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


Reader question: Do I need an international permit to drive in Italy?

If you're visiting Italy from the US and plan to drive during your trip, will an international driving permit be necessary? Here's a look at the rules.

Reader question: Do I need an international permit to drive in Italy?

Question: “We’re planning a trip to Italy in May and we plan to rent a car. We’ve read conflicting information about whether or not we (as US nationals) will need an international driver’s permit. What should we do?”

There’s no shortage of information out there about driving in Italy as a visitor, but the rules aren’t always made crystal clear.

For example, the official website for the US Embassy and Consulates in Italy says travelers “should obtain an International Driving Permit before leaving the US.” 

But then it also says: “Tourists may also use their valid American driver’s license if accompanied by an official translation in Italian.”

So what do you actually need?

Italy’s official rules state that US nationals (and other visitors to Italy from outside of the European Union, not including from the UK) essentially have two choices. 

READ ALSO: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

“Unless your national driving licence was issued by an EU/EFTA-member state, it must be accompanied either by an international driving permit, to be obtained prior to departure, or by a certified translation (traduzione giurata) into Italian,” according to information provided in English by motoring association ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia).

In practice, most people find that getting the international driving permit (IDP) is by far the easier option.

As anyone who has applied for Italian residency or citizenship can likely tell you, obtaining a certified translation into Italian of any foreign-issued document is no walk in the park and can also be expensive.

READ ALSO: How to pay Italian traffic fines from abroad

ACI says you’ll need to get it from an embassy or consulate, or through a certified translator or interpreter who “will need to declare before a court registrar that the translation is a true copy of the original”.

By comparison, the process of getting hold of an IDP is straightforward. For US nationals, applying (in person or by mail) via AAA costs $20 plus tax, and the only requirements are that you are aged over 18 and already have a valid driver’s license.

AAA says an IDP will be valid for one year and you can apply up to six months before your trip.

Do I really need to get an IDP?

You may have heard that travelers don’t need to bother getting either document for a trip to Italy – some people will tell you they’ve driven on Italian roads plenty of times without being asked to show an IDP.

Anecdotally, it sounds as though most visitors to Italy are unlikely to ever be asked to produce it, although some regular visitors have told The Local that they find checks have become more frequent in recent years.

And, unfortunately, not having the required document when needed could prove problematic and expensive.

READ ALSO: How to avoid car hire scams in Italy

Rental companies may ask you to show both your US license and your IDP when you pick up your vehicle, though it depends on the company.

More importantly, if you get pulled over by the police in Italy (you don’t need to be doing anything wrong; random roadside checks are common) or get into a car accident, and you don’t have the permit when asked for it, you could be fined anything between 408 and 1,634 euros.

As with so many things in Italy, experiences vary enormously depending on where you go: police in each Italian region or city tend to have different priorities and often interpret and apply certain rules differently.

Considering the large fine you could end up with, we’d advise following the rules and getting your IDP if your licence was issued in the US or another country where the Italian rules specify that this is a requirement.

Even if you never need to show it to anyone, it’ll give you peace of mind and help make your trip to Italy a more relaxing experience.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For more details about how Italy’s road rules may apply in your circumstances, consult the Italian embassy in your country or read more about the rules on driving in Italy on the ACI website (in English).

Do you have a question about living in or travelling to Italy which you’d like to see answered on The Local? Submit it here.