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Renting a car starting in France and then on to Italy. Should we go gas or electric?

My wife and I have been planning the European trip of a lifetime, flying from San Diego and landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, renting a car and then going on a circuitous route that takes us first to Rouen, then Bayeux (with a couple days to see Normandy), then south with several stops along the way eventually hitting the Mediterranean coast then eastward through Nice and then on to Italy which includes stops in Bologna, Tuscany, Venice, Milan and then back to Paris going through Lyon and Dijon. Our flight lands in Paris on August 24 and we plan on coming home sometime in Mid-October. We put off getting our return flight which gives us more flexibility at the end of the trip if we find a place we want to stay longer.

We've been going back and forth on renting a gas car vs. electric. Would anyone have a recommendation on which way to go on this very long road trip? If electric, which makes of car are the best? We've looked at both Renault and Peugeot. At home we drive a Tesla Model Y so we're knowledgeable about charging in the US but not sure at all about European charging infrastructure and charging times for non-Tesla cars. The last thing we need on trip like this to have range anxiety or at the very least, have to wait a long time for the car to charge at not-so-robust charge point.

Also, we're considering Hertz but is Sixt a better choice? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
5779 posts

Have you looked at the Autoeurope website? They are a consolidator and many like and use them. I can't comment on gas or electric. It doesn't address your query, but have you rented in Europe or France before? We've rented in France a fair amount. We like to take a train to our first destination so that we are not driving tired/jet lagged. Plus, we prefer driving in smaller cities vs. large ones. However, if you do decide to rent electric that might limit you in car rental location choices.

Posted by
6636 posts

We were given a hybrid Hyundai Tucson on our recent trip to primarily Germany and France. We rented through Alamo on that trip. We stayed in smaller towns and only one of the hotels we stayed at had a charging point. The more remote the places you’ll be driving, the fewer charging points you’ll come across. A few city/town lots had charging points. For me, I wouldn’t feel comfortable crisscrossing the countryside with the Infrastructure the way it is now. If you know the route you plan on taking, look up charging points on Google maps along that route.

Posted by
15298 posts

If I were you for that length of time I'd check with www.autoeurope.com and inquire into the Peugeot or Citroen program, which is even cheaper if you start and end you rental in France.
https://www.autoeurope.com/long-term-car-rental/

Autoeurope is a consolidator founded in Germany, but now based in Portland, Maine. I use them regularly for short term rentals. They have deals with Hertz, Europcar, Sixt, Avis/Budget (all equally good), but, as I said, for a two month rental like yours, you should go for the long term rental with Peugeot or Citroen (available through AutoEurope as well).

Regarding the choice of gas or electric I'd go with Diesel, which is more fuel efficient than gasoline and widely available in Europe (most cars are Diesel in fact).

I wouldn't risk it with electric. Electric cars are available, including Tesla, but the charging infrastructure is not at the same level as California, and if you travel outside of cities or outside of major highways (for example the countryside locations France and Italy are famous for) the charging stations are almost non existent. People there charge mostly at home, but there is no guarantee you'd be able to do so at your hotels or accommodations where you will be staying.

Posted by
4911 posts

Have you looked at available lodging? Europe is packed this summer and fall, and many folks are reporting that lodging is expensive and in short supply. Might not be the year to travel without reservations. Good luck and safe travels!

Posted by
232 posts

You are going any number of places where I absolutely would not want a car. Especially in Italy where the ZTL restrictions can prove challenging. Have you considered train travel, especially if you’re just traveling from big city to big city in Italy?

Posted by
232 posts

One other thing (and I apologize for bringing up issues that you yourself didn’t ask) but be sure you understand the rules regarding “proof of onward travel.” A lot of countries don’t particularly like to welcome people who can’t produce proof that they’re leaving at some point. And they largely leave it up to the airline to enforce this. Not sure who you’re flying with, but I’d make sure they’d going to let you board without a return ticket. And if you already have that sorted, then ignore me.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you everyone for the replies. You've provided some very helpful information for us! To those that have mentioned AutoEurope, we appreciate that rec and we've taken a look and it's definitely an option. We've kind of dropped considering an electric car for now. Thanks TexasTravelmom for posting that link of previous discussion of charging stations. Whether we go diesel is another thing to think about as I've never driven one. A hybrid sounds interesting but haven't seen many on the rental sites. That long-term rental with the French brands makes a lot of sense.

Pat, regarding lodging, we have most of our reservations for the first part of the trip. Using Booking.com and VRBO, we've found a lot of great deals on VRBO's so at least for now, lodging doesn't appear to be that much of problem, we have lots of choices going that route. There are a lot of VRBOs competing against each other so some of the rates are really low. The wife is making daily reservations as we plan the trip.

Indyhiker, my wife is my tour guide as she has been to Europe several times but not recently. I've never been across the pond. She feels renting a car gives us so much more freedom. We really want to tour the countryside as much as we can, especially France. We will look at train travel... it might make sense to drop off the car in Italy at some point and take the train to the big cities. Thanks for mentioning ZTL restrictions, something else to research! And to your last point about a return flight, that's interesting that some countries want you to prove you're not staying! We sure didn't think of that! She said she saw some deals today in her email for AirFrance...

Posted by
776 posts

We're in Italy at the moment (Florence). I'm interested that the sites you have looked at don't mention hybrids. My brother currently has a rental and it's a hybrid (Fiat 500 cabriolet) - he had no choice on fuel.

We are seeing chargepoints everywhere. Every car park in Italy has had them, and almost every village in France is equipped with public chargers. The village next to ours, for instance: resident population 80, 2 public chargers. Have you looked at any of the maps available?

My only concern would be range when crossing the Alps. You have a choice of over, which is really picturesque but slow, or through, which is tunnels and 80mph. Both will chew electricity, although regenerative charging will be amazing on the second half of the day if you go over (in our petrol car we averaged 184mpg over 2 hours coming down the Alps).

Posted by
2307 posts

hey hey svharrison01
i'll just add that you may need an IDP from AAA/CAA, translation of you drivers license. read up on it. it's about $25 with 2 passport photos and receive same day for each driver. they may ask at rental and deny you if you don't have one or if stopped by the police a definite big fine.
picking up car in one country and returning to another country has a big fee. look or ask rental car company. also do you need a sticker for window from either country and where to get it.
like others mentioned, investigate on a long term rental or leasing a car which would be better, cost for tolls.
summer time is so busy and crowded during high season of summer and seeing the same towns that many others want to see and visit.
good luck on your trip of a lifetime and first adventure. you will love it
aloha

Posted by
10250 posts

Lease option is the way to go if renting over three weeks. In addition to AutoEurope for a lease, try Renault USA.

Posted by
4163 posts

As Roberto said, "I'd go with Diesel, which is more fuel efficient than gasoline and widely available in Europe (most cars are Diesel in fact)."

You sounded a little concerned about driving a diesel because you'd never driven one. The only issue is that you put the right kind of fuel in it. 😁 We've never done a long term rental, so whatever's available for that if you decide to do it may determine what fuel you'll need. Unlike with shorter term rentals, you may be able to know what type of car you'll actually get and whether it's an automatic or a manual shift. Y'all do know how to drive a stick, right?

This being your first trip and it having been a long time since your wife was in Europe, you both might benefit from exploring the Travel Tips section of this Rick Steves website. Here's the link: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips

I think you would definitely find some good tips at Gemut.com: https://www.gemut.com/ They are actually in Oregon. And be sure to download the free brochure titled, "What You Need to Know About Renting & Driving a Car in Europe." Here's that link: https://www.gemut.com/latest-travel-news/what-you-should-know-about-renting-a-car-in-europe

Although some of those sources and links may be a bit dated, they all will help you learn about what you didn't know that you needed to know. Good luck with the planning and have a great trip.

Posted by
2561 posts

Whether we go diesel is another thing to think about as I've never driven one.

There are far fewer diesel cars in France now than there were 5 years ago. The government has plans to eliminate them and diesel fuel now costs more than does gasoline. Diesel cars also receive higher Crit´air classifications (2 - 5) which can limit access to cities during declared days of high emission levels.

A lot of countries don’t particularly like to welcome people who can’t produce proof that they’re leaving at some point.

It will not come up, but France requires visitors, upon entry, to prove financial capability, to provide an itinerary, to list where they are staying, to demonstrate they have medical insurance, and to have arranged for travel back home. These are the requirements, but I have never heard of someone from the US being asked to provide the information.

https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F16146

IDP from AAA/CAA . . . $25 with 2 passport photos and receive same day for each driver. they may ask at rental and deny you if you don't have one or if stopped by the police a definite big fine.

Please, tell us what this big fine is.

The IDP is not a big deal in France, but in Italy, your will really want one. Key point is that IDPs are required by international treaties and those issued in the USA are only valid for 1 year.

If I were you for that length of time I'd check with www.autoeurope.com

Absolutely contact Autoeurope. Choose whatever rental company gives you the best deal. Be sure to mention you are taking the car into Italy. Some contracts prohibit travel into Italy, be sure to clarify.

Leasing is likely to be your best option, if for no other reason than for insurance. Leases include required insurance and it is primary insurance. Insurance is always an add when renting unless you have credit card insurance and most of these coverages are secondary insurance and limited in duration.

Posted by
427 posts

In my opinion, it's really up to you. an electric car would add another layer of complexity and potential limitations on your trip. If you're OK with that, then you should be fine. But stick to major roadways and larger towns that are more likely to have charging stations.

If it were me, I would lease a small to medium sized diesel car, such as a Renault Clio or Megane. Before moving to France several years ago, we leased through Renault for a 6-week visit and it was pretty much completely pain-free. Everything was as represented to us, and there were no hidden fees or "gotchas" even after I backed into a stone wall and broke the taillight on the passenger side of our Megane. Upon return of the car there were no questions, no comments, no extra cost -- it was covered by the insurance.

I feel I should provide a bit more information in light of a previous comment.

There are far fewer diesel cars in France now than there were 5 years ago. The government has plans to eliminate them and diesel fuel now costs more than does gasoline.

The first part of that is not really accurate and the second part is definitely incorrect.

Regarding the preponderance of diesel cars in France -- the majority of cars still are diesel. In particular, the fraction of private French cars with diesel engines peaked in 2014 at 62.4 percent of the total fleet. Since then it has dropped slightly over the years to 57 percent (as of 2020, the most recent figure I could easily find.

Why do the French like diesels? They're cheaper to run and the French love to save money on things. They're cheaper to run because they get much better mileage (kilométrage?) than gas engines and because, despite what is asserted above about cost, diesel is consistently less expensive than gasoline.

That link is to the official French governmental website on Prix de Carburents (price of vehicle fuel). You can check for yourself, but just looking at a few fueling stations in my area of the Cotentin peninsula, Manche, Normandie), and including a few from Bayeux since you mentioned going there, in every case the cheapest gasoline (SP95-E10) was more expensive than diesel (gazole) by an average of a bit more than 8 percent.

A last hint if you do end up renting or leasing an internal combustion engine car: the autoroutes in France are really nice to drive on and, based on my most recent experience in the U.S., far better maintained than U.S. Interstates. And the rest stops (aires) are convenient and generally nice.

But don't buy fuel there unless you must. The fuel is much more expensive than at a supermarché or hypermarché. For example, picking an aire just outside Lyon heading to Paris on A6 (since you mentioned doing that), diesel is 0.175€ more expensive per liter and gasoline is 0.187€ more expensive, compared to the price at a nearby Carrefour Supermarché.

That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that filling up a near-empty car takes a lot more liters than it would gallons. For example, when my little car is running low, it can easily take 45 liters to top it off. That means, if it were a diesel car (and it is) it would cost 7.88€ more to fill up at an aire (8.42€ for gasoline), compared to filling up at a fueling station off the autoroute.

Posted by
6636 posts

From a rental car company you probably won’t be able to specify a diesel vehicle since there’s always that “or similar” phrase. On our most recent trip, we didn’t reserve the hybrid, that’s the “or similar” we were given. Years ago diesel vehicles were all we ever got. Traveling to Europe two times a year, we haven’t had a diesel fueled vehicle since about 2015. They are not as common as they used to be. As somebody mentioned, just ensure you put the correct fuel in the tank. A diesel vehicle drives the same as an unleaded (E5 or E10) fueled vehicle.

Posted by
2561 posts

Sammy - I agree with your information except that it is outdated.

Here is what l´Automobile Magazine states in their article, Acheter un diesel en 2023 and why you would not want to purchase a new diesel car:

__

Un carburant plus cher
L’époque où le gazole était meilleur marché que l’essence est révolue. Au moment où nous mettons sous presse, le litre de sans-plomb s’affiche en moyenne à 1,88 € quand il faut débourser 1,93 € pour du gazole. Soit 2,50 € de plus pour un plein de 50 l.

Summary: diesel costs more than gasoline

__

Quoting myself:

The government has plans to eliminate them (diesels)

Again from the article in l´Automobile Magazine, in reference to the future ban on diesels in France:

Pénalisé dans les ZFE
Imposées dans plusieurs métropoles, même si les verbali­sations y sont constamment reportées, les zones à faibles émissions (ZFE) impliquent de devoir afficher la bonne vignette Crit’Air pour pouvoir circuler. Or les diesels, même les plus récents, aussi propres que les essence, ne sont catalogués que Crit’Air 2 (1 sur les essence) et seront bannis à long terme des centres-villes.

The banning of diesels starts in city centers where auto emissions are closely monitored and controled. This is basically done with the requirement for each vehicle to display a Crit’Air sticker indicating its polluting potential. The higher the numer, the more restricted a vehicle becomes. Diesels have ratings from 2-5 depending upon year produced. Electric cars are 0 with no restrictions, newer gas powered cars have ratings begining at 1.

__

The article continues discussing the reduced resale values of diesel cars, and their increasing cost to purchase. Maybe I am mistaken but driving in France, I definitely notice fewer cars at the gazole pumps.

The is just one easy to reference source of information about the diesel situation in France. There have been many news articles written about this subject should you be interested to investigate further.

Posted by
7 posts

Again, thanks for the replies. Your suggestions are so appreciated! Yes, we already got our international drivers licenses at AAA so we are covered there. Still looking into the car arrangements and even looking at train travel in Italy. I drove a manual transmission for many years so that won’t be an issue but would prefer an automatic. The Gemut site at first visit, looks like it has a lot to offer… however, interestingly, the link to request a rental car quote for France does not work!

Posted by
232 posts

Once you get a rough day by day itinerary, you might want to post it so that we can giver your a better idea of whether and when it will make sense to have a car, especially in Italy.

Posted by
7 posts

Yes, good idea — I’ll post our destination cities as soon as we determine them. We pretty much have France figured out for our first part of the loop.

Posted by
727 posts

In regard to your gas vs electric question, we just returned from France having had two separate rentals (Marseille train station pick up and return, Bordeaux train station pick up an return). We had a hybrid Mercedes CLA both times and were happy with it. We came across gas stations that had plug in charging facilities, but we never had to use them. Our gas mileage was very good because the electric kicked in for many parts of our driving. It was spacious enough for five people with luggage in the wayback, but the most luggage we had was for four people (4 bags and 4 backpack or backpack-sized bags). We rented through Avis and had good service with pick up and drop off, especially in Bordeaux, whose personnel were extremely nice and helpful. The hybrid was a good choice for us and we are very happy with them.

Posted by
427 posts

Tocard, I appreciate your acceptance of a prediction from l'Automobile Magazine, but that prediction is currently incorrect.

Un carburant plus cher L’époque où le gazole était meilleur marché que
l’essence est révolue. Au moment où nous mettons sous presse, le litre
de sans-plomb s’affiche en moyenne à 1,88 € quand il faut débourser
1,93 € pour du gazole. Soit 2,50 € de plus pour un plein de 50 l.
Summary: diesel costs more than gasoline

I live in France. I drive by fueling stations almost daily, all of which post their prices. Diesel is consistently less expensive than gasoline. That era is not over. We're still living in it. Now, I'll concede that during unusual circumstances (say, a refinery strike) in a certain location (perhaps where the author of that article resides) that may have been the case. For a time.

But the link I provided, which is current information from the government of France, not some prediction of what might happen in 2023 by an opinion writer at a magazine, substantiates that. Feel free to use it and search the thousands of fueling stations in France trying to find one where diesel is more expensive than gasoline.

Posted by
7 posts

Our itinerary is set! Our trip begins when we land in Paris on August 22 and head straight to the rental car office where we have not decided on a car, still considering electric. Our plan is to head to Rouen for our first stay and visit Giverny and the Monet House on the way.

Please provide feedback on the destinations and if you have any thoughts if an electric car will be a challenge. I’m doing the driving and have hesitancy on driving an EV for this long of a trip with this many stops. Why add the complexity of finding charging points and range anxiety? My wife is a lot more adventurous than I am and is suggesting why not rent an EV because of the gas savings. As I mentioned in the OP, we drive a Tesla at home and feel comfortable with the supercharger infrastructure in the states. In Europe, driving from France to Italy, through the Swiss Alps and back to France, I have concerns with going the full route in an EV.

Here are the cities – in order – we’ll be visiting on our road trip:
Rouen
Bayeux ( staying in Sommervieu) where we will visit Normandy’s WWII POIs
Coutances, where we will have dinner @ The Presbytere featuring Chef Edward Delling-Williams of Recipe.TV.
Tours (staying in Savonnières)
Cognac
Lourdes
Narbonne
Arles
Mougins (5 nights at a time share)
where we will be visiting Nice and surrounding Mediterranean Sea POIs

ITALY
Portofino (Rapallo)
La Spezia 0:47 (where we plan to visit Cinque Terra)
Lucca
Florence (we have a reservation for a steak dinner @ All’Antico Ristoro di Cambi, a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves
Assisi (our furthest point south, where we turn around and head back to Paris via Switzerland)
Fano
Parma
Venice
Bergamo
Verbenia

SWITZERLAND
Unterboch (Swiss Alps)

FRANCE
Chamonix (French Alps)
Lyon
Dijon
Paris Monmartre district

We purchased a return ticket on French Bee airlines. Would appreciate any feedback on this airline since we had never heard about this carrier.

Thanks everyone for your input!

Posted by
701 posts

We don’t have an electric car and haven’t even thought about renting one so out of curiosity, I decided to look for EV stations in France and Italy-not as far as Switzerland. I was surprised at the number of them! As you might suspect, they are centered around more populated areas, but even more widespread than just those. I used google maps and plugged in French ev stations and then searched by areas in France, then the same in Italy. Looks doable IF any of the rental companies have them available. Good luck and enjoy your time in Europe. It does sound like the trip of a lifetime.

Posted by
11281 posts
Posted by
11280 posts

I am happy to see that you are picking up the car and later dropping it off in the same country thus avoiding a large drop fee. It all sounds wonderful!
You asked for suggestions so here goes!
Your listing of Portofino (Rapallo), I recommend staying in either Santa Margherita Ligure or Camogli, both wonderful waterfront choices, much better than Rapallo. Portofino is worth a couple of hours at most, a beautiful setting filled with Gucci, Armani shops, etc.
Cinque Terre. La Spezia! No! Stay in Monterosso a Mare, one of the CT villages or to the north, in Levanto. We have spent a lot of time in this area and want you to have a good experience.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks so far for everyone's comments and feedback. I forgot to mention that we've already booked our lodgings so we aren't really looking for suggestions on places to stay, only places to visit, points-of-interest, restaurants, maybe tours, etc. The suggestion for the alternate place to stay in Rapallo is already booked so its' not an option anyway. Thank you for that!

I checked with the wife, I didn't realize that we've already paid for our flights so it looks like we're locked in on that French Bee airline. Dang, the reviews don't bode well, do they? I guess we'll just have to grin and bear it and take our chances. Too late now to re-book the flight...