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Renting an automatic car in Scotland?

We will be headed to Scotland in May 2017 for about 3 weeks. Based on the posts I have read on this forum and some on-line car rental research, it sounds like rental of smaller automatic cars in Scotland can be tricky (in terms of price and availability).

While my husband and I can both drive standard after thinking long and hard, here are the reasons we feel we need to rent an automatic: 1) we don't drive a standard on a daily basis any more 2) shifting is on the opposite side from what we are used to 3) we will be gone almost 3 weeks and plan on doing a lot of driving on small roads & will be exhausted enough just from all we have planned without adding in the extra energy to drive a standard car and 4) we both have back & shoulder issues.

We are booking our trip using frequent flyer miles and I want to do that soon before the seats I'm looking at are gone. If possible, we'd like to fly into Edinburgh and out of Glasgow. I am thinking about car rental now, as I don't want to find out later once the tickets are booked that it would have been better doing something else.

Any thoughts, suggestions, recommendations anyone can offer on booking automatic cars in Scotland would greatly appreciated. As well as thoughts about differential availability from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Plus impact (other than slightly higher cost) to pick up at one airport and return at another.

Many thanks!!! Kim

Posted by
16894 posts

www.autoeurope.com does show small automatics available in Edinburgh through 5 major agents, 3 at a better price than the other 2, some at the airport and some downtown. I did not test drop off in Glasgow, but would expect all the same agents to also have offices there.

Posted by
3122 posts

We rented an automatic from Enterprise, picked up car at Glasgow airport and dropped it off at Edinburgh airport. You have to book via the Enterprise website -- I tried stopping in at our local Enterprise office and they said they cannot do bookings in foreign countries. Our automatic was a small-ish SUV and it was ideal for the steep hills and narrow roads.

Posted by
459 posts

Kim, I rented in Edinburgh and drove to the highlands and out to Skye and back. I used www.gemut.com they are a broker here in the US. I wont claim they have any real big discounts but if you give their website a look there is useful information about renting and driving in Europe and the UK. I got an automatic and was very glad I did as I had to do some backing on hills on one lane roads and the whole clutch thing woulda been a challenge. I knew to demand a car the size I ordered but my jet lag fog contributed to me accepting a car that was larger than I needed and it took me a few days to get comfortable with the midsize car on the highland roads. Get the smallest car you can stand (for three week will be a tuff call) and dont let them up your size at the rental lot. What looked to me to be a small car (for the states) was midsize over there and bigger than I needed or was comfortable with. Not only the roads but parking is tight! I went to Google Earth and viewed the street view routes I was going to take and it was helpful, especially when I hit the roundabouts, we dont have many here in Indiana, none that go clockwise! Luckily in Edinburgh from the airport after a few roundabouts you are quickly on the "interstate" if you are headed to the highlands. I also gave this website a look to see how traffic looked and it was useful for me. Go to the live traffic map view and pick out your route camera locations. http://trafficscotland.org/map/index.aspx?type=26 I freakin loved Scotland, the highlands, and Skye. Take waterproof boots!

Posted by
308 posts

I rented a car with my friends in Aberdeen last year and drove to Edinburgh, then through the Highlands, then to Skye and back to Aberdeen. We also decided to get an automatic car. We found that driving on the opposite side of the road than what we are used to was actually very intuitive since the steering wheel is also on the opposite side of the car. The roundabouts were very intuitive as well. One thing we found, though, is that the person sitting in the passenger side in the front of the car would be really nervous the whole time. Skye was a little daunting at first because of the single lane roads but we got the hang of that very quickly. I would highly suggest getting navigation, if only to help you navigate which exit to take at the roundabouts.

Posted by
6113 posts

Jarrardd's post demonstrates that it's not wise to get straight off the plane and hire a car! You won't need a car in Glasgow or Edinburgh, so spend a few days there first, as there is plenty to see and get over your jet lag.

It is strange that if we only take an automatic car driving test in the UK, we can not legally drive a manual car, whereas Americans that may never have driven a manual can hire a car here, no questions asked! You stand a better chance of finding an automatic in the bigger cities, whereas hiring in a small town, there is less chance of finding an automatic. If you are returning the car to the airport, there won't be any issues, but take care if hiring or returning the car on a sunday from the city centre, as some depots are closed or have more limited hours of opening.

It will cost slightly more to drop off at a different location, even within each city, but it maybe more convenient.

Driving on the wrong side of the road isn't usually an issue for most people - we do it all the time hiring in Europe or the States, where you are all on the "wrong" side!

Posted by
5678 posts

Pick up the car when you are ready to leave the city. If you are not routinely using stick shift then you are probably right to go with automatic. But, I want to assure you that if all goes wrong and you end up with a standard, you can do it! Particularly as it sounds like you've driven stick in the past. The pedals are the same. You would be surprised how quickly you get used to shifting with your left hand. I did a trip to the UK and was driving for about two weeks. When I go home, I spent a day at my folks before getting in the car and heading back to Madison. I said good by to my folks and slammed my left hand into the driver's door trying to find the stick shift. :)

Also, the other thing you have going for you is that are two of you. It's really helpful for that person to be the navigator and help with the figuring out where you are going. The signs are different from ours in that they tend to be city/town oriented vs route number and directional. So, I used to look at the map and see the towns that were on the way to my destination and build a list. It would help. Check out this link and the links within it on Undiscovered Scotland.

Posted by
4637 posts

There could be some small advantage to flying into EDI and home from GLA but the airports are so close it isn't worth paying a high one way fee, or a lot of extra airline points. Actually using the same airport twice and same rental lot twice has advantages.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for everyone for your replies!!! This has been very helpful. We have now booked our flight with miles in & out of Edinburgh. Seemed the safer bet all around base on the feedback here & elsewhere. Will figure out our actual rental car probably in the spring. So we have time to figure that out. With much appreciation! Kim

Posted by
4637 posts

Before driving in the Highlands (or anywhere in the UK) make sure you understand what this sign means:

Oncoming vehicles in middle of the road

I think a close approximation is "single lane bridge/tunnel/viaduct ahead" so you may not have a lane if there is oncoming traffic already using it, and the single lane situation may be around a bend so not immediately visible.

If you prefer, there are US style hotels close to EDI with free parking if you just want to crash the first day: Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn Express. There's also a large mall with good shopping, supermarket, restaurants, and bank ATM that's called Gyle Shopping Centre.

Posted by
1668 posts

One thing if you are going for an auto box, remember the very smallest cars are designed for manual gear boxes.

For your comfort going for a minimum Ford Focus/VW Golf/Toyota Corolla sized car is probably for the better if it is an auto. Maybe the ones below will be ok depending on engine size, but the size below that they are not pleasant cars to drive.

Posted by
4351 posts

Kim, we felt the same way for our trip in June. My husband is a great driver and has experience with driving a standard (including last summer in England). This year we went for an automatic, though, which he said greatly reduced his stress level. We rented from Europcar, which was fine, at Waverly Station in Edinburgh (maybe not the best choice but we made it). At the airport really is better. Our automatic was there waiting for us. However for the peace of mind, we also purchased all the insurance - and it's not cheap. It more than doubles the cost of the rental, but it worked for us. We just counted it as part of the cost of relaxing with our trip.

Posted by
5678 posts

I am going to recommend that you get insurance of some sort. My experience is that when you rent a car in the UK the first thing you do when you get the car is go around it with the agent and mark any dings and scratches on a diagram. This includes the tires. Then when you return the car they compare the car to diagram. This would probably be fine if you were driving in the US, but when you are driving in the UK the odds that you are going to bump the tires against a curb are huge. I bet every driver does it. You are focusing so strongly on staying to the left that you scrape the curb and that mark will show up on the tires. Then there are the narrow roads with hedges. Once again you are focusing on staying to the left and it's very easy to brush against a hedge and pick up a scratch.

I don't want to deal with that when I turn my car in. So, I buy insurance.

PAM

Posted by
248 posts

Kim, another possibly-related thought. We paid for an extra driver (me) so that we could take turns just as we do at home. I never, ever got behind the wheel. We fell into a rhythm with me navigating and developed a shorthand verbal code - go in the roundabout at 6:00, exit 11:00, STAY LEFT, that sort of thing. We discussed me driving one day and decided that the system wasn't broke, so we weren't going to "fix it".

Also you could train to/from Edinburgh to a less congested rental car site. Ease into the traffic a bit and also not pay the airport charge. We flew into Dublin and after a few days there we trained to Limerick and got our rental car to begin our west Ireland tour. We were so pleased with this decision!

Posted by
1014 posts

Just remember, an automatic will cost double the daily rate of a stick shift. It will have slightly less mpg also. You need to book an automatic way out. If you wait until the last month or so, you might not find any. Also, the timing of your trip might free up some or make them hard to find. Most car rentals will let you cancel a booking without penalty if cancelled far enough in advance. Be sure to check cancellation terms. Be sure to take a gps or pay for one in the car. A gps can save a marriage. Read a discussion on British roads, how to do round-a-bouts, signage, etc. Be sure to ask what type of fuel the car uses and what color is the fuel dispenser. You do not want to put gas in a diesel or vice-versa.

Posted by
248 posts

Additional thought: I second the recommendation for www.gemut.com. We rented through Enterprise and Avis (not gemut) but the information was very comprehensive and invaluable. Here's the link to the free pdf Free Rental Car Guide Read it now to help make decisions and also before you go to remind you the nuances of driving in a different country.

Posted by
220 posts

I went to my local AAA and rented a car through Hertz.... Please do not get a manual, get an automatic. Its almost like learning to drive again once you get there...its a weird feeling, but it goes away after a few days or so. People seem to drive slower in the UK, and other than in the big cities (such as Edinburgh) the traffic is very light if any at all compared other countries. It wasn't hard for my car rental last time (picked up at the EDI airport, then dropped off at Bath after a 13+ day drive all over the country). You might consider getting a small SUV. I was very happy that I had a small nissan juke, which had a decent amount of ground clearance. A couple of times when attempting to park, reverse, or pull over I probably would have scrapped scuffed, or rocked up a normal car without some clearance. Just something to consider. Happy driving :)

Posted by
9887 posts

I second Pam's advice to get the insurance.

I just rented a stick and drove it for 11 days in Scotland and didn't find the shifting difficult-- it was the narrow roads and big buses and trucks coming on the side, which had me hugging the curb. (Conversely, my husband was absolutely incapable of getting the car into first gear (which made for some anxious moments and resulted in my driving the entire rest of the trip after the first couple of hours).

Posted by
93 posts

Check out Willie Wallace at Celtic Legend. Ran into his company on the Traveling Savage Scotland blog; they use Arnold Clark Rentals, list automatics and are very affordable and straightforward.

Posted by
4637 posts

The Gemut link above carefully details some pitfalls of buying the expensive insurance offered by the agency (it does not say that agency insurance also does not cover vandalism, storm damage, water damage, etc). If people think the skimpy, expensive agency coverage gives peace of mind it's because they don't know what they have bought, i.e. the fallacy that just because it's the most expensive option it offers the most coverage.

Follow the directions in the link on using credit card coverage, it's free and offers better coverage than the agency insurance, or set up and buy the $20 Amex policy if that makes you fell better.