Planning this last Italy trip was a whirlwind. It was a 2 week trip but with multiple locations in Italy (Rome and three Sicilian cities) there were a lot of moving pieces.
One of the big ones: Finding a rental car in Sicily.
Horror stories of price gouging, obscene lines at pick up locations, knowing what kind of insurance you need (and, as important, which you don’t), which car companies are complete scams, and more.
Who knew things could get so complicated!
I called myself being prepared. I researched the best car rental companies (avoid “Sicily – Auto Europa”, sometimes just “Auto Europa”, at all costs. Note the “a” in Europa). I brought along the voucher, planned the best path, and more. And yet, it still didn’t work out!
In Sicily the plan was to fly into Catania, pick up the rental and head to Taormina. From there we’d go down to Siracusa and lastly head to Palermo (well, the Palermo Airport. There was no way I was driving in Palermo, so we were going to drop the car and take a taxi into the city).
When at the Catania Airport, you’ll find the car rental agencies all the way to the right of the airport past the bus stops. It’s not very clear but basically head to the car rental billboards that you’ll see.
Auto Europe (NOT Auto Europa) was one of the most reputable vendors I found in Sicily and they contract out to Europcar. Both have good ratings and even though my plans fell through, I still think they are two of the best options.
The issue: the rental deposit.
Now granted, I don’t usually rent cars while traveling but when I do I usually have a hold of about $200. For Europcar in Sicily the deposit requested was 600 Euros! I had just paid for our Rome hotel and since I wasn’t expecting that a deposit to be anywhere near that high, I wasn’t prepared and didn’t have enough on me.
I called Auto Europe and talk with a rep there and there was nothing he could do. He noted that in various countries the deposit can be as much as the deductible for the car, which in our case was 1000 Euros.
In all the paperwork I had, including the voucher I did not see the deposit noted anywhere. Also, I had to cancel the rental while at the location and when you pay ahead of time the payment is non-refundable 72 hours from pickup. I had a hard time finding this too, but I finally tracked down the caveat to the “no cancellation fees” on the Auto Europe website. The rep was helpful here and refunded half of my rental fee which was better than nothing.
So before you make my mistake, here are some tips for booking a rental car in Sicily:
- Make sure to get an International Driver’s Permit (if needed). You can drop into a AAA office to get one before you travel
- Make sure you have appropriate insurance coverage (or see if you have a credit card that will cover you)
- Print out the voucher and bring it with you to your pickup location
- Read all of the emails that they send you. There may be some small nuggets of info that are easy to overlook
- Before you pickup CALL Auto Europe if there is any question regarding the deposit (or any other questions)
- Bring a Credit Card (not a Debit Card). This is usually true for rental agencies I’ve dealt with
- I recommend renting the smallest car you can while still being able to hold your luggage. The majority of roads we saw in the smaller cities were tiny and parking was at a premium. Navigating will be easier with a small vehicle
- Check for any road outages, detours, etc before you leave. A week or two before our trip I had heard that the A19 in Sicily was shut down on part of the route we’d have taken. Luckily I knew this before hand and had mapped out an alternative
All in all, the debacle with the rental car worked out to our advantage. The streets in Taormina were steep, narrow and crowded. Even the hotel recommended not driving while there. We were able to catch a comfy Interbus strait from the Catania Airport to Taormina and the price was about 8 Euros a piece. This was SO much better than driving! We were actually able to get to all of our cities using either the Interbus or the commuter train so it worked out perfectly for us. Plus there was no driving road rage!
What are some of your rental car tips while traveling?