For members


How to avoid car hire scams in Italy

Car hire scams exist in Italy as much as anywhere else, but a few precautions will lower your chances of being hit with unfair charges on your next trip.

Here's how to avoid getting caught in a car rental scam in Italy.
Here's how to avoid getting caught in a car rental scam in Italy. Photo by Art Markiv on Unsplash

While most people who hire a car in Italy do so without any major issues, the country has its fair share of scams.

After reports from travellers who had been hit with bogus fines for alleged damage to vehicles they’d hired in Italy, The Local put out a survey asking readers to share their experiences.

As well as providing accounts of negative encounters with rental agencies, those who responded also had a wealth of advice to offer about how not to get caught out when hiring a car in Italy.

READ ALSO: Tell us: Have you been the victim of a car hire scam in Italy?

Here’s what you had to say.

Do your research

It might sound obvious, but many people skip a key first step when renting a car in Italy: googling the name of the company you plan on using.

“Use a reputable firm. Check reviews,” says one reader of The Local who says she was charged €500 for bogus ‘damages’ when returning a car at Malpensa airport.

If she’d done a basic background check on the company, she adds, “I would never have booked with them in the first place.”

Is one provider offering significantly below-market rates compared to all the others? There’s probably a good reason for that.

“Avoid the cheapest firms,” cautions Berth Danermark, a professor emeritus who lives in Zambrone, Calabria: “They make their profits from scams.”

Get insurance

Almost all our readers strongly advised getting good insurance so you’re protected in case of a scam (as well as for genuine damage and accidents).

This saved at least one respondent from having to pay a steep fine after their rental agency falsely claimed their vehicle had been scratched on its return to the airport.

“We had a flight to catch so signed for insurance claim. It was so obvious it was a scam and if I had more time I would have dug my heels in,” they write.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

Often credit card companies offer car hire insurance or act as a buffer between you and and rental company, which is one reason you may want to pay by credit rather than debit card when given the option (see below for more on this).

One reader who returned a car to Catania airport in Sicily says they were charged €500 for an alleged scratch on the inside of a door.

“We used our American Express card to pay for the rental so we disputed the charge with them and they dealt with the car rental agency,” they say.

Credit vs debit cards

Bethel Ayo, an engineer from Sweden, recommends using a debit card instead of a credit card to rent cars, as it prevents the company from accessing funds unless you’ve authorised the transaction.

While some firms do allow you book with a debit card, many won’t, for this exact reason: it puts them in a more vulnerable position if someone does damage their vehicle.

Because of this, companies that take debit cards usually only offer this option to customers over a certain age (typically, 25-and-up), and will often want a sizeable deposit to cover their backs.

Get photo (and video) evidence

You’ve waited patiently in line, you’ve signed all the paperwork, you’ve been given the keys, and all you want to do now is speed off on your holiday and leave the garage in your dust.

But before you do, say readers, make sure to spend a few minutes putting together a timestamped photographic record of the exact state that every inch of your vehicle is in before it’s left the car park.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I buy a car in Italy if I’m not a resident?

Donald Patrick Fletcher Law, a retired doctor who lives outside Pisa, says he learnt his lesson the hard way after his credit card was charged €800 for alleged damages, weeks after he had returned a vehicle to Pisa airport.

“Unfortunately I had not taken any photos (something I do routinely now) to refute their claim,” says Law. “As I had no evidence I could not prove my case and so didn’t contact the police.”

Insist on a return inspection

Many users of car rental companies in Italy will be rushing to catch a flight when they return their vehicle and long gone by the time they receive notice of any fines – something agencies operating in bad faith know they can take advantage of. 

If you can, try to budget the time to have a company representative look over the car with you and provide verbal confirmation that there’s nothing wrong before you release it back into their custody.

“Insist on an inspection in your presence when you return the car,” says a reader based in northwest Italy.

If you can’t persuade a representative to look over the car with you – some companies insist that you drop the vehicle off and turn in your keys remotely, without any in-person contact – take further timestamped photos of the state of the vehicle, in case it’s contested down the line.

Have you been the victim of a car rental scam in Italy? Tell us about your experience here.

Member comments

  1. I’m a frequent visitor from UK. I’ve settled on Sicily by Car for my rentals, mainly in Puglia and through a broker. My insurance excess is included in my annual travel insurance policy so I take the basic cover only. I’ve never had any problems. Damage has always been pointed out at start of rental. On return of the car it is checked over and I sign for no damage on their iPad and get the zero reports mailed to me immediately.
    As someone wrote, don’t use a firm that’s suspiciously cheap.

  2. My son-in-law has experienced these scams in Italy, but I have frequently hired from Pisa airport, always with Hertz. There has never been a problem with them. The one time I returned a car with a dent in the door (by anonymous someone in a car park) they just said “no problem” and there was no charge.
    I get annual cover in the UK for excess cover throughout Europe from ‘insurance4carhire’ – £47.

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For members


Six ‘secret’ places in Milan you need to visit

From the Duomo to the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s most popular sights are in no way safe from overcrowding, especially during the warm season. Here are six of the northern city’s best hidden attractions to escape the tourist crush.

Six 'secret' places in Milan you need to visit

Though it may not have the artistic cachet of Rome or Florence, Milan has no shortage of world-famous attractions, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting the city every year. 

But, as in the case of nearly all major tourist destinations around the country, the northern capital’s most popular sights – from the iconic Duomo to the imposing Castello Sforzesco – tend to get extremely (and often hopelessly) crowded during the warm months. 

So, if you’re not exactly a fan of long queues and packed tours, is there a way you can escape the crowds while still making the most of the city?

Luckily, Milan has plenty of hidden gems which attract smaller numbers of visitors but are just as enjoyable as some of the more popular attractions. So, here are six of the city’s best ‘secret’ places.

Stroll through Leonardo’s Vineyard

While he was born and raised in Florence, Renaissance mastermind Leonardo da Vinci spent most of his adult life in Milan.

In 1498, Milan’s Duke Ludovico Sforza thanked Leonardo for his services by gifting him with a beautiful vineyard located just 10 minutes away from the Castello Sforzesco.

Thanks to large-scale recovery works undertaken in 2015, the vineyard looks now just as it looked in the eyes of its former owner some 500 years ago, also producing its own wine, Milan’s Malvasia, since 2018. 

Tickets to the Vigna di Leonardo also give access to the adjacent Casa degli Atellani, a historic 15th-century mansion boasting prestigious fresco paintings. 

Get lost inside the Necchi-Campiglio Villa

Built between 1932 and 1935 for a family of well-heeled Lombard industrialists, the Necchi-Campiglio Villa is one of the best-preserved examples of 20th-century high-society urban residences. 

Located at the heart of the elegant Quadrilatero del Silenzio district, the luxurious villa is known for its marble art deco features and its impressive modern art collection.

The property is also surrounded by a verdant, magnolia-dotted garden, which makes for an idyllic place to wind down on a sunny day.

Marvel at the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and its ‘rainbow dome’

Located in the south of the city, close to the popular Navigli area, the Romanesque-style Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio is often overlooked by experienced locals as well as international visitors. 

The church, which boasts the tallest bell tower in Milan, holds one of the most celebrated examples of Renaissance art in Italy: the striking Portinari Chapel.

Decorated with frescoes by art master Vincenzo Foppa, the chapel culminates in a majestic polychrome dome which is often referred to as ‘cupola arcobaleno’ (‘rainbow dome’).

Take a walk in the city’s Monumental Cemetery

You may have a hard time thinking of a cemetery as a city attraction (and rightly so), but Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale is not an ordinary cemetery, by any stretch of the imagination. 

Built in 1866, the site has an endless array of spectacular architectural works (chapels, mausoleums, temples, etc.) and sculptures, including a scaled-down version of Rome’s Trajan Column. 

The cemetery, which measures over 250,000 square metres, is also known for its commanding Neo-medieval marble entrance.

Turn back the hands of time at the Alfa Romeo Museum

Located in a former car factory in Arese, about 12 kilometres northwest of Milan, the Alfa Romeo Museum tells the story of the glorious Milan-born manufacturer. 

Classic Alfa Romeo cars

Classic Alfa Romeo cars on display at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, just outside Milan. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

From the HP 24 – the first-ever Alfa Romeo vehicle – to the latest Tonale model, the museum chronicles a 112-year journey through speed, technology and unique aesthetics.

Discover Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’

As ordinary as it might look from outside, the Chiesa di San Maurizio is anything but on the inside. 

Once part of the largest female Benedictine monastery in Milan, the Baroque-style church is one of the city’s best-hidden treasures.

Suffice to say that the superb fresco paintings covering the building’s walls and parts of its ceiling have earned it the moniker of Milan’s ‘Sistine Chapel’.

Music buffs will also be happy to know that the church’s choir loft is home to a pipe organ dating back to 1554. 

Bonus item: Enter Casa Rossi and look up

At number 12 of Corso Magenta, less than 50 metres away from the Chiesa di San Maurizio, you’ll find Casa Rossi, an elegant neo-Renaissance building designed by architect Giuseppe Pestagalli in the 1860s.

But, the real surprise lies just behind the building’s main entrance as an internal courtyard of Greek-reminiscent style carves a perfectly octagonal shape out of the Milan sky.