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Rental car in France questions

I am planning to rent a car in France at two separate locations and dates. Should I use Auto Europe for go directly to the car rental agency? Also, my visa card will provide me with CDW (CLW) for any damage to the rental vehicle. I see on Auto Europe that they offer free liability insurance I assume to cover medical and damage to another vehicle. I also see that going through Sixt offers the same for free. Any info on these two companies would be appreciated.

Want to get GPS on these cars as well - I am assuming I can change the language on them to English. Any thoughts on that? Is it useful? My first rental will be from Tours TGV and only using car to travel eastern Loire Valley. My second rental will be from Avignon TGV and will be used to see small towns both east and south of Avignon.

Posted by
8157 posts

I think it is required that the rental agency include liability insurance for third party damage so they aren't providing it 'for free', it is just part of what the rental must cover. Our home policy covers rental abroad but we have not had to use it or credit card or travel insurance coverage for that yet, so don't know how effective that all is. With credit card coverage you will have to pay the costs up front and get reimbursed.

Our last couple of rentals have had GPS in the cars without extra cost. We just use them in French; we could not figure out how to change the language last time we rented so if that is important to you then ask at the agency before you set out. The vocabulary of the GPS is easy to catch on to however so you could just consider it a French lesson. Note that the GPSes tend to take the shortest route rather than the best route. We had some awful routes in the south of France that took us on tiny winding roads rather than the quickest way to the highway. So you might want to have map or personal phone GPS to evaluate the route the car GPS is giving you. We could not figure out how to set it for efficient rather than short routing.

Posted by
4595 posts

I have rented twice in France and am about to again. The first time we took the high deductible CDW offered by the company because they said we couldn't waive it even if we wanted to and the price was low. The second time we waived all theft and CDW, told them we had coverage through the credit card, and that was fine with the company (Budget). The next time we plan to waive insurance and use credit card coverage again.

If you plan to waive coverage I suggest you bring a copy of your credit card insurance and bring it with you if challenged by the agency, and also to make sure you follow its restrictions carefully since there may be excluded car types and lengths of rental.

Liability is always included by the car owner, so this is not your concern. I have been offered the opportunity to buy additional liability but have not, and wonder what is the point if the owner is always responsible for the damage a car causes others-- never the driver-- why this is even offered? Unless I am missing something I assume it is like dynamic currency conversion, just a scam.

Posted by
287 posts

We are renting a car from Europcar in Limoges later this month. We are using our Chase Sapphire Reserve to rent the car; with a letter from Chase, our visa card with cover the damage and liability insurance charges. We usually rent from Sixt, but as we are getting the car on a Monday early afternoon, we had limited choices and some offices close early on Monday or are not open at all. Probably depends on the season.

We take our own navigation system on our iPad - Navagon. Navagon uses satellite gps - so no data. They usually offer 2 or 3 ways to get to a designated location as well as nearby restaurants, gas stations and tourist sites. We have used it in Europe & the UK now for many years with only one situation, when it insisted on going over a washed out bridge and offered no other direction. We had to ask a resident.

My new rules when renting a car - check out the days and hours of the car rental office before purchasing train tickets to the city you are picking up the car. Use the online chat, especially if your choice of car is rejected. We used them several times and they were very helpful.

Posted by
8889 posts

"Third party" insurance is a legal requirement in all countries in Europe, so is included in the price. This does not cover the car, nor the driver, just damage or injury to other cars, buildings, pedestrians or people in vehicles you hit.
CDW covers damage to the hire car. It is technical an optional extra, but it is not very sensible to decline it (car repairs are expensive).
No comment on whether your visa card covers you, I have never heard of European credit cards covering insurance.

Injury to yourself is not covered by either of these, that is your problem.
Most GPS's are multi-lingual, but if the last person has left it in French, you will need to navigate the menu in French to switch it to "Anglais". Best to get someone else to do that before you drive away.

Posted by
23411 posts

I would never rely on credit card insurance* for a rental. Too many stories here and one personal experience when the credit card would not cover the claim for very technical reasons. With a third party insurance coverage it is easy to point fingers in opposite directions and you are always on the hook.

  • One exception to "never" would be the supplemental insurance provide by the American Express card for a flat fee.
Posted by
3941 posts

We've rented twice in France and luckily, both vehicles had integrated GPS (perhaps we were lucky). The first one was talking German to us, as I assumed the person who had the car before us was German - we eventually figured out how to change the language. The second time, I'm pretty sure it was already set to English - it may take a few minutes, but eventually you can probably figure out how to change the language. We were also able to set the GPS for fastest route, or to avoid tolls (amongst other things). We set out from Avignon to Carcassonne and had it set to avoid tolls, so of course, we were on side roads - soooo many roundabouts, we were getting dizzy. It felt like forever, so halfway thru, I changed it to allow tolls - it cut our travel time in half - so if you are in a hurry and don't mind tolls, fastest route can really shave the time off the journey. Also like the GPS because it'll show alternative routes (which came in handy after our original route one day was blocked off due to flash flooding), it helps keep track of the speed limit, and is pretty good about showing traffic slowdowns. I'm not sure if you can check and see if the car has an integrated GPS first...prices to rent aren't cheap - sometimes it's better to buy a used one off ebay...

Posted by
8157 posts

Don't most home auto policies cover rentals; ours does and we have specifically checked to make sure it covers rentals abroad. Buying insurance from the rental agency is hideously expensive. We have driven for years in Europe with rentals from a week to a month and never yet had a claim; that would be a very expensive load of extra insurance. Since our credit card and our home auto policy both cover we are not worried about the big claim and are willing to face the deductible if it comes to that. We are very careful to document any damage even trivial damage before taking the car; we have been cheated in the US by being billed for minor damage we didn't cause -- in one case the agency dismissed our concern 'it's nothing' beforehand and then charged us afterwards. Our latest experience here was in Hawaii where I was documenting minor scratches and the agent noticed massive damage to the undercarriage that I hadn't even noticed; apparently the previous renter had taken the car off road and not mentioned the damage If we had not thoroughly inspected that $1500 bill would have been ours -- and the agent told us the previous driver would be billed and that the rental car insurance would not cover it because he had violated the terms by going off road.

If I thought I needed extra insurance I would get an Amex policy or combine it with the travel insurance.

Posted by
2916 posts

Don't most home auto policies cover rentals

I'm surprised that any do. At most, I believe that they might cover your personal property in the rental car if it was damaged or stolen.

Posted by
3941 posts

janettravels - I wish we could say the same for not having a claim - we've only rented twice in Europe and the second time ended up putting a big scrape down the side of an almost new car (only 10,000 KM on it) when trying to go around a very tight corner in a parking garage (in a midsize car). Luckily, Amex reimbursed us - it was about $550.

Posted by
12172 posts

Thoughts:

  1. Auto Europe or directly with the agency. I generally shop all options then decide. I weigh price against convenience. There's not one answer for all situations (sometimes a company doesn't have shops at both your pickup and drop off locations, as an example, so you have to search).

  2. Sometimes free means included in the price, don't rely on that until you shop as many options as possible. The best insurance deal I know of is with some Amex cards (not all their cards). They charge one price (depends on the state but around $25 to $40) for the entire rental period, not per day. In France you have to take their minimum liability but decline everything optional to use Amex insurance. It's best to read your card's insurance rules very carefully, before your trip, so you know what is expected of you and don't miss an important step or deadline.

  3. I like a GPS, I've been using one since my first experience driving in Italy without one. Before that I thought I could live without one. You can, but a GPS makes it easier and eliminates arguments about navigation. My last trip, France Sept. '16, was the first time I didn't take a GPS. I decided to rely on my smartphone using two apps Copilot and Google Maps. I like Copilot better for navigation but Google maps found addresses when Copilot didn't (so I'd get the address and put it in Copilot). From now on, the smart phone will go with me and one of its many roles will be as a GPS.

Tours is fairly complicated. I was on a bicycle. If the rental is close to a highway, and you don't too many directions, you could map it out ahead of time and get there without relying on a GPS. One issue in France is making sure the spelling is exact. Many words are very similar but they are completely different places. Just like the US, there are more than one destination/town/street with the same or similar name. Check that you have the right destination before you start driving the wrong direction.

Posted by
8157 posts

Robert US comprehensive auto insurance almost always covers rentals. We have checked and that includes Europe. I once had an accident in a rental car in the US and had no trouble with my auto insurance covering the damage. We never buy extra insurance because it is expensive and our auto insurance covers us regardless of the car we are driving. I have trouble believing yours doesn't as well if you have comprehensive and not just liability insurance.

Posted by
2916 posts

Janet, yes I have comprehensive coverage, and yes the policy appears to cover damage to rental vehicles, but only for accidents in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. I believe every auto policy in Maine has that restriction, and probably in most states. Despite being a lawyer, I had to read all the way through the policy before I found that limitation. That has always been my understanding of auto policies, and I wish it was otherwise so I wouldn't have to worry about whether to take CDW (which I've never done) or rely on the CC coverage.

Posted by
4595 posts

There really should be an FAQ on insurance. Just a note that the premium AMEX policy ($18-$25) does NOT require that you turn down CDW, but it would mean that you have double coverage which is OK. Note that the Amex may charge a foreign transaction fee (found that out the hard way).

One poster keeps saying her home policy covers European rentals but this, if true, is highly unusual.

Posted by
2916 posts

One poster keeps saying her home policy covers European rentals but this, if true, is highly unusual.

A couple of sources I found said that no, or almost no, US auto policies will cover European auto rentals. While insurance policies vary state by state, I believe the source for all policies is probably a uniform national policy form, which individual states (and sometimes even insurers) can modify. But on something like this issue, I would suspect all are pretty much uniform in limiting coverage to the US, its territories, and Canada.

Posted by
208 posts

thanks for all of your responses to my question. I called the Visa number on the back of my card and they said that I needed to turn down the CDW in order to be covered for this by them. It only applies to damage and theft of the rental vehicle. I checked with auto insurance and I am not covered outside of the US for any rental vehicle. I will however, check to see if my homeowners will cover anything. Both of the companies I booked have written information on their website that they are required to provide liability insurance for any property damage and medical to all but the driver of the rental. For these reasons, I did not purchase any additional insurance. I will plan to obtain a letter from Visa stating their CDW coverage to show if necessary.

Posted by
2916 posts

I will however, check to see if my homeowners will cover anything.

You'll probably find what I did when I checked my homeowners policy -- that damage to or theft of your personal belongings while in the car will probably be covered, at least up to a certain amount. Other than that, probably nothing.

Posted by
8157 posts

of course homeowners policies don't cover cars -- but our auto insurance does. Our insurance agent has written to us that it does, but you all are so sure it wouldn't that I will go read the policy again to make sure.

Posted by
2916 posts

Janet, when you check your policy, look for the General Exclusions, which will probably be at or near the end. When I reviewed mine, it looked like it might cover damage to a rental car, until I saw in the General Exclusions at the end that all coverages are limited to accidents occurring in the US, Canada, and US possessions.

Posted by
10287 posts

In the Great State of Indiana, we aren't covered when driving outside the US. It came up in a conversation with our agent a few weeks ago when I called her for help sorting through what insurance we should choose with a Norwegian Air Shuttle rental on Guadeloupe Islands, one of two French departments in the Caribbean. Evidently, just over the border in Illinois you're covered, Janet. BTW, Guadeloupe was great!

Posted by
41 posts

I have not so much a reply as an additional question. We will be doing our first European car rental, in France, for the first time later this spring. Allstate says we're not covered outside North America. I still have to check my credit card companies about coverage. I have heard though that I must turn down all optional coverage (CDW, theft, supercover, etc) to get the credit card coverage, which sounds like begging for trouble since they can hit your credit card for €19000 before you get to contact Visa to start the claim.
On to questions.
I was planning on getting an IDP on general principles, but will I have to get one for my wife as well? I have heard that all possible drivers need one whether they intend to drive or not.
I had not heard about the orange vest/triangle. If the rental car doesn't have one, are they generally available for purchase?
I have also read that all cars in France have to be equipped with a disposable breathalyzer. If stopped and if you don't have one, you will be fined, period, whether you have been drinking or not. Anyone know if the rental agencies are including these?

Thanks to all.

Posted by
4595 posts

You do not need any kind if a license if you won't be driving.

As to the triangle, vest, etc, the rental car company will provide what you need.

Maytbe you haven't been told but the chance that you will be stopped by the police is next to zero: moving violation enforcement is done by cameras in France, not people,

Posted by
2916 posts

Whether rental agencies in France still provide a breathalyzer in the car I don't know, although I doubt it, since there is essentially no longer any requirement to have one. The penalty provision in the law was entirely deleted.
No IDP is necessary unless the person will be driving.
You credit card is likely to cover your damage liability, although there are some exceptions in most CC policies (e..g., luxury vehicles, rentals more than a certain amount of days). The real question is whether you feel comfortable relying on CC insurance. I always have, but as many discussions in this forum show, many people don't.

Posted by
11294 posts

"I was planning on getting an IDP on general principles, but will I have to get one for my wife as well? I have heard that all possible drivers need one whether they intend to drive or not."

What this means is, if for any reason she is going to drive, she will need to be listed on the rental form as an additional driver (usually for an additional fee), and she will need an IDP. If she is just going to be a passenger and will definitely not drive, no IDP is needed for her.

Posted by
283 posts

I see this is back again.

  1. No, you don't "need" an IDP. An IDP is one way to provide the translation French law insists you have of your driver's license. It's not the only way. A simple translation of your license should suffice in the unlikely event you're asked to produce it. A French license is very simple and conforms to EU standards. It's essentially a series of numbered fields, defined on the back of the license, that contains very basic information (name, birth date and birth city, date of license issue and date of license expiration, license number, types of vehicles one is licensed to operate, and whether you need corrective lenses to see). No hair color. No eye color. No height or weight. French police would not be interested in that because that's not what French driver's licenses contain. You can see an image of one here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/French_driving_license_2013.png
    The small print on the right edge of the reverse of the license are the definitions of the fields (1 = Nom [last name], 2 = Prénom [first name], 3 = Date et lieu de naissance [date and location {city} of birth], and so on).

  2. There is no penalty for not carrying a breathalyzer (un éthylotest). Don't drink and drive. If you plan to have wine with your meal, walk, take a taxi, or make some other arrangement to return to your hotel.

  3. My bought-in-France VW Golf has a GPS and one can program it to pester you in several different languages. I chose "no audio." GPS is very useful when venturing off major roads.

Posted by
53 posts

I doing some research on rental companies in Europe, after reading reviews, I decided Sixt was a great one to avoid.. Seems like a third rate company with lots of hassles

I would avoid them , all the conventional companies seem fine

Posted by
619 posts

GPS: I bought a used TomTom with french maps on eBay for $35. Honestly, you can't beat that. I drove all around the country and had no issues. Sure, the maps were 10 years old; but who cares. This summer we've got another 3 week trip planned. Will continue to squeeze more value out of those $35. This seems like a no-brainer to me.