Leasing a car in Italy

How to arrange for a short-term lease on a brand-new car in Italy—cheaper than a rental for longer periods of 17 days, and far better insured

A tractor parked in a town square in IrelandLeasing can be cost-cutter, especially for unusual vehicles like vans or SUVs (though not, sadly, tractors). The military policeman stopped my car just outside Trieste, and as I handed over my papers, I knew there was going to be some explaining to do.

The carabiniere officer, part of a routine anti-smuggling roadblock near the Italy-Slovenia border, became confused as he shuffled through the car's title (which, like the plates, was French), ownership papers (which stated I'd purchased it in Milan), and my driver's license (which said I lived in Pennsylvania).

"It's a short-term lease," I tried to explain. He stared at me suspiciously.

"Sir, please step out of the vehicle and open the trunk."

That's the sum total of problems I've ever encountered when leasing a car in Europe—and since my trunk wasn't full of Slovenian cigarettes, I was back on my way shortly.

How to lease a car in Italy

  • PartnerAuto Europe (www.autoeurope.com) - Since Auto Europe does both short-term leases (they call it their "Peugeot Open Europe Buy Back Program") as well as regular rentals (at the best rates in the business), they're the best place to shop first to see which method—renting or leasing—will cost you the least in the long run. They do cheap cell phone rentals and consolidators airfares, too.
  • Europe By Car (www.europebycar.com) - Europe By Car saves you some legwork by grouping together both of the factory programs, allowing you lease a brand-new automobile direct from either Peugeot or Renault.
  • Renault Eurodrive (www.renaultusa.com) - Direct line to the Renault short-term leasing program.

The benefits to leasing a car in Italy

The benefits of a lease—often called a buy-back, or purchase/repurchase, program—are legion.

  • It costs anywhere from 18 to 70 percent less than renting.
  • You get unlimited mileage and 24/7 roadside assistance.
  • You get a brand-new car of your choice (exact make and model) direct from the factory.
  • Rates are guaranteed in US dollars.
  • There are no additional driver fees.
  • The minimum age to lease 18 (not 25 as with most rentals).
  • There no maximum age for leasing.
  • Since it's technically a buy-back program, there are no taxes. There are none when you first agree to the deal, and no VAT, airport fees, or road taxes will suddenly materialize when you go to hand in the keys (a chronic problem with rentals).
  • There are no airport pick-up fees (as with rentals). In fact, airports are pretty much the only places you can pick up a lease.
  • It's a cheap way to get specialty vehicles: Vans, 4WD, convertibles. "A four-wheel-drive or coupe convertible is very hard to get, or very expensive, with a rental," said Guy Geslin, vice president of Renault USA (which offers a greater selection of specialty and larger vehicles than Peugeot). "But with a lease, we can get it very easily, and for a very fair price." The figures bear him out: The leasers undercut renters by 11% on a seven-passenger van, and rental outfits couldn't rustle up a convertible in all of Paris, while Europe By Car charged only 8% more for a 1.6-liter coupe than for a midsize.
  • There are no one-way fees to pick up in one city and drop off in another.
  • You car comes with a factory warranty and FULL INSURANCE coverage. There's no fiddling around with separate CDW, theft protection, and liability, each of which, on a rental, adds an extra $7 to $24 per day. What's more, with absolutely no deductible. This is key. Once I turned in a regular rental with a scratch on the door (it got sideswiped while parked in Palermo), and the rental company charged me the full $300 of deductible to fix it. On the other hand, I once returned a leased car missing its entire back windshield (wouldn't ya know it, the car got broken into the night before I was to turn it in). The backseat was still glittering with shatterglass when I drove it up to the leasing agent at the airport, but since the lease came with full insurance and no deductible, I just handed over the keys with a sheepish grin and an apology. I was not charged a single cent.
  • You get something no rental can give you: That new car smell.

The downsides to leasing a car

OK, you know there's got to be a downside, and there is: the 17-day minimum. Leasing won’t work for your two-week vacation—though even then, the math sometimes still works out in your favor to do a minimum 17-day lease and simply turn in in car three days early. There are other cons (or at least considerations):

  • You must be non-EU citizen (or at least live outside the E.U.)
  • You must arrange the lease at least a month in advance (though you can do it up to two weeks or so ahead by paying an expedite fee).
  • Leased vehicles can only be retrieved or returned at only a few dozen locations in Europe, most of which are in France (18 of Renaults and 28 of Peugeots cities). Other pickup locations elsewhere Europe include major airports—which means, for Italy, just Rome's Fiumicino or Milan's Malpensa airports.
  • Note that outside-France pick-up and drop-off fees range from $49 to $285 (priciest in Spain, Portugal, and, unfortunately, Italy). The fees for Milan are $200; for Rome it's $275–$285—and those fees are applied both at pick-up and at drop-off. In other words, if you plan to include northwestern Italy in your trip, save yourself at least $400 in fees by flying into a French town near the Italian border and picking up the car there: Nice, just across the border from Piemonte, or Geneva, a short and incredibly scenic drive through the Alps from Monte Blanc and the Valle d'Aosta (since there's a French side to the Geneva airport, it counts as France). Or, if Italy is just part of a wider-ranging European vacation for you, just arrange the car pick-up/drop-off anywhere in France that's on your itinerary.
  • You can only pick up and drop off vehicles at airports; there are no downtown offices.
  • For periods of less than 30 days, rentals can sometimes be cheaper—but only if you forgo all rental insurances. Once you start actually comparing apples to apples and pile on all the insurance rates to a classic rental, the break-even point ccomes out closer to 17 days (see "The price point," below).
  • In addition to that minimum lease period of 17 days, there's a maximum rental period of 165 days (though 175 if you arrange the pick-up and drop-off in France).
  • Yes, you get a make and model of your choice, but "your choice" is limited to a Renault or a Peugeot since leasing is offered only by French car manufacturers (it's complicated, but basically these programs take advantage of a loophole put into place 50 years ago as an attempt to lure French émigrés back home after World War II).

The price point where leasing makes sense

At what point does leasing become more cost-effective than renting? "In France, it's closer to 17 days," said Alexander Roy, president of leasing specialist Europe By Car. "In Italy or Germany, closer to 30 days," though "for people who always buy all the insurances, the breaking point will be closer to 17."

I ran my own numbers pitting the three leasing agencies against both Hertz and Avis. I won’t bore you with the details (except to say that Hertz was priciest by a long shot every time), but the practical upshot was that, if you’re the type to refuse the CDW and other insurances (an unrealistic scenario in countries where it's required, including Italy and Spain), rentals can be cheaper over a 17-day period (by 30–36%) and even a 30-day period (15%), but a lease clocks in at 10% cheaper on a six-week period.

However, once you compare apples to apples and tack the insurances and airport surcharges to the rental costs, leasing always comes out on top: 28% cheaper on the 17-day option, 45 percent cheaper for a month, and 70% cheaper over six weeks.

Tips & links

Car rental & driving resources
  • Car resources
  • Emergency service/tow: tel. 803-116
  • Highway agency: Autostrade.it (traffic info, serivce areas, toll calculator, weather)
  • Italian automotive club (~AAA): Aci.it
  • ZTLs: Ztl-italia.blogspot.com (lightly outdated, but handy, links to cities' traffic-free zones)

 

Useful Italian phrases for car travel
car automobile (ow-toh-MO-bee-lay)
or
macchina (MAH-keen-ah)
gas benzina (ben-ZEE-nah)
diesel gasolio (gah-ZOH-lee-oh) / diesel (DEE-zell)
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore (ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray)
Where is... Dov'é (doh-VAY)
...the highway l'autostrada (lout-oh-STRA-dah)
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma (lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah)
to the right à destra (ah DEH-strah)
to the left à sinistra (ah see-NEEST-trah)
straight ahead diritto (dee-REE-toh) / avanti (ah-VAHN-tee)
keep going straight sempre diritto (SEM-pray dee-REE-toh)
   
thank you grazie (GRAT-tzee-yay)
please per favore (pair fa-VOHR-ray)
yes si (see)
no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? (PAR-la een-GLAY-zay)
I don't understand Non capisco (non ka-PEESK-koh)
How much is it? Quanto costa? (KWAN-toh COST-ah)


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Resources
  • Car resources
  • Emergency service/tow: tel. 803-116
  • Highway agency: Autostrade.it (traffic info, serivce areas, toll calculator, weather)
  • Italian automotive club (~AAA): Aci.it
  • ZTLs: Ztl-italia.blogspot.com (lightly outdated, but handy, links to cities' traffic-free zones)



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