Driving in Europe

Most backpackers don’t have the funds to stretch to car hire but perhaps you are planning a cross Europe road trip or just want to spend a few days driving into less accessible areas of a country you might find yourself wanting to hire a car. This page gives some general advice and some advice specific to either Americans or Europeans.

For Americans

Here in Europe we drive manual transmission almost exclusively. You will find hiring an automatic transmission more expensive and not available in some smaller locations. That means you need to find a manual transmission car before you leave and practice with that clutch!

Be far more alert, driving is much more aggressive and much faster throughout Europe and you will undoubtedly find yourself cut-up, tail gated and generally hassled by the more aggressive drivers. In addition most countries in Europe predominantly use junctions which are not governed by traffic lights and roundabouts are very common, it can take a bit of practice to get used to entering busy traffic.

Check out the driving regulations in a country before you visit. Many countries have different laws on rights of way and so need particular care when driving.

You will require an International Drivers Permit as well as your normal driving licence to drive in Europe. These passport like documents are available from sources such as the AA, the RAC and Green Flag and are normally inexpensive.

For Europeans

You shouldn’t have too many problems driving in Europe, the only major difference between countries is that in the UK we drive on the left. This takes a little getting used to (I can’t vouch for a European coming to UK but going from UK to Europe does take a bit of getting used to at first!) but around the major ferry ports things are very clearly signposted to get you on the right track.

If you hold a passport valid in the EU you will be able to drive without an international driving permit. You will need both the photo card and the paper part of your licence with you.

General Tips

If you are taking your own car you will need to attach a sign signifying the cars country of origin on the back of the car. Many countries now incorporate this into vehicles licence plates. Many countries require you to carry a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a warning triangle, headlight beam converters (where appropriate) and spare light bulbs. If you are hiring a car you should ensure that your supplier has provided you with all of these items.

If you are taking your own vehicle you must carry your vehicles registration document. Many countries require that you carry the original not a photocopy. If you are using a hire car the company must provide you with a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103B) which you must keep with you while you are driving the vehicle.

It is important that you obtain proper insurance for driving abroad, on your own car your insurance provider should be able to provide an extension to your existing policy. Most hire companies now provide insurance when you hire the vehicle but if you are not using one of the more well known suppliers then make sure you check what insurance you need, and what they provide.

Car Hire Tips

When hiring a car always examine it carefully for damage, some unscrupulous providers will try to charge you for damage that you did not cause to the car. Many of the larger companies actually have a form that an agent will fill in for you as you both walk around the car and examine it for damage.

Always return your car with a full tank of petrol (gas), hire companies charge you for petrol that you use at a much higher rate than local petrol station so you can save some money by making sure the tank is topped up (or filled to the level it was when you got the hire car).

  • Car Hire Centre, online car hire service
  • Compare breakdown cover PetrolPrices.com have compared all the UK and European breakdown cover policies to help you find the best deal for your trip. Compare different levels of cover, form roadside assistance to more comprehensive onward travel costs and repatriation back to the UK, from Europe.
  • The RAC, a UK breakdown and insurance cover, offers everything you need when travelling abroad.
  • The AA, another UK breakdown and insurance cover, offers everything you need when travelling abroad.
  • Ride the World for motorcyclists who want to rent or tour Europe.