What to do when getting a car in Europe? Renting is always an option, but what if you want something long term, new, and an exact model? There are 3 (that I know of) French companies that work to provide this service:
Peugeot – Open Europe
Renault – Auto Europe
Citroen – Idea merge
The rule is that you have to doing the process from outside the EU as a non-resident (basically they found a tax loophole that they are using) and you can’t pick the color. Otherwise, it’s a zero deductible, full-insurance coverage, brand-new car setup, airport transfers, and bottom-line looks like a great deal. Here’s our experience:
We went with Citroen/Idea Merge since the cost was the cheapest of the 3 for a vehicle that was about the same size. I compared the specs, fuel mileage, interior room, and so on, over and over again to make sure what would work for us and then the costs. They kept coming out cheaper, so I started the reservation process. The rest of this review will only be about my experience with them; other companies would be similar, I’d think, but YMMV.
All of it was done via email and scans of various documents and, along with charging my credit card in two installments, the process was very painless. There are a few options that are available (car seat, full tank, etc) but the only one I inquired about was the fuel, which the rep actually told me to decline since it’s more expensive. I’ll make a note about that a bit later in the post. Once the final payment was taken, about two weeks before the trip, we had our car. Side point, Italy requires the possession of an International Drivers Permit as well which was easily obtained at our local AAA office, but the only time I used it during the whole trip was to show proof when I picked up the vehicle. Otherwise, never pulled it out.
Part of the process involves telling them where you will pickup your vehicle. They go to most of the major airports in France, Italy, and the surrounding countries with some fees for the transport – in our case it was Rome – Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumincino) and the fee was around 300 (150 pick/150 drop). We confirmed the pickup about a week before we left and then called when we landed & got our bags. Marco picked us up in the van about 15 minutes later and drove us to the off-site lot where the “RomaDrive” offices area located. RomaDrive is the associate company that handles the deliveries in Rome for Citroen. They are in a big off-site warehouse location about 10 minutes from the airport and the staff are very friendly & helpful with directions, information, and so on. Clearly they deal with tourists all the time and speak very good English.
The car was a Citroen C4 Cactus, an odd looking little 4 door, 5 speed manual, diesel, hatchback. PROTIP: even with the slightly higher cost, get the diesel. It’s so much better on gas, which at the time of this writing is about 1.54/litre (or about $5 a gallon for the US folk). Anyway, the size of the vehicle was great for scooting around town and racing around the countryside, even during our week in Amalfi where the roads are notoriously narrow & buses don’t hesitate to squeeze past you. In the case of dog owners, the rear windows pop open instead of roll down which was great for our boy who loves to stand on the power window switch & roll down the windows. The touch screen, while fancy and worked fine, did cause some issues that you don’t think too much about. For instance, using the GPS means you can’t stay on the map while changing the temperature; or if starting up the car, the system takes a minute to load, then you can’t turn on the A/C right away…little things like that made me missed good old fashioned knobs and switches. Also, the USB port would barely charge our phones and merely kept them from draining. PROTIP: bring or buy a phone mount (a small air vent, magnetic one like this would be perfect) if you plan to use your phone at all, and also a dual lighter charger (like this ) to keep everything powered up while driving around. There’s also only 1 cup holder for the front and it’s in the center console behind the brake, so not convenient, and one in each door of the rear (only convenient for your passengers). But there’s lots of cubbies and a big dash mounted glove box so you can store lots of stuff. The boot is reasonably sized & with careful packing it will swallow quite a bit.
After signing several papers & going over a bunch of information about driving, the insurance, the car, keys and documents, we were off. In the pouring rain. Great. First step was gas and we followed their recommendation about the nearest gas station, but to be honest (PROTIP) there’s a couple a little farther down from that one that are cheaper. Since the car will come with about a quarter tank, you will have plenty to get there or even farther if needed. The GPS will be loaded with Italy (or wherever you are driving) maps and will be set to English. It was a little clunky to use & didn’t always seem to give the fastest route so I ended up resorting to using my phone and Waze more often than not.
Dropping the car off was just as easy as the pickup. You have to call or email RomaDrive a few days in advance to schedule your appointment even if they know your drop off date. No need to fill the tank or anything, but if there is any damage, it is useful (PROTIP) to be aware of any spots. Marco did a quick walkthrough just to pick anything out but if you know in advance, it could make things quicker if you’re catching a flight or something. I had a nice scrape on the rear bumper which was pointed out and he said no problem. The “zero deductible” insurance should cover pretty much anything. The interior is another matter. According to the stickers & the information, it shouldn’t be made super dirty or damaged and kept as nice as possible. This should be easy to do if you are only leasing it for a couple weeks but for us it got pretty dirty & messed up. We did clean out the trash and brushed out as much of the pet hair from the cabin as we could, but the boot was going to be a nightmare so I elected to just leave it & hope for the best. I’ll report back if I end up getting I the “deep cleaning” surcharge later.
After signing all the documents basically stating that you’re agreeing to “sell” the car back to Citroen you turn in the keys & registration to the vehicle and hop in the shuttle which will take you to the airport. No nonsense = nice.
Ok so all in all, it’s a simple, clean experience, one that many many people will enjoy. From beginning to end you get what you pay for & can drive worry free (relatively) while on vacation. So why am I not recommending it 100%? Basically, it comes down to cost.
While deals may be found in various ways & sources with discounts and offers, the basic cost for us was about $2000 for 2 months. That is a LOT, even for a brand-new car. In talking with several locals and others who have stayed for several months & rented, better deals can be found simply by hunting some local rental companies or utilizing brokers who will then refer you to places like Hertz or Avis. Lots of internet stories will “scare” you into thinking that rental companies will tack on all sorts of charges & create issues, but in practice it doesn’t sound like it happens as much as people make you think. Yes, you won’t get a “brand-new” car to drive around. Yes, there’s a very good chance that you won’t get the car that you reserved (inventory seems to be much smaller than rental agencies in the US) so it may be an upgrade or it may be a much smaller one.
But when you factor in the cost savings, which seems to be around $200-400 based off a month rental, and that a zero deductible with unlimited kilometers is usually included (again, contrary to many reports) it works out to be the better deal. The other main complaint on the web seems to be the fact that rental agencies will charge admin fees for releasing your name to the police in the event of a ticket or fine. While I do believe this is true, I can’t say that this wouldn’t also be true of Citroen or IdeaMerge or RomaDrive, so I will have to wait & see what I end up with. Lastly, should you plan to do an absolute ton of driving or keep the car for a very long time (for instance in the case of a 1 year VISA and having the car for a good majority of that time) factor in the need to perform maintenance on the vehicle (oil change, tire rotation, etc) which is in the contract. Plus, while we never had to make use of the service, you do have roadside assistance included but if you get flat tires or have other issues again, it will be your responsibility to get those taken care of, much like leasing a car in your home area. I believe there’s a reimbursement clause but we didn’t have to make use of any of it.
In the end, if you really want a no-hassle, long-term rental experience, these companies and services are very easy to use, especially from the USA. However, a bit of hunting on the internet could net you quite a bit of savings which you could then use on better experiences, instead of giving more money to a car company.