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Do You Need To Rent A Car In Italy?

Do You Need To Rent A Car In Italy?

Hire, Lease, or go without?

Do you really need to rent or hire a car while you’re in Italy; do you really need the hassles and expense?

The dream is to touch-down in Malpensa, hop into a waiting car, and drive off to Como or the Alps, and stop wherever you want.

Like most people you probably only have two weeks away and don’t want to waste time. Nobody wants to be waiting around for buses and trains, dragging your luggage between stations, to and from your accommodation? You don’t want to know about waiting in line at short term luggage storage.

And for sure, if your plans include getting out into the countryside then without doubt having a car is the best solution. But what if you plan to enjoy the art, culture, history, food and convenience of the cities? Having to deal with a car quickly becomes a burden.

City centres have restricted traffic zones (ZTL), and very few free parking spaces (even paid parking can be difficult to find). With difficult to understand rules and impatient local drivers, your experience will be stressful, time consuming and expensive.

When you’re limited to two weeks I’d recommend you travel around on Italy’s efficient train system. Maybe rent a car only on the days you really want to get out of town. 

Of course there is an attractive leasing option in Western Europe, but it’s generally not available for less than 17 days.

Insurance For Rental Cars

Rental car insurance in Italy (as anywhere else) is something of a minefield. I recommend you do your due diligence and read up and understand what you’re signing up to (the fine print). 

Don’t rely on your travel insurance to bail you out if things come unstuck (you do have travel insurance – don’t you…). Especially if it’s automatic insurance offered by your credit card.

Of course you could choose to play the odds and opt out of additional insurance, but think long and hard before you do. How much experience do you have in Italian traffic, how fluent is your language if you need assistance?

I’ve found that even top level insurance doesn’t cover you for things such as broken mirrors, broken windows. Or under car damage – which, apart from some minor panel damage, is exactly what you need insurance for…

If you want to share the driving with someone else, you will also need to pay extra for each additional driver.


GPS is offered as a rental option in Italy, but any car you rent is likely to have it installed anyway. I suspect this option is a relic created by quickly advancing in-car technology.

Unless you rent the same brand of car that you own at home you may spend half of your time on the side of the road learning how to actually operate the system.

We found that Google maps was an excellent option that offers the latest features that GPS suppliers can only dream of keeping up with. As a bonus, you will have your travels mapped on Google timeline for future reference!

Further, you can practice using it while at home then land in Italy full of confidence that you will get to where you want to go.

And don’t worry about internet range, we went to some remote places and never lost connection for long.

Toll Roads in Italy

There are four basic types of roadways in Italy that you are likely to encounter:

  • Urban roads, town/residential streets, and unsealed roads. (generally 50 Km/H)
  • Secondary/trunk roads that basically direct you between minor roads and highways (90 Km/H)
  • Principle/main highways (sometimes run alongside motorways – 90 to 110 Km/H)
  • Motorways – where you collect a ticket where you enter and pay a toll where you exit (130 Km/H)

Toll roads are the quickest and simplest way to get between major towns and cities. Generally they are capable of carrying more traffic (often three lanes), are in better condition.

Fuel Types in Italy

There are two main types of fuel generally available at Italian service stations, Unleaded (benzina senza piombo) at 95 or 98 octane, and Diesel (gasolio).

Many service stations are manned on certain lanes, and unmanned on others (giving you the option to save a little cash by filling yourself).

Generally, regional stations will close for lunch and on Sundays, but usually there are options to machine-pay with cash or credit card.

Parking a rental car in Italy

When you rent a car in Italy finding somewhere to park it will be one of your biggest headaches, and probably more expensive than actual fuel usage!

Your chances of finding somewhere to park depends largely on the size of the town, and how much it depends on tourism.

Tourist dependent towns will provide paid parking, but will fill quickly during the summer. 

Smaller towns and villages (borghi) should have free parking not far from where you want to go. Cities on the other hand will be a struggle to find a vacant space. Here your best option will be a paid parking lot, which quickly becomes expensive, particularly if you’re not driving anywhere…

Driving Fines in Italy

If you receive a fine in Italy it will probably be served with some drama and an expectation to pay it on the spot! But on the bright side, you would be unfortunate to have this happen. Especially if it’s clear that you are unsure what the offence is – assuming you are caught red-handed!

You will most likely become aware that you have received a fine when you have returned your rental car. Or even worse, some time after you have arrived back home!

If you have driven through a ZTL area (restricted traffic zone), the offence may well be automatically recorded on camera.

If speeding, the offence was probably recorded on a variety of cameras which are generally located in known hotspots. There are boxes permanently situated on the side of the road, and cameras mounted onto autostrada signs and bridges. Less often, actual mobile speed cameras are operated by police.

Limited traffic zone signs

ZTL or Restricted Traffic Zones

Many cities and towns in Italy have restricted traffic zones to cut down on traffic congestion, and ease pollution in their centres.

Most Italian city centres were built well before the invention of the motor vehicle, and often evolved from times where even horses and carts were infrequent.

So thoroughfares can be meandering, narrow, and simply confusing. They also notoriously poorly signed leading unsuspecting tourists to collect fines they weren’t aware of.

Unless you are travelling through, it is almost always more convenient (and cheaper) to park outside of the centre and walk in. This will help preserve the history that is often the attraction of why you are there in the first place.

Driving in Italy

Okay, I’ve left the big one for last – and it is the big one. 

My experience is that every other Italian is a born get-away car driver. Don’t get me wrong, Italians are warm and accepting, but they can also be impatient. 

They will drive so close behind you at 130 Kph (80 Mph) that you can see their eyeballs in your rear vision mirror. Often they will frantically use their horn if you are a nanosecond late to react to a green traffic light (or stop when a traffic light has already turned red…). 

They can be pushy and intolerant, drive too fast and take too many risks. They may leave you wondering where and how you’re going to have the next episode.

But on the plus side – there is no rage. Once they have expressed themselves they have already moved-on. Italians are passionate, and driving is one of their greatest expressions of that.