I recently traveled to Italy. I knew I’d have to drive there, but I was nervous about driving in a country that’s notorious for its aggressive drivers. I wasn’t sure how I’d navigate new roads, signs written in a foreign language, and using a stick shift for the first time.
Though there are a few automatic cars in Italy, the majority of cars there have manual transmissions. And when they are available, automatic cars tend to cost significantly more to rent than manual.
However, after a failed driving lesson in a manual car where I continually stalled out, I decided that it was worth it to pay for an automatic car.
I checked several booking sites to compare the costs for automatic car rentals, like Kayak and Expedia, and even went directly to the rental companies sites for Budget and Avis. However, I found it tricky to search for automatic cars on those sites.
Since I was renting in Europe, I found the most helpful sites to be Holiday Autos, and Auto Europe, which allow you to specifically search for automatic cars. Holiday Autos brought up cheaper rates and seemed easier to navigate, but I wanted to see if I could find even better fares, so I called the car rental companies directly.
When I took the time to actually call Budget and Hertz, the companies listed on Holiday Autos, I found that they had several automatic cars available and their rates were even cheaper. When I mentioned that I was a AAA member, my rental cost was discounted even more. Though they did have automatic cars available, the downside was that most of the cars were small—compact or economy size—and I was looking for at least a midsize car. I booked an economy size car anyway.
In the end, I paid just 245 euros (about $300) for 5 days in an automatic car. I was also upgraded from the small economy car to a full-size Volkswagen station wagon, which fortunately had a built-in GPS.
I also got an International Driving Permit, which is required for foreigners driving in Italy, in addition to a valid license from your home country. Though you may be able to rent a car in Italy without an IDP, you risk major fines if you get pulled over and don’t have one. The IDP costs just $15, and you can apply for one through either AAA or the National Automobile Club.
I’m so glad that I rented a car: It enabled me to leisurely explore small towns that would have otherwise been inaccessible. I’m also happy that I drove an automatic car. I’m not sure I’d have felt the same way if I had driven in a manual car, which would have been a much more stressful experience.