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Rental or lease car with GPS

This question is for anyone who's rented or leased a car in France (French made car). If the car had a built in GPS, is there an English option? or are all instructions and options in French? The car we are leasing comes with a GPS at no additional charge, but if only French, probably better off with our Garmin.


Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
18192 posts

They have an English option or at least our did.

Posted by Chris F
Basel, Switzerland
6460 posts

Karen, Most GPs's sold in Europe are multilingual (as are phones, ATM's, train ticket machines etc.) Somewhere there will be a language menu where you can select Français, English, Deutsch, Español etc. The catch is, the GPS will be in whatever language the last user wanted (probably French), and you will have to use this language to navigate to the language select option ☺
So when you pick up the car, be sure to ask the attendant to switch it to English for you.

Posted by Stephen
Charleston, SC, USA
829 posts

Ask the rental car people to set the language to English before you leave the lot. We did this in Italy. We also had google maps on our phones...just in case.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3109 posts

The above posts miss an important point: when you rent a car, there's always some degree of random-ness involved. You may, or may not, end up with a car with a built-in GPS (just like if you request a car with automatic transmission, the car you get may or may not have one - you get a car they have, and they may not have exactly what you requested). The degree of randomness varies with location and company and who-knows-what-else, but there are no guarantees you will get exactly what you ask for. Just keep that in mind.

It it were me, I'd bring your Garmin (I always bring mine). Worst case, maybe you end up with two GPSes - which I actually find useful at times (compare/contrast what they say - sometimes they differ quite a bit, which is a good reminder that YOU are the actual driver and navigator with skin in the game, and you shouldn't just blindly follow everything some gizmo tells you).

Personally, I think the best plan is to bring your own GPS from home (with current European coverage - make sure you have that before you start packing). Your own GPS is always in a language you speak, you know how it works, and you are familiar with its operation. When you jump in an unfamiliar rented car in a foreign country, you are already challenged enough (signs are in a foreign language, the driving style is different, etc.). That's stressful (and dangerous) enough for me already. The last thing I need is to have to try and figure out a new GPS that's bleating at me as I struggle to find my way and avoid an accident.

The first few terrifying minutes of driving overseas is very dangerous and you always need to be very, very careful at that vulnerable time. I have a clear memory of sitting in a rental car office in the UK, watching the American couple ahead of us confidently and happily get in their rental car, drive off the lot, and have a very loud, obvious, major crash in their first 100 meters on the road (the employee at the counter shot me quite a look - "don't worry, I won't do that!" I said).

Also: Never, ever rely 100% on anyone's GPS (or phone or tablet). Devices fail, run out of juice, get stolen or lost (all of these things have happened to me). Always, always bring along from home (where it's easier to find) a good paper map to use along with your GPS or other device.

Hope that helps. Have a great trip!

Posted by JC
1740 posts

It's a bit of a minefield. The last few cars I've rented have come equipped with inbuilt sat nav, even the more cheaper models. Often the language is set to the requirements of the last renter and requires some guesswork to change the language to English if you're unable to find an attendant to change it for you. I have never encountered a single language sat nav in any car I've rented in Europe. Secondly, the last few rentals I've had with Hertz they removed the SD card containing the maps and therefore making the sat nav redundant. They will charge you the cost of renting an independent sat nav unit to replace the card which in my opinion is unacceptable as the navigation unit comes as standard and there is no additional cost incurred by the company by buying separate units. Some cars do not use SD cards, the maps are stored within the system and therefore there is no means for the company to extort more money from you (Renault, Opel, Mercedes and BMW have inbuilt maps in the models that I've rented whereas Audi and Ford have used SD cards). However, unless you rent with Avis or another company that guarantees a specific model you are at the mercy of the rental agency as to what car you actually end up with. My most recent rental with Hertz was for a Mercedes B class (or similar) mainly due to the inbuilt sat nav plus sufficient boot storage, what I was offered on arrival was an Alfa Romeo Guilietta, clearly not comparable where the boot size in concerned. I ended up paying extra for an Audi A4 and consequently experienced the missing SD card. As it was we managed absolutely fine with Google maps on our phones despite bringing our own, old Garmin which takes forever to start up and find satellites. The Garmin was never used during the two weeks but as it takes up so little space we like to bring it with us as a last resort.

Posted by FastEddie
846 posts

I have rented from Europcar a few times in France and sprung for their GPS units. The clerk was happy to set it to English (voice and speaker) for me before I drove away. It was very handy.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
3163 posts

Our two rentals in France had integrated GPS - we were just going to take our chances with maps (1st time) and my sister's GPS (but she lives in the UK, and for some reason, even tho it knew we were in France, it kept trying to send us the wrong way on roundabouts - it didn't last too long once we figured out the car GPS).

If you luck into a car with integrated GPS, it could be on a diff language all together - our 1st rental was speaking German until we figured out how to switch it after messing with the menu for 20 min or so. 2nd rental was already set to English. When we asked the rental people if they could switch the GPS from German to English - well, supposedly they didn't know how. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt...(skeptical face).

For our upcoming car rental in July in France, we got the updated maps for our own Garmin and will just use that since it has the familiarity factor.

Posted by celfan
Burlington, Vermont USA
101 posts

I bought a used GPS on Ebay with downloaded europe maps. It cost about half of what the charge would have been with the rental.This way I could practice with it at home and not try to figure it out in the rental parking lot. And I have a GPS to use here.

Auto Europe sometimes offer free GPS with their rentals. They ship it to you and you have to send it back. I think $40 shipping fee. Auto Europe also offers the best zero deductable collision insurance for the crazy to drive in counties.

Posted by Marti
Atlanta, GA, USA
70 posts

I agree with David 100%! Ever since my first disaster driving solo in an unfamiliar country, using Google maps on my phone and watching the battery drain and eventually die, I have always traveled with my TomTom. Last year, I told the rental car agent, upon return of my car, that I intended to leave my very old TomTom for him or anyone else who might make use of it (it was at least 6 yrs old). The next time I travel and expect to use a rental car I intend to purchase a replacement TomTom before I leave home. I looked at their website last week and was happy to see that TomTom now sells the devices with lifetime map updates. BTW, their very most expensive GPS runs just under $200.

Here's why I take my own GPS: As others have said, there is a learning curve just figuring out how some of the controls on the rental car work, much less learning how to program the GPS in your preferred language and operating the durn thing. When I use my TomTom from home, I pre-program the addresses of all my hotels and places where I intend to drive. It is so effortless.

Bottom line: if you think you will rely on satellite navigation, consider purchasing a small auto nav device.

Posted by Philip
Hobe Sound, FL
1721 posts

Hey Marti, TomTom makes a great GPS device but you’ve got to read the small print. Only their most expensive unit comes with world maps and if you want the 6” screen, the price is $250. Still not a bad deal. But the battery life on the unit is 1 hour. You mentioned that your cell phone died. Well this will too. Unless it’s plugged into a power port. Since you have to do that anyhow, why not just plug your cell phone into a power port or to an available in car USB port? (My last 3 rentals in Italy and France had a USB and used the cars audio system as well.) No need to buy a new GPS and drag another device around. I gave up on my Garmin years ago and find the Waze app to be great!

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3080 posts

As Philip says, just bring a car charger for your phone and you won't need to buy/bring a GPS to Europe anymore. European rental cars have the same "cigarette lighter power port" your car at home has. You could probably even buy a charger over there if need be, as a last resort, for a whole lot less than buying a GPS unit.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
6769 posts

If you are leasing, I think you will be the first driver of a new car. That was the case for us anyway. The car should be equipped as you ordered it. When you pick it up just ask them to set it to English. If you are renting it, it will be more of a crapshoot.

Posted by AaronW
Saint Louis, MO USA
72 posts

I figure that between with up to date French maps on my phone along with Google Maps I should be OK driving in France next month. They were trying to charge me extra for GPS but I declined.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
3163 posts

Question for those who use maps on their it able to give you notice about traffic/construction delays? Or obstructions in the road? (When we were driving in the USA, our GPS warned us about a lane obstruction - turned out there was a dead swan or something on the road). I also like that the GPS shows the current speed we are travelling - so if hubby is getting too fast, I can tell him to slow down. And the GPS will give us the different arrival times depending on whether we take the fast road or slow road. Maybe the phones do this as well...?

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3080 posts

Nicole, there are numerous different phone apps you can use for GPS-type navigation. Google Maps - what I use - is probably the most well-known and widely used but is just one of them.

Google Maps doesn't show me obstructions directly - but (if my phone has a mobile data connection and isn't using "offline maps") it will route me around traffic delays. No, it doesn't show me my current speed like my Garmin GPS used to - though I found the last trip I used the Garmin in Europe that it was often wrong about the speeds anyway. I think some of the phone apps offer the same type of feature.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3109 posts

No system is 100% reliable and guaranteed to be functional and available at all times. Sooner or later, your gizmo will fail, perhaps at an inconvenient time (like, on the way to the airport for your flight home...been there, done that). That's why I suggest you never rely on a single source, and don't just blindly follow what it bleats at you without engaging your brain, as if you were just along for the ride.

If you read Rick Steves' piece on Navigating Europe by Car: Apps, Maps, and Trip Tips, you will find he agrees - always have a paper map along with you, be prepared to use more than one source of info, and and try to keep your head in the game.

Rick says this:

My best tip for navigating unfamiliar terrain: Don't rely blindly on your phone's mapping app or a GPS device for directions. Always have at least a vague sense of your route, keep a paper map handy, and pay attention to road signs so you can consider alternatives if you feel the GPS route is Getting Pretty Screwy.

Posted by Gundersen
500 posts

If you are going direct with the long term (over 21/22 days) Peugeot or Renault lease, your car will be brand new and the GPS will have a multi language menu, and it will be the exact car you ordered.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
3163 posts

Thanks Andrew. I was just curious...we don't own a smartphone, so I wasn't sure.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3080 posts

Nicole, you might consider getting a smart phone, even just a cheap one with no service. Last year over black friday, I bought a cheap one at Best Buy on sale for all of $8 USD. Not an especially nice phone, as you might guess, but would work fine for Google Maps as a GPS in a car. And you can use it at home on WiFi without any mobile service.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
3163 posts

We have a flip phone that barely gets used. We have our ipads, so those work fine - great for the offline maps when we are walking in a city.. And we have our Garmin GPS for when we go on holiday - renting a car is a rarity for us, we usually prefer the trains.

Posted by Karen OP
Verbania, Italy on Lago Maggiore (formerly Monterey County, CA)
934 posts

Thanks for the responses
Still bringing our Garmin GPS. We are leasing a Citroen with built in GPS, so we will ask them to make sure its set to English before we drive off.
Using a phone is a good backup but burns up data if connected via cellular.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3080 posts

Karen, apps like Google Maps "offline" don't burn any mobile data if you download the map ahead of time and put the phone in airplane mode. Try it at home, it works surprisingly well!

Posted by glennlorrainer
NSW Australia
656 posts

Karen, we have leased a citroen c4, three times now, and we ordered an auto with GPS. each time the agent has set the language for us. no problem. though some agents are better than others. we have also taken our tom tom with us. and we have used them both at the same time ( to compare)
long story short, the in-car GPS worked OK.
the owners manual will be in french. so the company you are organising the lease from, should be able to give you an electronic version of the manual, in english.

hope this helps.

Posted by Gundersen
500 posts

Our Citroen lease with GPS never failed us once in four weeks, mainly Alsace and the Black Forest. Once you set the GPS to English, no need for a manual or an additional Garmin. Ditch the Garmin - an extra pair of socks maybe?