoute or not? Yes, you will get a more countryside feel and ride on the small roads and they will not cost you extra money. However, you are going quite a distance and the AutoRoute is valuable in that respect. Going through the small towns is fun, however, you are restricted on how fast to go in between the towns and in the towns. The AutoRoutes also have great rest stops and restaurants/bathrooms to use. Not all of my credit cards can be used to pay the toll. It's always a learning process when I first arrive.

I hope this has helped. I know you didn't ask for this info, just thought I would add a few of my experiences. Have a great trip!

Posted by
18 posts

Denise, thank you for your thoughtful tips on renting cars in France. I appreciate the time you gave this topic and the multiple issues you covered; insurance, GPS, etc. We will definitely take all into consideration! I did post a second topic on this forum re leaving Paris with a car, and based on those comments we have decided to rent our car on the outskirts of Paris, from the Porte Maillot area. It appears that this would be less challenging than negotiating city streets, given that we have no experience driving in France. I believe that I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but the reason we are renting the car from Paris (as opposed to Rouen, for instance) is that we will be stopping in Giverny for Monet's gardens. Again, thank you so much for your comments!