Renting a Car in Italy

After arriving on our ITA Airways flight from Brussels, we navigated the maze and crowds at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and headed towards the parking garage and the rental car pickup.

As soon as we booked this trip we knew we would have to get a rental car. While trains are great for getting around the major cities, the Tuscan countryside is a little more remote. In all of my travels to Europe I’ve always gotten around via planes and trains so traveling by car here was a new experience for me. With that being said, there are a few things to keep in mind when renting a car in Italy.


We booked our rental car using a corporate discount code that I had with Avis. Fortunately for us, this made the pricing very reasonable and it included some quirks that worked in our favor, like a great rate on a vehicle with an automatic transmission. The vast majority of the rental cars in Italy, and Europe as a whole, are manuals. If you need an automatic vehicle, be sure that your reservation explicitly states that. The Avis website was very clear about whether or not the vehicle being booked was an automatic or a manual, though not all rental agencies have it as explicitly stated.

Black Alfa Romeo Stelvio rental car


In order to pick up your rental car, you’ll need a few pieces of documentation. First, you’ll need a valid drivers license as well as a passport. If you’re traveling abroad it is likely that you’ll already have these items in your possession. There is a third piece of documentation that may cause you some headaches depending on your country of origin.

If you’re coming from outside of the Schengen Zone, an International Driving Permit is required. While some may confuse this with an International Drivers License, a worthless scam that is readily available online, the International Driving Permit is required when driving in Italy. Some rental agencies may still rent you a vehicle without it though if you get stopped by police or get into an accident you are likely to receive a hefty fine and may have your rental car impounded. Talk about putting a damper on your vacation.

You can obtain the permit from your local automobile association for a small fee. You need to be 18 years or older and have had your drivers license for over a year. For visitors from the United States, you can get the permit from AAA. Note that you must obtain this permit before you travel, as you can not get one once you’re in Italy.


While many premium travel cards include additional coverage for rental cars, this insurance is typically secondary. Italy requires that all rental cars have the basic Collision Damage Waiver. This should be included in the cost of all rental cars, any additional coverage options offered are optional.

Speed Cameras

Even if you’re heading out to the countryside, you’ll likely take the Autostrade (highway) to get there. The speed limit on these roads is 130kph and the speed is enforced by traffic cameras along the route. While there are signs warning drivers they are approaching a speed camera, they can sneak up on you quickly so it is best to drive at or slightly below the speed limit to avoid a fine.

Restricted Zones

Many of the historic city centers in Italy are regulated to vehicle traffic and can be identified through ‘zona traffico limitado’ signs that are accompanied by a red circle. While you may see vehicles driving around in these areas they are likely residents or cars carrying people with disabilities. Don’t assume that just because you see vehicles that it is safe to drive there. These limited traffic zones are enforced by cameras and fines can range from 100-350 Euros.

Street with cars in Cortona Italy

When visiting historical city centers and other areas that are governed by the limited traffic zones it is best to locate parking on the outskirts of the town and walk in. Having been to many of these areas, the streets aren’t somewhere I would want to be driving anyway given the fact they can be narrow and steep.

Rental car parked outside of Cortona Italy

Rules of the Road

While some of these rules may seem like common sense, there are some other rules of the road that may not be apparent to drivers from out of the country. In addition to using kilometers instead of miles and driving on the right side of the road, you’ll find a few other important rules of the road below.

  • All passengers in a vehicle must be wearing seatbelts

  • It is illegal to make a right turn at a red light

  • The blood alcohol limit is 0.05{53f28861bcadf258469c3bfc837c635ad82ff53f292e08ab6b7e2fbdc220a449}

  • Car seats are required for children up to 36 kilograms (79.4 pounds)

  • You are required to carry ID and your car rental and insurance documents at all times when operating the vehicle. In addition, a warning triangle, reflective vest and a headlamp are all required in the vehicle, these items should be provided by your rental car company but it is a good practice to verify this before driving.

Gas vs. Diesel

While the vast majority of rental cars in the United States use unleaded gasoline, diesel is a popular fuel option in Europe and in Italy. Our rental car was an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, a mid-sized SUV that is available in the United States, that was equipped with a diesel engine. While most Americans would expect this car to have a gasoline engine, the Avis agent pointed out multiple times that this was a diesel engine. It was clearly marked on our paperwork (though our black SUV was listed as white) but it is a good idea to verify the information on the inside of the fuel door before filling up.


While renting a car can be a great way to get around Italy, I would only recommend it if visiting more rural areas. The high-speed rail network in the country is extensive and during our trip back this September that will be our primary mode of transportation.

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