Driving in Germany/Switzerland

U.S. citizens going to drive through Germany and Switzerland in September. When we rent a car (automatic)are there sites we should view to book with?
Are there any specific things we need, e.g. International driver's license, a vignette sticker when crossing the border to Switzerland, GPS, etc. Thanks, in advance for any feedback.

Posted by Paul
NYC area
1434 posts

Hi Deb, I would get a car rental quote from Andy Bestor at www.gemut.com. No obligations, but we have used Gemut and Mr. Bestor for car rentals on our last 3 trips and for our upcoming trip. An IDP (international Driver Permit) is what you'll need, not and International Drivers License. It's about $20 at AAA. The Swiss "Vignette" is a toll sticker you'll need to buy before driving on any highway in Switzerland. Cost is 34 Euro/40 SF. www.autobahnen.ch/index.php?lg=001&page=014 www.tolltickets.com/country/swiss/vignette.aspx?lang=en-GB Just an unsolicetd comment, the public transportation in Switzerland is excellent, plus some of the most scenic areas, such as many of the vilages in the Berner Oberland, Zermatt, etc. don't allow cars. Paul

Posted by Kathryn
Tulsa, OK
241 posts

I have used Auto Europe for almost 10 years and have been very pleased with them. Their website is easy to navigate and will give you quotes for many different car types. I will caution you that very few automatic cars are rented in Europe so finding an automatic may be challenging and add a significant amount to the cost. There is also the issue of picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another - which can add a lot to the cost. I agree that Switzerland's train system (and gondola's etc. in the mountains) is wonderful. You might consider a car in Germany and then public transport in Switzerland.
International Driver's permits are always a good idea. The only country I can remember that requires a vignette is Austria. GPS is good but the old fashioned maps work great because of the easy signage in Europe. I like to use maps for cross country then switch to GPS in the cities.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
370 posts

An IDP is recommended, not required in Germany and Switzerland but it is a few bucks well spent and it gives you an internationally recognized translation of your drivers license.. It's a few bucks well spent that you hope you never need, just like insurance. Should yo decide to pass through Austria, it is required. You need an autobahn vignette in Switzerland, and note that there are some autobahns in Switzerland that are only two lane roads, so deciding to be cute and not get one can easily get expensive because some autobahns just don't look the role. The last time we rented was directly through Hertz in '04 and the smiling man at the desk at the Frankfurt airport spent a lot of time trying to talk us out of the automatic before he finally caved and did the free upgrade. we only lease now but your time frame won't work for a lease. Whether you go through a major or a consolidator Like Gemut or AutoEurope make them give you a written statement of your right to get what you reserved and what your options are. As for a GPS, take your own with a European map card. That way you know how to use it and don't have to figure out how to use it from an owners manual that is written in German. Also back it up with some good paper maps so you can know where you are in the grand scale of things.

Posted by Barbara
Erin, WI, USA
13 posts

Use Andy at Gemut. andy@gemut.com
We are also traveling Sept OCt starting in Germany. Dropping off our car in Lindau and taking a train while in Switzerland. Very expensive to pick a car up in Germany and drop off in Switz. Enjoy you trip. Barbara

Posted by Chris
Mahone Bay, Canada
53 posts

Deb, Check your rental car first, it may already have a vignette on the windshield. The first time we went to Austria we stopped to buy one, only to discover the rental car already had it. We have been much happier bringing our own GPS from home. We rented a car with GPS in Germany a few years ago, only to discover it only had detailed GPS maps for Germany, although it came with a disk for the rest of Europe the maps weren't very detailed at all. Another time we rented a car and wasted about half an hour trying to figure out how to turn the GPS on, the controls were on the wheel making it difficult for the co-pilot to change destinations while driving. Purchasing European maps and bringing your own GPS can actually be cheaper, too, if you are taking more than one trip or sharing with a friend. We have had success renting from Sixt in Germany as well as through AutoEurope. We've been happy with both, although we did have one bad experience with Hertz (rented through AutoEurope) where they charged us for pre-existing damage to the car in an amount just slightly under the deductible that was repaired in their own shop (it felt like a scam to us but who knows). There wasn't much we could do once we got home. We really enjoy driving in Germany and Switzerland. My husband usually does the driving and doesn't always get to take in the breathtaking views on some of the narrow and twisty Swiss roads, but we like the freedom a car offers us to come and go when want and to get into some more remote areas. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by Jeremy
Dallas, TX
31 posts

I book with Auto Europe and have never had an issue. Last time we rented a car we got an awesome upgrade. You don't technically need an International drivers license. Feel free to get one at your local AAA, they would appreciate the support. Call Auto Europe and they will help you with what you need. I would suggest getting GPS, it's not an expensive upgrade at all and it's useful. Make sure they walk you through changing it to English though!

Posted by Ruth
Back in Atlanta, after Bonn
121 posts

I've rented happily from Sixt in Germany for many years, but last trip I tried Andy Bestor's company and was very pleased with the service and the rate. Usually pick up my car at the Frankfurt airport, but picked it up in town in Frankfurt since I needed to be there a few days, and not paying the airport tax was a much bigger saving than I expected.

Posted by Jeff
Bend, OR, United States
1145 posts

Andy Bestor at gemut.com guarantees the lowest rate.

Posted by Nestor
Fairfax
45 posts

Get the IDL for your peace of mind at a relatively low price. When you pick up your car ask the agent if the car already has the necessary stickers. We bought one when we drove from Prague to Berlin just to find out that the car already had one that was still valid. A GPS is great to have. Buy your GPS with Europe maps in the US (or load them into yours if you can) that way you can put in your destinations ahead of time.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3076 posts

Deb, have you ever taken the train? Just wondering if you really need to drive or maybe you've just never taken the train and maybe are a little hesitant. Trains are the the best way to see Switzerland and the trains go where the cars are not allowed...which are some of the most beautiful places imaginable.

Posted by Jeff
Lakeville, MN
62 posts

Deb, The GPS has been invaluable our past few trips. Not sure how we did without it. Europcar offers good rates from several vendors. J&D

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

As for GPS, the best alternative is to purchase European maps and use them in your own GPS unit that you are familiar with. Other good alternative is an offline GPS navigation app (that makes your smartphone work just like a unit, without data traffic). Renting a GPS is quite a waste of money, rental fees are too expensive that they go over the cost of buying a cheap unit with just 3 or so days of rent fees. Moreover, car rentals often don't upgrade their cartographic base.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

We just rented a car through Kemwell, which is owned by AutoEurope, but usually has cheaper rates. Never had the slightest issue with them. This car, for a week in Germany, came with a free GPS. We opted for the NO DECUCTIBLE rental, which, of course, increased the rate, but will avoid any possible problems (we hope). The rate for a 4 door was $500, prepaid. We've rented from Kemwell in France, Ireland, England, and Australia and been very satisfied.

Posted by Deb
Victor, NY, US
10 posts

Thanks to all that replied. After going through Sixt, Auto Europe, and Gemüt, found that Gemüt was less expensive and provided us with more options on pick up and drop off. Will update experience after vacation.
Going to bring my own GPS and preload destinations ahead of time.