Cars – leasing in Europe

Except for one trip in 2005, every time we have travelled to Europe we have leased or hired a car or cars.  We have found leasing a new car to be the best option for our style of travel in Europe.

TT Scheme – For decades a scheme called TT (temporary transit) has allowed the French automobile companies to lease brand new cars to non European residents.  They are “sold” to you as a non European resident at a tax-free price and then at the end of your lease are on-sold into the 2nd hand market as a low km near new car at an attractive price.  I have seen ex TT cars at French Citroen dealers that have done as little as 2,000km.  All our cars have all done somewhat more than that at the end of our journeys.

At the start of the journey you collect a brand new car that is registered and insured in your name.  You arrange and pay for it prior to your journey.  You need to allow lead time – you cannot arrange it “a few days before”.  Any (licensed) member of your travelling party can drive the car and be covered – check details.

You choose the brand and model from an available selection.  The only choice you do not get is colour.  The price you pay in $AUD is the price you pay – no hidden extras.  Things such as servicing etc are your cost – but we have never had a car for enough distance that it requires a service.  There is no minimum or maximum distance you must work within.  If you decided to lease a car and your entire journey was 1,000km or 10,000km no one would even blink.

This scheme is viable for journeys where you will require a vehicle for more than about 20 days and up to six months.  If you just want to arrive by plane or train to an area and be there for a short time before moving on, then hire cars are the best option.

We always arrange our cars through Michelle Slater at Eurodrive in Perth.  Everything is arranged by email – even the signing of contracts.  Simple.  Payment is in Aussie dollars and can be via direct payment or even credit card.  There are other companies that deal with this however our experiences (all good!) have been through Eurodrive.  Plus if you’re an Aussiefrogs member you get extra discounts.

Collection and return The car can be collected without additional cost from a wide variety of locations in France such as airports of major cities.  If you wish to collect in other major Euro cities this is possible with a modest fee.  The car can even be returned in other Euro cities.  For example we have collected a car in Rome and returned it in Paris.  Another we collected in Paris and returned in Frankfurt.  You need to decide your collection and return locations at the time of reservation, however with enough notice you can change your return location.  We changed plans in 2014 and decided to return the car at CDG and not Frankfurt.  I phoned the TT office a few days prior and advised them of this – that was fine.  However we were not entitled to a refund of the (outside France) drop off fee.   C’est la vie.

Where to? You can drive the car through all of Europe (and UK) with full insurance and roadside coverage.  In 2012 we had a Citroen C4 that, on day one, we drove from CDG to Calais and got on the ferry to Dover.  It was a bit of fun driving a LHD car through the UK for a few weeks before we went back across the channel to The Netherlands.

GPS – Nearly all the cars come with GPS fitted so you do not have to carry and store your own device.  You can check GPS status when booking a car.  At the time of collection the attendant will quickly convert the car’s system to your chosen language  – and this includes GPS – so you do not have to try to learn French while you whip down the autoroute.

Luggage Capacity – It is a good idea to check the actual luggage capacity of the car you choose in relation to the luggage you will have.  In 2010 we had a “moment” as the hot little DS3 was driven around from the holding lot and I realised that getting our two medium semi hard case bags in the boot would be a challenge.  We did it! (It’s a good idea to leave nothing on display in the car while you’re away from it – luggage etc visible in any car attracts undesirables and their nefarious ways) A handy way to check is to take your empty bags to a nearby dealer of the car brand and model you want to lease and check how the luggage fits in the boot.  Most dealers would allow you to do this – because you might like that model car so much in Europe you’ll come home and buy one!

Size Try to get the smallest car you can that will suit your needs.  It can be challenging getting a larger car/van around the tight streets in the centres of European cities, and you have the minor disadvantage that it will be a left hand drive car.

Engine and Gearbox selection We have always leased turbo-diesel engine cars as the fuel is generally cheaper in Europe and the power and economy is excellent.  Apparently the new turbo-petrol engines are very good too.  The engines are turbocharged for torque not top end power – so you’re not leasing a race car, just a low capacity petrol engine that really does get along.

You can get manual, automatic or in some cases EGS gearboxes.  These are a robotised manual gearbox that for all intents is like an automatic but apparently are a little more economical than a full on auto.  Europeans are quite opinionated about driving and many see automatics as not being a “real” driver’s car and old autos had a deserved reputation for being thirsty.  They are not these days, but the attitude affects the range of cars and gearbox types available under TT scheme.  We did have a hired manual Citroen Xsara Picasso in 2004 and a leased DS3 manual in 2010.  They went fine but driving a manual in heavy city traffic is quite wearing on your left leg.

Fuel purchases – try to NOT buy fuel on major routes (autobahns, autoroute, autostrade, motorways) as you WILL pay a premium price.  Often it’s better to schedule a lunch break at a town and take an exit.  Look for a major shopping centre which nearly always have a fuel station on site.  The fuel cost can be dramatically less than the last station you saw on the highway.

Cleaning These days it is a requirement that the car is returned in a tidy condition.  Outside road grime is OK but apparently some people return them without every cleaning the interior – I think a penalty charge is applied if you do this.

Parking – Of course you have to pay to park your vehicle when you’re in cities – but you’d have that if you had a hire car anyway.  Do your research about parking as some cities (eg Amsterdam) have park and ride schemes where you park at a multistorey above or below ground parking station on the outskirts of a city and get a tram back into town.  Usually the tram ride is included in your parking cost – but make sure you enter through the correct lane for these schemes – we nearly had to cough up €140 for three days parking in Amsterdam as we had unknowingly entered through an hourly rate lane a few days prior.  Fortunately the attendant was kind and adjusted our ticket down to €30ish.  Phew!

Tolls – one word – OUCH!  The tolls in some parts of Europe – especially France – can be nasty.  Sadly it often seems that you pay a premium to drive on an excellent road but the time you have saved is chewed up by having to queue to pay your toll.  We have seen some interesting vehicular altercations when drivers think they have more rights to push into a queue because they have the larger and/or more expensive car.

It’s frustrating too that while the French autoroutes do have “E-Tag” type gates it is not available to non Euro residents as apparently the system deducts from your bank account for each trip so unless you have a European bank account, it’s the dreaded cash lane for you.  Non European credit/debit cards also seem to be rejected – based on our experiences.

If you have the time in France, stick to the route nationales which go through or near towns.  You see much more – but it is slower but free.

Italy works similarly to France – queue and pay – only some of the arm gestures of other drivers are slightly more dramatic

Austria – you MUST buy a vignette (road tax) or, if you’re unlucky like we were in 2008, you will be stopped and fined.  You will be politely requested for your credit card for on the spot payment – OUCH!

Czech Republic runs a similar system to Austria.

Switzerland also has a vignette system that is strictly and expensively enforced.

Germany only has a road tax sticker requirement for trucks.

The UK and Netherlands do not have vignettes (as far as we have found).  The UK has some tolls on special roads such as the Birmingham bypass and the Dartford tunnel.  There is also the congestion tax in the centre of London.

DO YOUR research before you go and be prepared for tolls and vignettes.

Speeds – the limits are being more heavily enforced these days.  Many villages/towns in France have local speed cameras and speed advisory signs.  Unmarked speed cameras on highways and autoroutes are frequent.  It is illegal for GPS devices to warn you of such “safety” devices and you can be fined if found in possession or use of one.

We fortunately have never been fined.  If your vehicle is photographed breaking the speed limit it will be tracked to you via the TT office and you will likely be charged an additional amount for admin of the fine.

International Driver Licence (IDL)  The first couple of trips away we did get IDLs from NRMA at about $25 each.  It’s an old fashioned thing that is a “translation” of your Aussie driver licence.  This process dates back to paper licence days and Aussies all have plastic photo card licences now that are in an internationally recognised format.

The reaction the first times to IDLs were a shrug of the shoulder and a request for real licence and passport please.  No one cares (or seems to care) about IDLs.  We have hired or leased in New Zealand, France and the USA with no IDL related incidents.  The only time we have been stopped by authorities was in Austria in 2008 when we forgot to buy a vignette – the ID request was for driver licence and passport.

In short – don’t bother with an IDL.

Handy Links

Via Michelin is quite good as it will give you navigation information and include tolls where applicable and even help you estimate fuel costs.

Google Maps can be handy too.

The cars we have leased:

2008 Citroen C4 Exclusive HDi EGS hatch – collected near Rome and returned some weeks later in Paris  (it’s a good idea to make Paris the start or end of a lease as you don’t need a car in Paris and parking stations are eye watering expensive)

Picking up near Rome.

Note there are three silver C4.  Two of them had consecutive registration and VINs.  The third was built on the same day as the first two.  The Wyers and the Hills had the other two cars.

The cars, plus the Boyds’ leased C4 resting with an ancestor after a hard day at the ICCCR 2008.

Yes we did make good time on the Autobahns.  We found 145 was a comfortable speed.  Any faster and the car would get “light” as we pushed passed 90 km/h speed limited trucks in the right lane.  We only went to the left overtaking lane when we were confident of the move and there was not a large MB, Audi or BMW off in the distance behind us and approaching at speed.  (Wombie was our tour mascot)

2010 Citroen DS3 HDi Exclusive This was a fun car.  1.6 turbo diesel twin cam engine, six speed manual ‘box, sports suspension and seats.  We were “oggled” by others as the DS3 had only been out a couple of months and was very popular.  The car was heaps of fun through the Route Napoleon.  This was the car that was tight on luggage space.

2012 Citroen C4 HDi EGS Exclusive – a lovely car – well equipped and very comfortable but it did have a full glass (non opening) roof that made it quite warm inside even with the blind across – in summer in England.

2014 Citroen C4 Picasso HDi EGS We got a slightly larger vehicle this time as we knew for part of the trip we would be transporting other adults and luggage.  It drove like a normal car and the slightly added height made seeing the passing views and traffic a little easier.

Note the luggage space – these are our two Samsonite medium size lightweight cases.  Of course other luggage like our Samsonite carry on cases and our day backpaks fitted in here too.

Another handy feature of this car was its wide assortment of storage bins incuding the ability to carry two bottles of wine in each of the front door pockets.