Please sign in to post.

3 weeks, 6 people, and a full size van. Oh dear.

So it all began with a screaming deal on a minivan through AutoEurope: a 22 day rental from Munich airport to Frankfurt airport in a 7 seater manual minivan with all insurance and zero deductible for $387. Yes, including everything except the additional driver fee of $67. Crazy deal. I emailed twice to confirm it was legit.

So we (5 adults and a 16 yo) arrived to pick up the van from Hertz. Our luggage: two checked bags, 3 carry on size bags, 6 backpacks. The guy at the counter took one look at our group and said “ You’re never going to fit. Never.” He offered us a full size 8 passenger automatic Ford Tourneo (Transit in the US). I was very concerned it would fit in the parking garages we had reserved. Let alone driving it. But my husband and brother-in-law (who drives a Ford Transit at work) were game. So we loaded up the van and my first thought was “Dangit, I could have brought a bigger suitcase!” Tons of cargo space.

So off we go heading toward the Dolomites. We have the windows down (only the driver and passenger windows roll down, the second row has worthless pop out windows). Life is good.

About an hour into the drive, we hit traffic. The temp is the mid 80’s, so we roll up the windows and turn on the ac. Or so we think.

After much button pressing and only hot air coming out, the four of us in the back are getting a little cooked. It’s fine when we’re moving. But we’re not moving as we approach the Brenner Pass and we can see that an accident has caused a delay of 30+ minutes. Oh dear. We literally getting no air and we’re stuck in this van. Sooooo, we open one of the rear doors and drive down the freeway with one of the doors open. At no more than 5 mph, mind you. I’m sure we were a sight.

So the next few hours is spent trying to figure out how to even place a call on my US cell phone from Italy (as we eventually arrive in the Dolomites) to the Hertz roadside assistance number (in Germany). When I finally get through, they tell me I need to contact the Italian roadside assistance number. They tell me to contact the closest Hertz and ask about swapping the van. But the nearest location is now closed.

So, next day I call Bolzano, hoping we can swing by and do a quick swap on our way to Venice. No dice. They have no vans. Well, I have parking reserved at Piazzale Roma, where there happens to be a Hertz! So I call them. Uh oh. They tell me that the Hertz fleet in Italy does not include ANY vehicles bigger than SUVs that seat 5. Period. Ugh. The guy at the counter says there is nothing he can do, because it’s a German rental. I tell him we are in Venice 3 nights. Can someone drive one from Germany and swap it out? Nope. Can they fix it? Nope. 3 weeks in a sauna, I say. Thankfully his co-worker overhears and offers to take a look at it. “The buttons can be tricky” he says.

So he drives with my husband up to the van and tries it. Still doesn’t work. He says, “If can be fixed, it will be done in 30 minutes.” Check back when we’re leaving town and we’ll either have a sauna or a fixed van.

Three days and lots of praying later, we return and are told the van is at the storage lot and they will drive us there. No word on the status. Five minutes later we hop in the van and turn on the ac. The most glorious cold air greets us. Hallelujah our prayers were answered!

So we all pile in the van and head for Stresa, where we encounter our first harrowing descent along narrow streets with hairpin turns. But we made it to our hotel (Hotel du Parc), which thankfully has parking.

One thing about parking a full size van: they don’t corner well. Like at all. You want parking spaces you can pull straight into. Perpendicular parking just really isn’t a good thing. So a good deal of research went in to trying to find suitable parking for this beast through the rest of the 3 weeks. And we drive a minivan. There is no comparison.

To be continued…

Posted by
4293 posts

You know, I'm so concerned about warning people about narrow, winding roads that I forget about parking. But that's a good issue to also bring up. We've always gotten the smallest vehicle possible, but even then, parking is sometimes a 5-10 turn exercise.

Posted by
2387 posts

My big concern was the height of this van. There’s a sticker inside that says 1.9 meters. Lots of parking garages have limits of 2.0 m. I like a little more wiggle room than that. Thankfully the parking garage at Piazzale Roma is and old fashioned one with a spiral ramp you drive up, with exits onto each level. We were directed to the top level, so no ceiling height to contend with. But there were only 3 spots available. We had to unload the van and guide the driver into the spot. He had to shimmy his way out the door. But he made it.

At the Lauterbrunnen parking garage, the ceiling height was 2.5 m so no problem! Except when our pre-paid voucher wouldn’t work to let us out and we had to back that beast up and out of the way of impatient drivers. Good grief people!

The parking structure in Colmar (Montagne Verte) has designated parking for large vehicles and the height is 2.5 m. Nice extra long spaces too. How luxurious! The length of the van is certainly another challenge.

Driving around, and getting lost in, these towns and villages is always part of the fun of having a rental car. But this size of a van definitely adds a stress level that is greater than normal.

For those who wonder about the extra costs: gas, parking, tolls, etc. Here is the breakdown:

Gas: 320€
Vignettes: 9.90 € for Austria, 40 CHF for Swiss
Auto trains (2): 45€
Parking: 310€
Tolls: 53€
Additional driver: 67€

Total: about 850€.

Edited to add total km driven over 22 days: 1,985

So total cost including rental for 22 days is about 1250€. Yes, there were days we didn’t use the van (Venice and Lauterbrunnen). But in this case the van was worth it. We played crazy music, chatted without worrying that we’re talking too loudly on trains, strung out not-quite-dry laundry in the back while we travel, went round and round a few roundabout trying to figure out which is the 3rd exit (some “exits” don’t appear to be exits!). It’s been great fun, now that the ac works!

Two very special stops on our journey: villages in the Alsace where our grandparents lived 14 generations ago. Priceless!

Posted by
2387 posts

All said, we’ll never rent this big a vehicle again. Usually we are a family of 4 and rent an estate car. Those provide the most cargo space (not SUVs, we learned the hard way!). And they are much easier to maneuver. Someday when we’re empty nesters and can zip around in tiny cars, we will look back on these days and laugh, I’m sure.

Posted by
131 posts

thanks for your report, it was fun to read and I could almost picture myself there!

Posted by
11491 posts

Did they tell you what was wrong with the a/c?

Posted by
1469 posts

Too bad you didn't video your trip; you could have sold it to Netflix!

Posted by
943 posts

I hope you took photos especially of the laundry hanging up in the back! Sweet dreams are made of this. . .

Posted by
993 posts

Thank you for sharing. It reminded me of my van rental in Italy in 2018. We also had six people and 21 inch carry-ons for each, plus backpacks. We did not rent the larger full size van, but stuck with the mini-van. Everyone fit, although my niece did have to have luggage on her lap. We didn't want to go with a larger van because parking is a challenge. Even with our mini-van, we had some limited parking options.

Posted by
1377 posts

travelforfun, this story is hilarious and you gave me a good chuckle. Yes, every now and then we travelers encounter hiccups in our trips. You dealt and with a great attitude. My own experience recently in Kailua-Kona with a Ford F150 double cab pickup was similar to yours. Love your trip reports.

Edited to add: I had reserved the “Managers Special” which stated Toyota Corolla or LARGER. When I pointed this out to the res agent, he said, Yes, exactly. My eyes were huge - I could not believe he was serious. It was the only vehicle left and I wasn’t allowed to switch it in Hilo.

Posted by
2497 posts

I love this report. It reminds me of some of our driving adventures in southern France that we still laugh about although it wasn’t so funny in the moment. We got stuck in a parking garage when the unmanned ticket machine at the exit wouldn’t take our cc. We backed up (to the annoyance of those behind us in line) and reparked the car and went upstairs to the only existing ticket machine to pay for our parking ticket. Unfortunately the woman who used the machine just before us basically broke it and threw up her hands in disgust and left. Now the machine wouldn’t accept any more payments. Luckily my husband who barely speaks French by some miracle was able to figure out what the problem with the machine was and we were able to retrieve our car and make our exit.

Posted by
14249 posts

I’m a solo traveler and don’t drive in Europe but I love your TR! I really love your outlook and would have cracked up at you inching your way through traffic with the door open!! Did you stop at the big McD’s on the Brenner Pass?

Thank you for the chuckles!

Posted by
7448 posts

Your story had me laughing with you at the experiences! We rented a car for England & Wales, and they gave us a Citroen SUV. Nice & roomy until we were on some of the tiny roads with curbs. I’m picturing your much larger vehicle heading down that road in Stresa, etc. and going round & round trying to figure out those non-exit counting exits! : )

Thanks for sharing! Glad it all worked out!

Posted by
2744 posts

Wow! What an entertaining report! I’d say you picked an appropriate name for this forum.

Posted by
3050 posts

Ah, your problem was you rented the vehicle in Germany. The lack of working A/C was meant to prevent you from taking ill, as everyone knows that air conditioning makes you sick.

(I have argued with literal German doctors and scientists about why they believe this nonsense but they absolutely do!)

Great report - but better you than me, I find our Mini Clubman a little larger than I'd like when dealing with European parking garages.