How to rent a car in Italy

Italy has a great network of rail routes, and a decent bus infrastructure too, but with such a mountainous geography and such beautiful landscapes, it's often best to hire a car to truly explore the areas in detail. Most of the villas we rent in Italy require a car to reach them, though we do have some Villas you can reach without a car

The cheapest place to pick up your hire car is normally the closest airport, as they have so much footfall. It can even make sense to travel to an airport to pick up a car when you've arrived in the country by train, as you'll get a better deal.

You will often be offered car hire deals when buying your flights, or we are happy to help through our brokers. We check the prices of all the suppliers that fit your requirements, but also then select which suppliers we know and trust, based on our experience and on user reviews.

An Alfa-Romeo gathering in Colle Val D'Elsa

What do I need to hire a car in Italy?

When you arrive at the counter to pick up your car make sure you have the following documents:

  • Your ID - usually your passport
  • A Credit Card (not a debit card, it must be a recognised credit card)
  • Your driver's licence
  • An International Driver's Permit if you're not an EU or UK resident.
  • Your car hire voucher, though they can often find your details without this.

For more information on when you need to get an IDP have a look at our article: Do I need an International driver's permit to drive in Italy.

What happens when I pick my hire car up in Italy?

The person behind the counter will ask for your passport, driver's licence, credit card and IDP (if necessary). They will then normally ask you if you'd like to pay extra for CDW or SCDW.

Depending on whether you're taking CDW or SCDW they will pre-charge your credit card with the amount you will be liable for in the case of damage or theft of the car. Then you'll be asked to sign the agreement and will be given copies of the rental agreement, the keys, and be told where the car is parked.

When you reach the car there will normally be a second person waiting for you who will inspect the car with you, and ask you to sign to confirm the condition of the car. Check the car carefully, perhaps even take some photos of your own, then you can load your luggage, get in and hit the road!

Alfa Romeo Spider

What is CDW? And SCDW?

CDW stands for "Collision Damage Waiver" while SCDW just adds "Super" to the CDW. When you hire a car you agree to pay the first part of any damages the car might incur while in your possession; a Collision Damage Waiver reduces your liability, while a Super Collision Damage Waiver can reduce your liabilities down to zero. On an average car hire rental contract in Italy your standard liabilities will be quite high, between €800 and €2000 on average, so reducing them is quite attractive, but the prices for CDW or SCDW can be quite steep, sometimes being equivalent to the original car hire cost.

Should I pay for CDW or SCDW?

There are three options open to you:

a. If you're nervous about driving in Italy then perhaps it's a good idea to lower your financial risk by paying for CDW or SCDW.

b. If you're a confident driver you can just say no to the person at the counter. I did this for about 20 years and never damaged a car, but it can feel slightly nerve-wracking.

c. The alternative is to take out an excess insurance, which often works out cheaper. It's what I do now, and I use Questor Insurance (no affiliate link or commission from them, just like them), while in the USA I know people have used WorldWideInsure but I have no reports on their service. If you do take out excess insurance, the car hire company will still pre-charge the liability onto your credit card, and if any charges are made you will have to pay them first, and recoup them from the insurance company later.

If your credit card has a low limit the car hire charges can put a dent in you're ability to pay for other items during your holiday, so it might be best to go for option A or option B.

What do the letters like CDMR mean?

When you hire a car your booking will have a SIPP code, a sequence of four letters like "CDMR". This is an industry-wide way to determine what kind of car you've hired. While the car hire companies often list their cars showing a make and model of car, you're not guaranteed to get exactly that car - but you will get a car that matches the same SIPP code.

SIPP code tables

Size of vehicle Doors Transmission & drive Fuel & A/C
M = Mini B = 2/3 door M = Manual drive N = Unspecified fuel, no A/C
N = Mini Elite C = 2/4 door N = Manual, 4WD R = Unspecified fuel, A/C
E = Economy D = 4/5door C = Manual, AWD D = Diesel, A/C
H = Economy Elite W = Wagon / Estate A = Auto drive Q = Diesel, no A/C
C = Compact V = Passenger Van B = Auto, 4WD H = Hybrid, A/C
D = Compact Elite L = Limousine D = Auto, AWD I = Hybrid, no A/C
I = Intermediate S = Sport E = Electric, A/C
J = Intermediate Elite T = Convertible C = Electric, no A/C
S = Standard F = SUV L = LPG/Gas, A/C
R = Standard Elite J = Open Air All Terrain S = LPG/Gas, no A/C
F = Fullsize X = Special A = Hydrogen, A/C
G = Fullsize Elite P = Pickup Regular Cab B = Hydrogen, no A/C
P = Premium Q = Pickup Extended Cab M = Multi fuel, A/C
U = Premium Elite Z = Special Offer Car F = Multi fuel, no A/C
L = Luxury E = Coupe V = Petrol, A/C
W = Luxury Elite M = Monospace Z = Petrol, no A/C
O = Oversize R = Recreational U = Ethanol, A/C
X = Special H = Motor Home X = Ethanol, no A/C
Y = 2 Wheel Vehicle
N = Roadster
G = Crossover
K = Commercial Van / Truck

How to check the car on pickup

When you collect your car it's a good idea to walk around and check for any damage. Make sure any dents, scratches or marks are noted on the sheet the car hire company have provided.

It's a good idea to do the same when you return the car, so you don't get charged for any damage that might have happened after you took the car back.

Fiat Cinquecento
A hand-decorated Fiat Cinquecento in Sicily