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!
Good to Know in 2023:
- Google Maps is getting better at showing upcoming speed cameras.
- You’ll see the Safety Tutor (aka Sistema Tutor) on normal roads now, not just on the Autostrada. Read more below.
- Research major events (like Carnevale, expos, Venice Biennale) in the area you’ll be visiting or renting your car from. Major events will affect car rental availability, rental rates, and traffic. For example, the 2024 Tour de France will begin in Florence, and the 2026 Winter Olympics will be based in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
- Gas stations continue to invest in technology, and many of the newer electronic payment machines require a PIN. And, even if you have a PIN, the machines may not give you the chance to enter it – instead, they reject your credit card (or ATM card). So, always have cash on hand.
- Anti-abandonment devices for baby car seats are still required by law in Italy and you can rent them from car rental agencies. Car rental agencies do not require you to rent one, just as they do not require you to rent a car seat (you can bring your own).
- The Amalfi Coast’s main road now limits cars – read more below.
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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 Italy||CONS of Renting a Car in Italy|
|Freedom to visit more places||Gas is expensive|
|Choose your travel schedule||Tolls are expensive|
|More room for luggage||Responsible for car and damages|
|Less expensive with larger groups||Parking is tricky and can be expensive|
|Flexibility with kids (bathroom breaks, etc)||May still need public transport if visiting cities|
Which Areas of Italy Should I Explore 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.
You may want to read about
Renting a Car in Tuscany
Renting a Car in Florence
Renting a Car in Pisa
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!
Read our Tips for Driving in the Dolomites
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.
Read more about Driving in Puglia
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.
Read our guides
Renting a Car in Sicily
Renting a Car in Catania
Renting a Car in Palermo
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.
Good To Know: You may have heard of the Amalfi Coast’s new law that restricts the days cars can drive on the road (based on the license plate numbers – plates ending in an odd number have permission on odd-numbered days, plates ending in an even number have permission on even-numbered days). Yes, there are occasional checks by the police, but if you are staying in a hotel you are exempt (just show your hotel reservation to the officer).
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, Orta San Giulio, Garda’s theme parks and water parks, villas, and gardens.
Read our guides to
Renting a Car in Milan
Renting a Car at the Milan Bergamo Airport
Emilia Romagna – NO
You can easily travel by train between the main cities in Emilia Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, Ravenna, Ferrara). It becomes a little more complicated if you want to visit some of the area’s parmigiano factories or car museums (although one of the Ferrari museums is in Modena).
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.
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. I rent from DiscoverCars.com.
Main Car Rental Companies That Operate in Italy
- Sicily by Car
Car Rental Insurance
Italian law requires CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) and it is automatically included in the rental rate. This is very basic and your deductible will be very high (think over €1000 per instance of damage on your vehicle).
You can pay more (at the time of booking or at the counter when you sign your rental car contract) to either have a lower deductible or even €0 deductible. At this time (2023), a zero deductible plan usually costs between €30-45 per day, depending on the size of the vehicle. Each car rental company has a different naming method, so you’ll see plans called ‘Zero Deductible’ or ‘Zero Damage.’
You may purchase this additional CDW coverage from the car rental company or an outside insurer (like Discover Cars or Auto Europe). If you choose the insurance through the outside insurer, you will need to pay the damage amount and be reimbursed by the company.
Good To Know: If you’ve rented cars in other countries, you may have declined the automatic ‘insurance,’ or CDW because your credit card company covers your rental. However, in Italy, CDW is required by law and automatically included in the car rental rate. You can’t refuse it.
“Wait!” you say. “My credit card won’t cover my rental if I accept another CDW.” It’s important to contact your credit card company – many readers have reported they have received a written and verbal guarantee that the credit card company would cover the driver in Italy, knowing that the driver cannot decline the insurance.
Reader Tip: It’s really important to make sure you have a damage waiver, as some credit cards (Amex for one) exclude Italy (and a few other countries) from their rental damage coverage.
Important: You’ll see the terms LDW (loss damage waiver) and CDW (collision damage waiver) on car rental sites and contracts. Typically, LDW includes CDW + theft, but you must READ THE FINE PRINT IN YOUR PARTICULAR CONTRACT.
What I Do: I rent cars in Italy using Discover Cars. I purchase the additional ‘full coverage’ plan.
Choose Automatic Transmission Whenever Possible
Manual transmission vehicles are more common in Italy, but automatic transmission vehicles make driving in Italy much easier (hills, narrow roads, one-way traffic). 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:
- Driver’s license from your home country. You may want to read our post Can I Rent a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License?
- International Driving Permit if you are not a resident of the European Union. It’s required by law. The rental car company may or may not ask, but you can be stopped by the police and asked for it. Learn more in our post International Driving Permit for Italy – How and Why to Get One.
- International ID (passport)
- Credit Card (unless you have made arrangements with the car rental company to NOT use a credit card)
Helpful Tip: Most rental car companies in Italy require you to have had your driver’s license for at least one year. If you’ve renewed your license within one year from picking up your rental car, bring your old license – just in case.
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 on the contract with the agent.
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!
What I Do: I film a short video of the inside and outside of the vehicle.
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.
Of course, this doesn’t apply if you’ve chosen the option to return the tank empty.
Returning Your Rental Car
Returning the car is simple. You’re often encouraged to just drop it off and be on your way, but I recommend having an agent come and check it and sign off that the car has no damage. This means you need to drop it off when the office is open.
If you’re running late, call the rental car office and let them know. Most Italian car rental agencies will give you some leeway (often 30 minutes).
Renting a Car and Driving in Italy with Children
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
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:
|Group||Type of Seat||Weight limit|
|0||bassinet||up to 10kg|
|0+||car seat||up to 13kg|
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.
Car Seats in Italy – Legal Car Seats
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 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 or as an additional rental option. 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.
GPS often comes standard in rental cars, or as an add-on option.
If you decide to use Google Maps or GPS, do NOT follow 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.
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 not always accurate. 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 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 vino! 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).
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:
DO NOT ENTER:
ZTL – LIMITED TRAFFIC ZONE:
MAXIMUM SPEED LIMIT:
NO PARKING / PARKING HOURS
ENTERING URBAN AREA
LEAVING URBAN AREA
Italian Driving Laws – Types of Roads and General Speed Limits
|Road Type||English Equivalent||Speed Limit||Note|
|Autostrada||Toll Motorway||130||110 in poor weather conditions|
|Strada Extraurbana Principale||Major Highway||110||90 in poor weather conditions|
|Strada Extraurbana Secondaria||Minor Highway||90||80 in poor weather conditions|
|Strada Urbana||Urban Road||50|
|Strada Bianca||Dirt or Gravel Road||posted 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.
You have a 5% leeway – if the posted speed limit is 130, you will receive a fine if you travel over 136.
Italian Driving Laws – The Safety Tutor (Sistema 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.
We are beginning to see more of this type of system (measuring average speed) on normal roads as well. I recently saw one in Southern Tuscany on a country road.
Italian Driving Laws – ZTL
ZTL stands for zona traffico limitato – limited traffic zone. It’s an area 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 when you get 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 based in your home country may be hired to collect the fees (rare, but it does happen). 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 (and town) 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 (by license plate #), 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.
Read our Complete Guide to the ZTL in Italy to learn more!
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.
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 cannot 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 – it’s illegal and other 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.
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 (unless you have a telepass).
You may want to read
Italian Toll Roads – Guide to the Autostrada
How to Pay Tolls 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.
Your options for gas include gasolio (diesel) and benzina (gas). Don’t get confused and fill up your car with benzina if it needs gasolio! 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 1.88€ per liter, which equates to about $7 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.
Helpful 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.
Parking apps (especially EasyPark) are becoming more common, and scratch-off parking is slowly disappearing.
A few things to keep in mind:
Never park in front of garages or driveways, or in bus or taxi loading zones.
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. Google Maps sometimes shows a ‘you parked here’ icon.
Let passengers out of the car before parking in a narrow space.
You can avoid the stress of parking by choosing an attended 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.
Read our helpful guide to Parking in Italy (+ Parking Sign Translations)!
Car Trouble and Accidents
Unfortunately, breakdowns and accidents can even happen on Italian vacations.
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. You may also have roadside assistance as part of your car rental contract.
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.
You’ll need to follow the same procedure as a car breakdown, but call the Italian police at the general emergency number, 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.
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 Word||Pronunciation||English Translation|
Renting a Car in Italy FAQs
When you exit the Autostrada and arrive at the barrier to pay, push the ‘aiuto’ (help) button to speak with an operator. Technically, you are required to pay the toll for the earliest entrance you could have made. A way around it – tell the operator where you entered and pay the appropriate toll. From there, you have two options to avoid paying the rest of the toll: 1. Go to an Autostrada PuntoBlu and give the attendant your car license plate, where you entered and exited, and the approximate times. 2. Go to https://www.autostrade.it/en/rmpp/ and mail or fax back (within 15 days) the self-certification form with the same information from option 1. You’ll have to pay a small administrative fee for both options, but if they can find your car’s entrance and exit on the video footage, they’ll wave the large toll.
In Italy, car rental companies require drivers to be at least 18. Usually, drivers under 25 must pay an additional fee. Check with the rental company to be sure.
It depends. I recommend renting the smallest car you can, so you’ll navigate the narrow streets less stressed. Parking can also be a pain with a large vehicle. But make sure you get a car big enough for you, your luggage, and car seats (if you’re traveling with kids). Want to recreate scenes from Italian movies? Rent a FIAT 500 or a flashy convertible!
We drive on the right side of the road in Italy.
The Google Maps app is helpful for directions and traffic flow. The MY WAY Autostrade per l’Italia app shows live Autostrada traffic feeds and exactly where the Autovelox and Safety Tutors (speed traps) are located.
Your rental car cost depends on many factors, including the size of the vehicle (larger are more expensive), make of the vehicle (BMW will cost more than FIAT), season of rental (autumn in Tuscany will be more expensive than winter), and even the rental car company. A consolidator like Discover Cars will help you compare prices. Book as soon as you know you’ll need the car (and double-check the cancellation policy!).
The best paper maps of Italy for driving are the Touring Editore (green and yellow) maps and the Michelin Italy Road Atlas. They can be ordered pre-trip on Amazon or on arrival at airports, gas stations, and bookstores.
Yes, you can drive in Italy on vacation using your US driver’s license. You will also need an International Driving Permit. This applies to all non-EU licenses.
Typically, yes, you can, but always confirm with the rental car company and check the fine print in the rental contract.
Italy is a safe country to drive in. Make sure you follow the rules of the road. Take precautions as you’d take in your home country – don’t leave valuables in your car, don’t sleep in your car, make sure you don’t run out of gas, don’t talk to strangers when pulled over, avoid stopping in dark or unpopulated places. The best thing you can do is to learn about driving in Italy (which you’re doing by reading this!).
No, it’s not difficult to drive in Italy if you are confident and assertive, and you’re aware of the rules and regulations. Also, don’t try anything new – if you drive an automatic car at home, rent an automatic car in Italy. If you don’t drive in the dark at home, don’t do it in Italy.
Credit card companies that offer collision damage waivers (CDW) or loss damage waivers (LDW) for Italy are available, but the companies and terms can change with time. Contact your current credit card company for up-to-date details. I know that Capital One and Chase have offered damage waivers in the past.
The best thing to do is pay it as soon as possible, preferably while you’re still in Italy. If you’ve returned home, you can pay online. If you receive a fine in the mail, check to see if the car rental company has already paid it (with your credit card). While not common, this does happen. The ticket will have instructions, and you can pay online with a credit card.
If you believe you have received the ticket in error, you can follow the instructions on the ticket to dispute it.
If you’d like to rent a luxury car like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, you can rent from car rental agencies, like Hertz’s The Dream Collection. You can also rent from agencies that specialize in luxury car rentals, like Lux of Italy. Or, rent near the factories. For example, you can rent Ferraris in Maranello (home of Ferrari and its factory).
Yes, you can drive throughout Italy without using toll roads. Regular (non-toll) roads are often more scenic but take longer. Toll roads are usually the best option if you’re trying to get quickly from one place to the next.
If you just need a car for a Florence day trip, it may be cheaper and easier to take a group tour or to rent a car with a driver (NCC – noleggio con conducente). Hotels and tourist information centers can help arrange NCCs, or you can book online. Make sure your driver is officially licensed – the car will have a black NCC shield to the right of the license plate.
While Uber does operate in some cities in Italy, it’s not the same as you know it at home. Learn more about Uber in Italy.
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