road with blue entering italy sign

Renting a Car in Italy – The 2022 Complete Guide

You’ve booked your flight and are making plans for your Italian vacation. You’re asking yourself, “Should I be renting a car in Italy?” Read on to decide whether or not you should.

If you do decide to rent a car, this article will give you all the details you need on renting a car in Italy and how to drive on Italy’s beautiful (and sometimes chaotic!) roads.

I’ve used my years of experience driving here and renting cars as a travel guide, tourist, vacation planner, and resident to create this ultimate guide.

This article will:

  • Help you decide whether or not to rent a car in Italy
  • Explain which areas of Italy are best with a car and which are easily visited using public transport
  • Tell you which car rental companies operate in Italy
  • Give you important things to think about when planning your car rental, picking it up at the agency, and returning it to the agency
  • Tell you which documents you’ll need to rent a car
  • Give important information about renting a car for families with children
  • Give options for navigating Italian roads
  • Teach you driving laws, including traffic signs, speed limits, types of roads, ZTLs, and speed cameras
  • Talk about the Italian driving culture
  • Teach you about getting gas and parking in Italy
  • Inform you about breakdowns, accidents, and road crimes
  • Teach you some helpful Italian car rental and driving words
  • Answer some frequently asked questions

Let’s get started – andiamo!

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Contents

Renting a Car in Italy – Should You?

The first thing you should ask yourself is if you need to rent a car or drive in Italy.

If you’re planning on touring large cities and don’t have a lot of luggage, you can skip the car hire. Instead, use public transport – Italy’s excellent network of trains, buses, and metro. Don’t drive in a city center if you don’t have to!

If, however, you’d like to visit the Italian countryside, you have a lot of luggage, or you’ve got kids with you, traveling in Italy by car is your best solution.

This article focuses on renting a car, but the driving advice applies to driving your own car in Italy too.

PROS of Renting a Car in ItalyCONS of Renting a Car in Italy
Freedom to visit more placesGas is expensive
Choose your travel scheduleTolls are expensive
More room for luggageResponsible for car and damages
Less expensive with larger groupsParking is tricky and can be expensive
Flexibility with kids (bathroom breaks, etc)May still need public transport if visiting cities
Easy to social distance during pandemic

Which Areas of Italy Should I Explore With a Rental Car?

blue sky and fluffy white clouds above green vineyards in Panzano, Italy
The Tuscan countryside is best explored with a rental car

Tuscany/Chianti – YES
If you’re planning on leaving Florence to visit the countryside of Tuscany and its small villages (San Gimignano, Volterra, Siena, Pienza, Montepulciano, Montalcino), the coastal towns of Cecina, Forte dei Marmi, or Bolgheri, or the vineyards and rolling hills of Chianti, you’ll want to travel by car. Renting a car is the only way to visit many of these destinations.

Piedmont Wine Country – YES
Renting a car is a must if you’d like to explore the small wine villages of Barolo, Alba (mmmm, truffles anyone?), Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, or Asti. Vineyards and wineries are often only accessible by car.

Cinque Terre – NO
You don’t need a car while exploring the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. You technically can park outside of the villages, but it’s easier to leave your car in one of the big lots in La Spezia and take the train in.

The Dolomites – YES
The Dolomites area has an amazing public transport system, and you could visit car-free, but I prefer the freedom a car offers here. You can stop off at rifugi for a cup of hot chocolate, pull over on a mountain pass to photograph a happy cow, or stop to let your kids roll down a big, green hill!

Puglia – YES
You’ll want to drive a car to explore the villages and beaches of Puglia and to search for the region’s famous trulli. If you’re venturing into nearby Basilicata to see Matera and its sassi, you’ll want to have a car.

Sicily – YES
Italy’s largest island needs to be explored by car. I would never recommend traveling in Sicily only by public transportation. I did it once in my 20s and I vividly remember saying I’d never do it again.

You can reach the main cities (Catania, Palermo, Siracusa, etc) by train, but they are often delayed and crowded. You’ll also want to have a car to reach archaeological sites, countryside restaurants, and beaches.

Sardinia – YES
Unless you’re plopping yourself on the beach for your entire visit (which, is entirely ok!), rent a car in Sardinia, or drive one onto the ferry from the mainland.

You’ll want a car for exploring mountain villages, searching out native cheeses, or making your way to San Pantaleo’s picture-perfect piazza.

Umbria – YES
This region is an explorer’s delight, and you’ll want to drive a car to and from its small villages. Rent a car unless you’ll only be in Perugia.

Amalfi Coast – NO
I know we all daydream about driving a luxury car along the winding coastal roads (Italian sunglasses on, hair blowing in the wind), but I’ve driven in the area many times as a hiking guide, and let me tell you, it’s stressful!

I remember driving our large company van with a colleague through a tunnel on the coastal road. We had to fold the mirrors in and when I asked her how much room I had on her side, her casual response was, “Plenty! You have at least 3 centimeters!”

Leave the car and utilize the area’s buses, boats, and your feet! If you really want to go somewhere not accessible by public transport, hire a taxi for the trip. They’re reasonably priced and easy to book.

Friuli – YES
This gem of a region is best explored by car. Driving gives you the best access to Aquileia, Cividale del Friuli, and the region’s top-notch wineries.

Italian Lakes – YES
You’ll want the freedom a car gives you, especially if you want to travel to more than one of the Italian lakes. Even though the lakes (Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, to name a few) are clumped together as one ‘area,’ the distances can be great. A few highlights: the town of Como, Isola Bella, Stresa, Garda’s theme parks, villas, and gardens.

How to Rent a Car in Italy

Renting a car in Italy isn’t difficult if you plan ahead and arrive at the car rental agency prepared.

*COVID Note – While it’s always best to rent your car ahead of time, Italy is NOT experiencing the extreme rental car shortage that other countries are experiencing. So, if you see a high price for a rental, keep looking – you’ll find better deals.

I like to use a search consolidator like DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com.
I recommend checking both DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com and the individual car rental companies for the best prices and vehicle availability.

Main Car Rental Companies That Operate in Italy

  • Hertz
  • Budget
  • Sixt
  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Dollar
  • National
  • Europcar

Car Rental Insurance

You need it! Italian law requires CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) and theft insurance.

Check with your credit company to see if they offer CDW car insurance for Italy. Many people say credit cards NEVER cover CDW in Italy. This isn’t true! I have used Capital One and Chase in the past.

You may choose additional insurance coverage from the car rental company or an outside insurer.

Choose Automatic Transmission Whenever Possible

Manual transmission vehicles are more common in Italy, but automatic transmission vehicles make driving in Italy much easier. Rent an automatic when you can. Reserve well in advance to guarantee you’ll get one.

Be Strategic With Pick Up and Drop Off Locations

If it makes sense, pick up and drop off in different cities. For example, if you’re flying into Florence, touring Tuscany and Umbria and then flying out of Rome, investigate picking up your car in Florence and dropping it off in Rome.

Make sure you check the extra charges for pickup and drop-off in different locations. It will be more expensive, but it’s often worth it when you add up the gas, tolls, and your precious vacation time.

Documents Needed For Renting a Car and Driving Legally in Italy

You’ll need the following documents:

Do a Walk Around

When you pick up your rental car, don’t just hop in and drive away. Take the time to check your car and mark the dings and scratches.

Rental cars here in Italy are often a little more dinged up than normal and you may be blamed for the marks if they aren’t noted when you leave the lot. Your car rental agent may roll his eyes, but make sure you do it!

And check the inside of your vehicle for the legally required safety triangle and safety vest. Many areas in Italy require snow tires or snow chains between November 15 and April 15.

Return Your Rental Car With A Full Tank

If you’re picking up and dropping off the car in the same place, ask the agent where the closest gas station is so you won’t have to stress about finding one before you drop the car off. It’s much cheaper to return the car with the tank full.

Returning Your Rental Car

Returning the car is simple. You’re often encouraged to just drop it off, but if you can, have someone come and check it and sign off that the car has no damage.

If you’re running late, call the rental car office and let them know. Most Italian car rental agencies will give you some leeway.

Renting a Car and Driving in Italy with Children

boy parking toy car in lot between a white station wagon and white SUV

If you’re traveling in Italy with children (from babies and toddlers to teenagers), renting a car can be a fun, more flexible, and less expensive way to travel around the country.

Renting a Car With Children – Car Seats

little boy sitting in driver's seat of white car, in father's lap
Don’t worry – the car’s not running and he’s sitting in our driveway.

Before traveling, check with the car rental company to see if any updates have been made to Italy’s car seat laws. The Italian Automobile Club has English information on the country’s car seat laws.

Car Seats in Italy – General Requirements

In Italy, children under younger than 12 and under 150cm must use the appropriate car seat or booster seat for their height and weight (article 172 of the Italian road code codice della strada).

Car seats must be rear-facing until a child is at least 15 months old.

Car seats are divided into 5 categories (groups) based on weight:

GroupType of SeatWeight limit
0bassinetup to 10kg
0+car seatup to 13kg
1car seat9-18kg
2booster seat15-25kg
3booster seat22-36kg

Car Seats in Italy – Rent or Bring Your Own?

You may choose to rent a car with car seat(s) or bring your own. This is a personal decision as there are pluses and minuses to both.

If you use the car rental car seat, you don’t know its history and it’s not what your child is used to. And if you bring your own, you don’t know how it’s handled in the airport or plane, but your child is comfortable in it.

If you are flying to Italy with an infant and have purchased a separate seat for him/her, you can use the car seat on the plane.

Book in advance if you decide to use a car seat from the car rental agency – the number of car seats can be limited.

Italy follows European regulations ECE R44 (based on the child’s weight) and ECE R129 i-Size (based on the child’s height). Car seats used in Italy are required to have the orange ECE R44 label

If you bring your own car seat, you’ll need to verify that it satisfies Italy’s legal requirements.

For example, chest clips, which are common in many countries, are illegal in Italy. The reasoning behind it is that having only one clip to undo in an emergency makes it easier to get the child out of the car seat and vehicle.

Car Seats in Italy – LATCH / ISOFIX Compatibility

The LATCH system is compatible with Italy’s ISOFIX system, but not all cars here have top tethers. If your car seat requires a top tether, confirm that your rental car is compatible.

Car Seats in Italy – Anti-Abandonment Devices

These devices are part of the car seat or are a small cushion put in or under the car seat. They have an alarm that sounds if you accidentally leave your small child in the car.

These depositivi anti-abbandono (anti-abandonment devices) are now required in Italy for all children under 4 years old if the car is registered in Italy or a foreign-registered vehicle is driven by a resident Italian. So, if you’re a UK resident driving your UK car here on holiday, the device isn’t required by law.

Many car rental companies will provide one with the rental of a car seat. Otherwise, you can bring your own.

Read our complete guide to Car Seats in Italy!

Renting a Car With Children – Size of Vehicle

Make sure you choose a vehicle with enough room for all passengers, luggage, and extra equipment (strollers, travel bassinets, etc.).

Sorry to dash your dreams of touring around Italy in an adorable vintage FIAT 500!

Renting a Car With Children – Minivans

Minivans are narrower in Italy, which helps on narrow roads and with narrow parking spaces.

If you rent a minivan, choose one with a sliding door rather than one that opens outwards to avoid denting neighboring cars.

Renting a Car With Children – Autostrada Rest Stops

You can access rest stops (many are called Autogrills – more details below) without even exiting the Autostrada. They are very convenient stops if you’re traveling with kids.

You can get gas, eat dinner, buy crayons, and use the restroom all in one stop. Some rest stops even have small outdoor play areas!

How To Navigate Italian Roads

The best tools for navigating the roads in Italy are:

  • GPS devices
  • Google Maps
  • Physical maps

I use a combination of all three but lean toward Google Maps because it seems to be updated more frequently than GPS software.

Google Maps screenshot of a driving route from Barolo, Italy to Alba, Italy
In Italy, Google Maps maps/directions tend to be more reliable than maps/directions from GPS devices.

GPS often comes standard in rental cars, or as an add-on option.

If you decide to use Google Maps or GPS, do NOT their directions blindly! They may occasionally lead you down a one-way road or into a ZTL (zona traffico limitato, or limited traffic zone – more info below).

Italian road signs don’t use north/south/east/west indicators (like Interstate 5 in the US has northbound and southbound directions). Instead, signs show cities in that direction. So, if you’re getting on the Autostrada in Florence, you can choose to go toward Bologna or Roma.

T-intersection on country road in Italy with directional signs for Siena (right) and Firenze (left)
Turn left to head toward Firenze, and right to head toward Siena

If you don’t know where cities in Italy are, physical maps and Google Maps will help.

Speed limits shown in Google Maps directions are relatively new here and are often inaccurate. Follow the general speed limit rules (see below), unless you see a sign posted with a different speed.

Italian Driving Laws

This isn’t a complete list, but here are some driving laws I’m often asked about and others that are very important to know.

Italian Driving Laws – General Laws

It is illegal to turn right on a red light.

Seatbelts are required in front and back seats in Italy if the vehicle has them.

You must drive with your headlights on when outside of urban areas. It’s easiest to just keep them on at all times.

Traffic circles keep traffic flowing. Before entering, yield to cars already in the traffic circle. To exit, move to the outside lane of the traffic circle. Remember to use your signal to indicate when you’re exiting the traffic circle. If you miss your exit, don’t worry – just go around again!

At intersections, always yield to the car on the right.

It is illegal to text while driving or to hold your phone and use it while driving. Hands-free devices are allowed.

The alcohol limit in Italy is .05%. This isn’t much more than a glass or two of wine. Plan appropriately and have a designated driver or bring the wine back to your hotel or agriturismo!

Italian Driving Laws – Road Signs

Below are a few important Italian road signs. Learn more in our post, Italian road signs – Guide for Visitors (+ Photos).

Quick thinking needed! Sometimes Italian road signs come in bunches.

Before you even read a sign, it tells you something based on its shape.  Circular signs are for something not allowed or that you must do.  Triangular signs warn you about something.  Quadrilateral signs (squares, rectangles) give you information. 

A few of the most common important road signs include:

STOP:

Italy’s stop sign might look familiar

DO NOT ENTER:

do not enter sign on country road in italy

ZTL – LIMITED TRAFFIC ZONE:

ztl limited traffic zone sign in Italy that's green, or open
The ZTL is a limited traffic area. If you don’t have permission, you can’t enter. When it’s open (green), anyone is free to enter. Read more about the ZTL below.

NO STOPPING:

no stopping road sign in Italy

TRAFFIC CIRCLE:

Italian traffic circle as seen from above, with bus and vehicles entering, and vehicles leaving
This traffic circle is marked with the round blue sign with white arrows. The white/red triangular yield sign warns drivers to yield to traffic already in the circle.

REQUIRED DIRECTION:

T-intersection in Florence, Italy with a stop sign and a blue sign with arrow to right that indicates you must turn right because it's a one-way street heading to the right.
After stopping at the stop-sign, you must turn right.

MAXIMUM SPEED LIMIT:

max speed limit 50 sign in italian countryside
The max speed limit is 50km/hr in both directions

NO PARKING / PARKING HOURS

Street in Italy with a no parking sign on the right side of the street.  It also lists the hours it's enforced and exceptions to the rule.
No parking allowed on this street is enforced 24 hours of the day. Exceptions are vehicles with a ZTL pass, like residents.

ENTERING URBAN AREA

Countryside road in Tuscany with a large white sign on the right.  The sign says Montefiridolfi (S. Casciano V.P.), and it signifies you're entering Montefiridolfi.

LEAVING URBAN AREA

Countryside road in Tuscany with a large white sign on the right.  The sign says Montefiridolfi (S. Casciano V.P.) and has a red slash across it, which means you're leaving Montefiridolfi.

Italian Driving Laws – Types of Roads and General Speed Limits

Road TypeEnglish EquivalentSpeed LimitNote
AutostradaToll Motorway130110 in poor weather conditions
Strada Extraurbana PrincipaleMajor Highway11090 in poor weather conditions
Strada Extraurbana SecondariaMinor Highway9080 in poor weather conditions
Strada UrbanaUrban Road50
Strada BiancaDirt or Gravel Roadposted limit

Italian Driving Laws – Autovelox

Speed limits on all types of roads are typically enforced with autovelox, machines that measure your speed and photograph your car if you’re speeding.

blue sign in italy that's warning of an upcoming speed trap
Italian law requires a warning sign for an upcoming speed camera

You have a 5% leeway – if the posted speed limit is 130, you will receive a fine if you’re traveling over 136.

Italian Driving Laws – The Safety Tutor

The Autostrada has an additional speed limit monitor, the Safety Tutor. The Safety Tutor photographs your license plate at point A and point B and averages your speed between the two points. If your average speed is above the limit (with the 5% leeway), you’ll be fined.

There are over 1400km of Autostrade covered by the Safety Tutor, with it increasing annually. The presence of a Safety Tutor must be noted at least 250m before and up to 4km before it becomes active.

While you’ll hear many Italians complain about the Safety Tutor, the driving deaths in Italy have dramatically decreased since its introduction.

Remember, if it’s raining, the speed limit decreases by 20km/hr and the Safety Tutor adjusts as well.

Italian Driving Laws – ZTL

Entrance to ZTL zone in Florence, Italy.  There is a digital sign of the left side of the road that says ZTL ATTIVA and the English translation, ZTL CLOSED.
When the ZTL zone is active/closed/red, you may only drive into the area if you have permission. Not all ZTL signs look the same.

ZTL stands for zona traffico limitato – limited traffic zone. It’s an area that’s off-limits to all vehicles without an appropriate permit (like residents, taxis, and buses).

If you drive in the ZTL without permission, you’ll have a nice fine waiting for you on your arrival home (or months later!). You’ll also have an additional administrative fee from the rental car agency. If you don’t pay the fine, a collections agency will be hired to collect the fees. Travel forums are teeming with posts on the infamous ZTL tickets.

Need to call the rental car agency from home? Check out our post Calling Italy From the USA.

Important – you may see cars entering the zone – that doesn’t mean you can!

Also, don’t follow your GPS blindly – the ZTL may not be marked on its map. You also can’t rely on maps with ZTLs marked – the zones sometimes change. The important thing is to keep your eyes open for the ZTL signs when you’re driving in city centers.

What to do if you need to park at your hotel in the center? Don’t fear – you can get a permit if you’re staying in a hotel or parking in a garage in the ZTL. When you arrive, the hotel or garage staff will inform the parking authorities to authorize your car, so you won’t be fined.

Sometimes the ZTL is inactive/open (often on Sundays). The open days/hours are usually noted on the sign at the entrance of the ZTL, or there will be a green light (vs. red when the ZTL is active). You are allowed to drive into the zone when it’s open. Click here to see an example of what the zones look like in Pisa.

What It’s Like Driving in Italy

When my parents visit and I am driving us around, my mom often closes her eyes, and my dad brings a book to read. If they pay attention to the roads, they get stressed out and anxious. I understand – I felt the same way when I first took to the Italian roads.

It’s helpful to keep the following in mind:

Italian drivers often take rules and regulations as ‘suggestions.’ It’s not uncommon to see Italians blasting through crosswalks, speeding on all types of roads, ‘pausing’ but not stopping at stop signs, and parking wherever they please. Italians are confident and assertive drivers – you should be too. If you aren’t, you won’t survive on Italian roads.

Have you seen the London traffic circle scene from National Lampoon’s European vacation? Don’t be like Clark Griswold:

Many Italians tailgate. Don’t take it personally. Just move to the right into the next lane, or on smaller roads, pull over and let the car pass.

Road rage is not common. Sure, you may see some funny hand signals and another driver may yell something to you out the window, but scary road scenes aren’t part of daily life here.

The roads are curvy and you or your passengers may get carsick. If you know you’re prone to carsickness, bring carsick tablets from home.

two women cycling on a road in tuscany

If you’re driving in the countryside, you will probably encounter cyclists. They are legally required to ride only two next to each other but are often in large groups. If you’re unable to pass, try a friendly toot of your horn. While it may be frustrating to get stuck behind a group of cyclists, remember that cycling is a major part of the culture here, and try to imagine one of the cyclists is your daughter, father, or friend before attempting to pass the group unsafely.

If someone driving towards you flashes his lights, he’s not telling you your lights aren’t on. He’s warning you that there are traffic police or a speed trap up ahead.

If someone driving behind you flashes his lights, he’s telling you to move over, because he’s coming up behind you quickly. Signal, and move over to the right as soon as possible. Better yet, stay out of the left lanes unless you’re passing slower cars.

You’ll notice Italians don’t overtake on the right. Follow their lead and don’t do it – drivers won’t expect it. You will occasionally see it happen when an Italian driver gets frustrated with a driver staying in the far-left lane.

Compared to your home country, you may find Italians less likely to stop at a crosswalk and more likely to be creative with parking and turning 2-lane roads into multiple lanes.

Mopeds will weave in and out of lanes. Don’t worry about them – just drive and they will find their way around you.

A moped and two motorcycles driving behind a white van on a street in Florence, Italy.  Cars are parked on the left side of the road.  There is a narrow sidewalk on the right.

Italy loves the traffic circle/roundabout! They keep traffic flowing if used properly. Always yield to traffic entering the roundabout, and once inside, move to the outer lane to exit the roundabout. Use your turn signals.

The Autostrada and Paying Tolls in Italy

The Autostrada (any road beginning with an ‘A,’ like A1 that runs north-south in the country) is a toll road. All signs for the Autostrada are green.

When you enter the Autostrada (photo of green sign), you stop at the barrier and take a ticket (biglietto) or drive without stopping through the telepass (yellow) lane.

To use the telepass lane, you MUST have a telepass device. Telepass devices are no longer available as an add-on to your car rental. If you are driving your car from another European country, check before arriving to see if your toll device is compatible.

When you exit the Autostrada, you must pay the toll. Follow the white lanes (cash payment), blue lanes (credit card payment), or yellow lanes (telepass). If you are paying with cash or a credit card, you will stop at the barrier to pay. With telepass, you drive through without stopping. A ‘beep’ from the telepass device tells you you’ve been charged.

If you have any problems at the entrance or exits of the Autostrada, push the ‘help’ button for assistance. Never enter the Autostrada without taking a ticket.

You may want to read
Italian Toll Roads – Guide to the Autostrada
How to Pay Tolls in Italy

The Autogrill

front of a roadside Autogrill in Italy

The Autogrill is a “one-stop-shop” that you can access from the Autostrada without exiting. Inside you’ll find a full-service restaurant or snack bar, a mini-market (often with prosciutto legs, chunks of parmigiano, or other Italian delicacies), restrooms, and a shop with toys, maps, music, and more. The Autogrill will also have an attached gas station.

Stopping at an Autogrill is a rite of passage for a driver in Italy! Other rest stops that are similar to Autogrill include Sarni, Chef Express, Finifast, MyChef, and Ristop.

Getting Gas/Petrol in Italy

Gas stations in Italy have both self-serve (fai da te) and serviced (servito) pumps. It is more expensive to have the attendant fill your tank (prices are posted), but it can be convenient as they often accept payment at the pump, and you can be on your way.

gas station in italy
The blue sign on the right “serv” stands for servito – your gas will be pumped for you. The red sign on the right “self” – you pump your own gas.

Your options for gas include gasolio (diesel) and benzina (gas). Don’t get confused and fill up your car with gas(olio) if it needs benzina! Your car will stop working and you’ll need to have the tank drained before you can continue your vacation. If you have a car that needs benzina, don’t worry – the nozzle of the diesel pump is larger, and it won’t fit into your car’s tank. Usually, the cap of the tank is colored green if you have a car that takes benzina, and the pump is colored green as well.

How much does gas cost in Italy? As I write this, the gas in our town is 1.55EUR per liter, which equates to about 7USD per gallon. No, that’s not a typo!

Petrol stations are located throughout the country, in small towns and big cities. They can also be found on the Autostrada (accessible without exiting and having to pay your toll).

Hours of operation aren’t 24/7. Generally, gas stations close midday for lunch and close on Sundays. That doesn’t mean you can’t get gas though. More and more stations are equipped with self-service payment machines. Insert your EUR bill or cash, choose your pump, and fill up.

To print a receipt, you need to choose that option before you start pumping (ricevuta). If you pay and don’t use the balance, the machine will spit out a receipt with your balance which can be used later when the station is open. If you won’t be back in the area, it’s best to use small bills or a credit card for the payment.

Learn more in our post – Italian Gas Stations – A Guide to Getting Gas in Italy!

Parking in Italy

Parking can be paid or free.

It’s free if the space is marked with white paint or not marked at all. But, don’t park and walk away! Look around you for signs for parking time limits or parking disk (disco) requirements.

Move the disk to show the time you started parking in the space. Nearby signs tell how long you’re allowed to park in the space.

Most parking you will encounter in tourist areas is marked with blue lines on the pavement. This is paid parking – you must pay the parking meter. Payment can typically be made by coins or credit card.

Tip:  Your license plate is often required, so take a photo and you’ll always have it handy for the meters.

Display the small ticket from the meter in your front windshield. Remember to read the meter’s hours of operation carefully.

If there is no parking meter, you will need to get a scratch-off parking card in a shop. They are usually available in tabaccherie, small shops that sell tobacco, lottery tickets, and more. Scratch off the day and time, and place the card on your windshield.

A few things to keep in mind:

Never park in front of garages or driveways, or in bus or taxi loading zones.

Close up of Passo Carrabile sign on a wall in Italy.  It shows a place that needs to be left clear for vehicles to enter and exit.
You’ll often see this sign in front of garages or driveways.
no parking sign on gate in front of driveway in Italy
Don’t park here. You must leave the passageway clear for vehicles to enter and exit.

Park on the outskirts of a city or town and walk into the center. You may walk a few more minutes, but you will avoid getting an ulcer from trying to find a parking spot and squeezing your car into a tiny space.

Remember where you’ve parked by taking a screenshot in Google Maps (if you have data on your phone) or take photos of street signs.

Let passengers out of the car before parking in a narrow space.

You can avoid the stress of parking by choosing a manned parking lot or garage. You give your keys to the attendant and he will park your car in the lot or garage for you. It’s a more expensive but hassle-free choice.

Car Trouble and Accidents

Unfortunately, breakdowns and accidents can even happen on Italian vacations.

Car Breakdowns

If you have car trouble, turn on your flashing emergency lights. Move to the side of the road, and completely off the road if possible. While wearing your neon safety vest, place your neon safety triangle on the road behind your vehicle (at least 50 meters, and 100 meters on the Autostrada).

For roadside assistance, call 803.116. This number reaches the ACI (Automobile Club d’Italia), which can help arrange towing services (you’ll need to pay for them). On the Autostrada, there are yellow call boxes approximately every 2 kilometers that can be used to call for assistance.

If your car needs to be towed, you can call a taxi to take you to your destination. Remember to remove your luggage and valuables from the car.

Car Accidents

You’ll need to follow the same procedure as a car breakdown, but call the Italian police at 112.

Make sure to get the personal details from the driver and any personal details from witnesses. You may have trouble getting an Italian to agree that they have witnessed the accident – the legal process can be quite lengthy and complicated here.

Take photos of the cars and license plates and any other parts of the scene relevant to the accident. Contact the rental car company to report damage to the vehicle.

Common Road Crimes and How to Avoid Them

The False Flat Tire

If someone tries to flag you down or signals from their car that something is wrong with your vehicle, be aware that they may be trying to scam you. If you can, proceed cautiously to a gas station or populated area before you pull over. Criminals will try to get you to pull over in a secluded area so they can rob you.

The Gas Station Distraction

You’re filling up your tank with gas and someone comes up to ask you a question. Meanwhile, his/her accomplice is reaching into your car (even opening up your passenger door) to grab a purse, wallet, or any other valuables you’ve left within reach. Always lock doors in these situations and keep valuables out of sight.

Trunk/Boot Theft

Recently, a woman in my town put her purse in her trunk before leaving her house, drove to a recreation area, and parked in a large lot with people around. She went for a jog and returned to find her car open, and her purse stolen. Lesson – it’s not enough to hide your valuables (even before arriving at your destination!). Don’t leave them in your car! If you check out of your accommodation and must store luggage in the vehicle, have someone always remain with it. Or find a left-luggage service (at your hotel, a train station, etc).

I hope this information on how to rent a car in Italy has been helpful.  Renting a car and driving in Italy can be a memorable adventure and the perfect way to explore Italy’s hidden gems.  Buon viaggio!

Helpful Italian Car Rental & Driving Words to Know

Italian WordPronunciationEnglish Translation
benzinaben-ZEE-nahunleaded gas
gasoliogah-ZOH-lee-ohdiesel gas
parcheggiopar-CAGE-joeparking
noleggiono-LAGE-joerental
multaMOOL-tahticket
autostradaow-toe-STRA-duhtoll motorway
patentepah-TEN-taylicense
assicurazioneahs-see-koo-rah-TSYOH-nayinsurance
sinistrasee-NEE-strahleft
destraDEH-strahright
drittoDREE-toestraight ahead
indietroin-DYEH-trohbehind/back
pienoPYEH-nofull
chiusoKYOO-zohclosed
apertoah-PAIR-toeopen
uscitaoo-SHEE-tahexit
entrataen-TRAH-tahentrance

FAQs

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Note: This article is dedicated to my parents who, while visiting in and driving around Italy:

Drove to the front steps of the Duomo when I asked them to pick up a book from a shop near the Duomo (I meant for them to park outside the city center and walk in)

Were on the phone getting driving directions from my husband while I was delivering our first son (after having made multiple practice runs to the hospital)

Made a 15-minute drive from Florence to our home into a more than 3-hour odyssey on the Autostrada and small roads of Tuscany