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Renting a car

I am considering renting a car from Strasbourg and cruise the country side in the spring, should I avoid this?

Posted by
21327 posts

There is no particular reason to avoid it. Depending on your interests, renting a car may be essential. But is there something in the back of your mind that is asking the question? Remember, most are not mind readers on this site.

Posted by
1525 posts

Rening a car is not a problem (as long as the person at the counter speaks a little english or you speak a little french). Driving in France is a snap. The only difficulty is watching the signs and navigating. We have found it works best to have the best map possible and the best map reader reading the map and the signs while a competant driver follows the rules of the road and avoids accidents.

If you are alone, just pull over a lot to read the maps.

You can do it.

Posted by
9363 posts

What is your concern, Lisa? Getting lost? The cost? Being in danger? Accidents? Tell us what you are thinking and we can advise you better.

Posted by
27 posts

I am considering renting a car for a few to see the country side, my concerns are the cost of the car and the gas prices. Would i be spending more to rent than to take a train to see the country side. and the weather, it is snowy in strasbourg where there roads are a hazard?

In the US I travel on highways, not freeways, when I want to see the local culture.

Posted by
3313 posts

Trains can only get you to the larger towns. If you want to tour the wine country, you'll need a rental car. Driving is easy and in the spring you shouldn't have to worry about snow.

Rates depend on how many days you want the car - it's more expensive to rent for only a few days. You can get estimates of rental costs at www.autoeurope.com.

To me, it's really a matter of paying more to have the flexibility to be in the countryside. The added cost can be somewhat offset by cheaper hotel rates - look at the Logis de France website for ideas.

Posted by
9110 posts

Figuring gas is easy. Gas in europe is twice as much as at home. Small rental car will get twice the mpg as yours (if you have an average car). Therefor, cost per mile is same as at home (within ten percent or so, and this is miniscule.

Posted by
18054 posts

"Gas in europe is twice as much as at home"

According to the US dept of Energy, www.eia.doe.gov, gas in Europe is currently $7.00 per gallon, three times the $2.33 I just paid.

As long as you are willing to rent a much smaller car in Europe than you are willing to drive in this country, you might get twice the millage, but for the same car over there as you want here, there probably won't be much difference.

"Trains can only get you to the larger towns"

Perhaps France is substantially different than Germany, where I have spent 16 weeks this century traveling entirely with public transportation, but I doubt it. I have never had any problem getting to places I wanted to be. Local trains go to lots of small towns, and there are local buses for the rest.

Posted by
1525 posts

Yes, in this particular little corner of France the towns you want to visit are NOT on a train line. There may be busses, but why travel on THEIR schedule? You will likely not even use a single full tank of gas. You want a CAR. C-A-R, CAR. We visited 4 villages in one afternoon. Try to do that by bus, even if they are readily available or run on any sort of convenient schedule.

$7 a gallon is not a big deal when your 40mpg car only uses a gallon or two a day. Are you going to fret over a few$ and sacrifice convenience? The amount extra you pay for gas there will not exceed the cost of a coffee and an ice cream each day.

Cars are sometimes the best option. This is one of those times. CAR.

C-A-R

Posted by
18054 posts

Fuel costs are not the only expense. I usually get a car rental quote before each trip and estimate the fuel cost from ViaMichelin. Two out of three rental cost quotes have been from Gemut, which tries to make the quote as low as possible, e.g. by not including CDW, which is not an apple to apples comparison with trains/buses, because I have no damage liability with the train. Note: they never quoted a diesel, so I doubt that diesels are less expensive to rent. Even with this low-ball estimate, the estimate for a car for 3 trips, 34 days, was $1146 for the car rental alone. This was usually for a very tiny car, one I probably wouldn't have wanted to drive.

Fuel cost estimates for those days was $540. That's low because it did not include "local" trips (Treis-Karden to Bernkastel-Kues, for example), although I have included them in my fare estimate.

So, car rental with fuel for those 34 days would have been more than $1686 ($49.58/day). I actually spent $716.61 on all public transportation for those days. For those 5 weeks, I saved $1000 by not relying on a car.

You might not be able to get everywhere with public transportation, but the savings are so significant that you should make an honest effort to try.

In 2004, I spent five days on the mittel Rhein. Getting to anywhere I wanted was a breeze with the train. On one of those days I wanted to go to Burg Eltz, but I didn't want to hike an hour through the woods to get there from Moselkern. I looked at renting a car for the day (from Koblenz, I still would have had to take the train to Koblenz). They wanted over $100, just for the car for a day. Note that my total rail expenses for the other four days was $23. I passed on Burg Eltz, but I didn't sit around doing nothing. I visited the Marksburg, which I wouldn't have done otherwise (for €3,80 RT by train).

Posted by
12040 posts

If it makes you feel any better, your rental car is likely to be diesel-powered, which is slightly cheaper and gets better mileage... or is that kilometer-age?

Posted by
9110 posts

Lee's gas is cheaper than mine and, admittedly, it's been as much as maybe sixty days since I bought gas in Europe. Things change. But, assuming a 1000 mile trip, twenty vs forty mpg, and $2.50 vs $7.00 gas; that's a difference of fifty bucks or a nickle a mile -- not exactly a deal breaker. Lee's the acknowledged train expert and I can't argue with him there (although I hope, eventually, to convice him of the truly rigtht way to travel), but his sixteen weeks in a century (either he's old or he means in the last ten or so years), is a bit less than my sixteen weeks in the past twelve or thirteen months.

Posted by
5573 posts

I have done both cars and trains. If I were you I would decide what the cost would be do it. Are there things that you can't get to by train or by bus in a reasonable amount of time. Remember your time is money too! Once you've done that you can determine if it makes sense to rent a car. You say that your are traveling in the spring. Unless you're crossing a high pass, you'll probably not see much snow. In addition to getting you to places that trains don't go to, you do have more flexibility with a car. I would advise you not have a car in a big city. You have to pay for parking and you don' t need it. So, try to plan your trip so that your countryside stays are in one block. Pam

Posted by
430 posts

Lisa,

It really boils down to personal preference and comfort level. I travel both by car and by train, and mix in some flights as well. You've got to consider each trip case by case.

Fuel is not as big a factor as you might think, someone already mentioned it, but here's a comparison showing some of the math:

1,000 Miles
@ 20 mpg
@ $2.25 per gallon... is...
(1000 / 20) * 2.25 = $112.50

1,000 Miles
@ 30 mpg
@ $8.00 per gallon... is....
(1000 / 30) * 8.00 = $266.67

A difference of $154.17

So, a trip of 1,000 miles -- at very conservative numbers -- is only a difference of $0.15 per mile, worst case, when compared to driving in the U.S.

Avis is showing an Audi A3 out of Munich available for $325 weekly rate. Liability supplement is $10.75 a day and CDW is $12 per day. A big factor are fees and taxes, which on the nice Audi station wagon I priced, was over $100 for the week.

So, a trip of 1,000 miles out of Munich, in a nice car, with lots of extra insurance, will run about $850.

You will also have incidentals of parking and the like.

You've got to decide for you. If you like being able to start and stop when you want, park and have a picnic, possibly travel in a group, or change plans at a whim -- a car could be better. If you like being able to relax and look out the window, let someone else drive, and have the security of not needing to plan the details of a route -- a train could be better.

Do what is most comfortable for you -- the more at ease you are the more you will be able to relax and enjoy the trip --

Posted by
27 posts

Thank you for the excellent advice. I think I will do both, train and car.

I am flying into Zurich, train to Strasbourg, then maybe car for 2 days, then my friends will be ready for Easter weekend in the town of Colmar/Brunstatt/Leimbach, then back to Zurich.

This is my first trip to France, with a tight budget and I just want to enjoy myself at leisure and I love to drive and get lost. Not too lost as I don't speak French. :0)

Great Advice and I promise to post to share my experience.

Posted by
1525 posts

Just FYI, From Colmar, some of the little wine road towns mentioned in the RS book can be reached by bicycle if you are energetic and the weather is good. I would have enjoyed that myself, but we were travelling with children too young to go that far on bike.

Just a thought.

Posted by
425 posts

"I usually get a car rental quote before each trip and estimate the fuel cost from ViaMichelin."

Hey Lee, if you really never plan to use a rental car again, why would you get a rental quote every single time? I know that public transportation is cheaper, and you certainly know it, so why the useless research?

Posted by
495 posts

I can never quite understand these "Always use the train," "No, always rent a car!" absolutists. It seems to me that they're putting the cart before the horse.

Public transport is a great option if the places you are travelling to and from have good public transport links (that run on a schedule that is convenient to you.) Taking the car is a great option if the place you are going to has good road links and decent availability of parking.

Posted by
11798 posts

Jim forgot that distances in Europe are relatively short and fuel economy for most cars (especially with a diesel, manual-transmission) is really good.

Aside: The difference between Ireland and America? In Ireland 1,000 miles is a long way, in America 100 years is a long time.

I take both cars and trains. I tend toward trains when I'm alone or with just one other person, especially when my itinerary includes cities.

When I'm with a larger group or want to get a little further off the main track, I use a car.

While I've managed to get most places with a train. I have had times when I could only stay a short time or miss my train. I've had other times when I missed a train by a couple minutes and lost an hour or more waiting for the next one.

My worst ever was having dinner in Bacharach while staying in St. Goar. I read the schedule before I left the station. I knew which train I wanted but met a group of people and joined them for a beer (thinking I had plenty of time until the last train). When I got back to the station, I realised the later trains were on Friday and Saturdays only. I had missed the last train and there were no taxis (or signs of life) anywhere. I had to walk the 14 km to get back to my pension.

Posted by
8410 posts

Wow...$2.33 a gallon...I'm so jealous. I paid $3.09 a gallon when I gassed up today!

I personally think that no one way of transportation works for everything. I have driven and I have taken the train. It depends on where you are going, and sometimes how many people are going with you. It may be more expensive to rent a car, but I think that sometimes the added cost is worth it for the benefit in certain circumstances. Other times it would be sheer insanity to have a car, such as in Paris!

It is not right to ridicule anyone because they may make a choice other than the one that works for you. Different strokes for different folks...

Posted by
9110 posts

When I'm with a larger group ....... I use a car.

Gives the visual image of Brad and seventeen of his very best friends zooming across the continent in a SmartCar.

Posted by
842 posts

Lisa, you have the right plan. I have to concur with Steve. Use public transportation where it best fits your needs, and use a car to explore, on your own schedule, the "out of the way" sights.

Some thoughts: go to Autoeurope.com website,(and other competing companies) and book your car before you go. You will find that it is cheaper to pick up a car at any place other than an airport, but it makes no differnece where you return it. We always pick up our car in one spot, and return it in another town. We always get a diesel car, so the mileage is usually between 35 to 50 mpg. The most prevelant cars are "stick shifts". If you must rent an "auto" prices REALLY jump up.

Do your homework on the insurance (we never get CDW...we are covered by our VISA card.) If you have auto rental questions call up AutoEurope and talk to them. Their home office is in Maine, and they are very helpful. (They also will match any of the competitions rates, and will give you a free GPS, if you just monitor the specials on their website.)

Oh, and buy a simple Michelin fold out map, or Michelin map book. They are excellent in the EU. Even though we have our own GPS, we can always consult a map if the need arises.

Posted by
10344 posts

"we never get CDW...we are covered by our VISA card."

There is no consensus on this issue (what to do about rental car CDW in Europe) on this site, many opinions both ways. Rick has a discussion in his books. If you want to read opinions in prior posts, use the Search function in the FAQ (top of page) or post here and I'll link you to prior discussions of this.

Posted by
11798 posts

Ed,

Sometimes it feels like that.

I drove a van load in Australia and put the fear of God into everyone when I forgot to drive on the left side.

They were all yelling, "Go left! Go left!" and I'm calmly asking, "You want me to turn left up here?" No one was injured, however, so we can all laugh now.

Posted by
27 posts

In 1997 I visited England going from London to the Lakes district north, driving and loads of fun, just being to drive faster than 55. :0)

I would prefer to drive, but my mother who travels the world says don;t drive in France? I think she is just paranoid. But I plann to a little of both since I only have 7 tourist days.

Posted by
711 posts

Lisa... Do not be afraid to drive in France... a piece of cake. My husband and I have driven all over France for over 20 years and have found it to be very enjoyable.We usually go in Fall or Spring when there are less people on the roads.We also do not drive in big cities.. Paris, Lyon etc, but have driven all over the country. We rent our car from here in the US before we go. We always pick up our car at Orly Airport south of Paris since we usually go south. We used to use maps , but now we take our own GPS. They used to be free with cars, but not anymore. GPS's are very useful. We use them in several ways.We put a marker on the place we get the car.. Orly, usually...so that it is easier to return it. Also , if you find a wonderful place to photograph or a nice little restaurant that is closed, you can put down a marker and return there another time. If you put down a marker on the place you are staying... you can even wander around without the GPS.. and then when you are good and lost set the marker for your accommodation and return. The tollroads are wonderful... very nice roadside rest stores.. do not be afraid to go in.. the have wonderful food and all kinds of great kitshy gift items.. some high end things to buy also.Do get off the tollroads. The back roads in France are wonderful. Do not forget to save your euros in a ziplock for the tollroads.. it is easier than searching around when you get to a booth. Have fun.