Things to Know Before Renting a Car in France

8 August 2013FinanceTravel

I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday figuring out the details before renting a car for an upcoming vacation in France. While we will be spending the majority of our time in Paris, which doesn’t require a car, we want to make a quick trip to see Mont Saint-Michel and the beaches in Normandy. And while it is possible to get to both of those locations by train, we decided it would be more flexible to rent a car for a few days.

Renting a car should be easy, but the process is quickly complicated by terms like third party liability insurance, collision damage waiver, theft protection, tire and windscreen coverage, and personal accident protection. Then there are charges for additional drivers, registration fees, road taxes, premium location fees, and VAT. Selecting all of the coverages and options can lead to a car that costs three or four times the advertised base price.

After doing some research, here are a few things that I think are important to know before your next trip abroad.

When renting a vehicle in the Canada or the United States, the biggest issue is ensuring you have adequate third party liability insurance (coverage for damage or injuries you cause to others). Thankfully, this is not an issue in France as all vehicles are required to carry liability insurance by law. Rental vehicles therefore come with unlimited third party liability insurance included in the base price. If you are travelling to another country, be sure to confirm if third party liability is included, and if so, what the coverage limits are.

Your next decision is whether you want to pay for a collision damage waiver, which is essentially an agreement with the rental company that if you damage their vehicle, they won’t charge you for (all of) it. The rental company I dealt with in France was asking $20 a day for this waiver, but it is important to note that there was still a €1,200 deductible. So by paying $20/day, you would still be on the hook for the first €1,200 of damage, but nothing over that. Rather than pay for this waiver, I phoned the insurance broker responsible for my auto insurance here in Canada. I pay a modest additional fee each year on my policy for an endorsement that provides coverage for rental vehicles, which would make the rental company’s waiver unnecessary. As it turns out, that endorsement only provides coverage for rentals in Canada or the United States, so my auto policy won’t cover any damages to a rental vehicle in France. Luckily, my credit card has several cardholder benefits, one of which is collision damage waiver benefits. After a few phone calls, I was able to confirm that France is an eligible country for my credit card’s collision damage waiver benefit. By charging the full car rental cost to my credit card, I am protected against any collision damage charges without any deductible, saving $20 per day. My credit card also provides protection for theft and accidental death or dismemberment, making those optional coverages unnecessary as well. Before agreeing to the rental company’s suggestion that you get a collision damage waiver or other optional protections, do your homework and see if you might already have coverage from your own insurance policy or your credit card.

Most travellers pick up their rental vehicles when they arrive at an airport or train station. We decided to get our rental car from a neighbourhood location that is close to our accommodation. This had an added benefit of saving us about $20 per day in rental costs. When I compared a similar rental between the neighbourhood location and one at the Gare Saint-Lazare (a train station), there was a premium location fee added to the latter invoice. So if possible, consider picking up your rental car away from airports or train stations.

Another consideration for North American travellers in Europe is the fact that the overwhelming majority of rental vehicles have manual transmissions. I have driven a manual transmission a few times, and I could probably get by with one if necessary, but for a less stressful trip – driving the busy streets of Paris will be adventure enough – I went out of my way to book a rental vehicle with an automatic transmission. Be prepared to pay more for this (our automatic economy car’s base rate is about double the cost of a similar vehicle with manual transmission), and be sure to book ahead of time as there are limited quantities of automatics at each location.

What started as a quick search for “renting a car in France” turned into a few hours of research and several phone calls. It was a pain, but at the end of the day I am now comfortable that we are adequately protected if something bad should happen during our French road trip.

To summarize:

  • Make sure you have third party liability insurance (this is NOT provided by your credit card)
  • Decline optional protections like collision damage waivers and theft protection if your auto policy or credit card already provide coverage
  • Get quotes for the same vehicle from a few different locations to see if there are potential savings
  • Plan ahead and expect to spend more if you require an automatic transmission

Happy travels!

Opinions expressed are my own and are for information purposes only. Your situation is unique and you should always consult with an insurance professional before deciding what coverages are appropriate for your personal situation. Laws and regulations can change, so check if the above information is still accurate before relying on it.