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DRIVING

Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

Planning a leisurely summer break in Italy but baulk at the cost of booking a rental car for more than a couple of weeks? This guide's for you.

Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees.
Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees. Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

Question: I am planning on spending around two months in Italy this summer, and I am wondering what my best options are regarding hiring a car. Standard car hire daily rates would be cost prohibitive, so I’m wondering whether something like short term car leasing would be an option?

If you’re going to Italy on holiday and want to expand your horizons beyond Rome, Venice and Florence, rental cars can be an easy and convenient way to get around.

But if you’re planning on devoting your whole summer to exploring Italy, renting a vehicle for the duration of your stay can indeed quickly become expensive – and constant worrying about small scratches and scrapes can suck the joy out of the experience.

Here are a few alternatives if you want to maximise your time in the country while avoiding paying a small fortune in car rental fees.

Car buy-back lease schemes

A car buy-back lease programme is one in which you technically (but don’t really) ‘buy’ a car with the guarantee that a rental company will buy it back from you when you’ve finished using it.

The programme is most widespread in France (as it’s French car manufacturers who offer the service through a French government tourism incentive scheme), but it’s also available in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.

The advantages of this set-up are that you get a brand new car (usually with built-in GPS at no extra cost), you don’t have to pay VAT, you get zero-deductible insurance as part of the package, and you can add additional drivers free of charge – all of which can amount to some significant savings, especially if you’re staying for more than a few weeks.

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get an Italian residence permit?

You can also freely travel to eastern European countries like Hungary, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina on a leased car, an option that isn’t normally available with rental companies without a hefty surcharge.

To take advantage of the scheme, you need to reside outside the European Union and be at least 18 years old. You can lease a car for anywhere between 21 days and five and a half months.

The three main companies that offer the service in Italy are represented by Auto Europe. You can book online through their website at the links below for:

You will need to pick the car up and drop it off in either Milan or Rome, as these are the only two locations available in Italy.

Bear in mind that as a leased car is manufactured from scratch, you will need to make your order several weeks in advance.

Combine train travel with occasional short-term rental

Italy’s public transport services can be patchy depending on whereabouts in the country you are, but its long-distance fast trains are typically frequent and reliable.

If you’re planning a multi-week holiday that will incorporate a mix of city-based and countryside/ mountain/ coastal stays, consider using trains to get from one region to the next, and renting a car for a few days at a time only when it’s really necessary. 

For getting around the Amalfi coast, the Dolomites, or parts of the South, for example, you’ll probably want a car to give you total autonomy and access to more remote locations.

But if you’re moving between these places and better-connected urban areas up north, you likely won’t need a car for a good portion of your trip.

READ ALSO: 23 famous quotes to inspire you to travel to Italy

Driving along a road in Grimaldi in Calabria, southern Italy. Photo by Chris Holgersson on Unsplash

Most Italian cities have decent enough public transport networks as far as tourists are concerned, but if you prefer to get everywhere by car, car-sharing apps which allow you to rent for very short journeys at the touch of a button are available in the majority of Italy’s urban centres.

Ride sharing

This is a slightly more labour-intensive but very budget-friendly option best suited to small groups of people travelling without children (as it involves car pooling with another person/people who are unlikely to have space in their car for an entire family).

Websites like BlaBlaCar allow you to book a lift with someone who happens to be driving to your destination at the same time as you for a very small fee, as well as suggesting cheap coach and public transport alternatives.

READ ALSO: Seven crowd-free alternatives to Italy’s tourist hotspots

The disadvantage, of course, is that you may not be able to find someone who wants to take your exact route on your desired day and time, so you have to be flexible and willing to make up your plans on the fly.

You’ll also be thrown into the company of a stranger for a few hours, which you might see as either a benefit or a drawback depending on the kind of person you are.

If you’re a spontaneous extrovert and time is on your side, however, this is a very cost-effective and illuminating way to see the country, and you’re bound to get insights you wouldn’t otherwise have access to through conversations on the long car drives with locals.

Member comments

  1. Lease a Peugeot from Auto France. Worth the extra delivery charge, or fly into Geneva and pick it up on the French side. One month comes out to about 37 euros a day for a great car.

  2. This is of interest to us because we plan on spending weeks to months in northern Italy and need a car. Does anyone have a recommendation on which car companies to use, approx costs, tips , suggestions? Would appreciate any info on long term car rentals. Grazie

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DRIVING

Driving in Italy: What is a ‘Telepass’ and how do you use it?

If you drive in Italy, you'll likely see large yellow 'Telepass' signs on motorways and at car parks. Here's everything you need to know about using the transport pass.

Driving in Italy: What is a 'Telepass' and how do you use it?

Getting around Italy by car might not be the most sustainable mode of transport, but for those hard-to-reach places and medieval hilltop villages, a private set of wheels is sometimes a necessity.

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

Plus, if you’re a resident in a remote location, public transport may be sparse or even non-existent.

Whatever your reason for driving around Italy, you’ll likely spot the so-called ‘Telepass’ scheme at motorway toll points and in car parks.

It can be a handy, faster and cheaper way to use Italy’s roads and parking spaces – and it’s expanded to cover more travel services like taxis and trains too.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the system, whether you’re a visitor or a resident.

What is a Telepass?

Italy’s motorways are a network of toll roads. How much you pay depends on how much of the motorway you use, calculated by where you enter and exit.

You can take a ticket and pay when you exit the motorway, or you can use a Telepass.

The Telepass is best known as a device that you stick in your car or on your motorbike, which lets you pass through motorway tolls without queuing or the need to stop and pay with cash or card.

If you have a Telepass, you can drive to dedicated lanes where the sign is displayed and you’ll see yellow lines and sometimes a yellow ‘T’ on the road. You can drive right through once you hear the beep on the device.

The Telepass allows quick entry and exit of motorways. (Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP)

That sound means your entry or exit has been registered and the barrier will lift allowing you to pass through.

You pay a monthly subscription for the device, starting from around €1 per month – although some plans offer the first six months for free, while the charges you incur while driving will be added to that fee.

Once you sign up, the Telepass will be sent out to your home address.

If you don’t want to pay monthly, for example if you’re just visiting Italy, there is a pay-as-you-go option too with a one-off activation charge of €10.

There is also an accompanying app which lets you see the charges and track your expenses.

For more details on the pass and the app in English, see here.

Where can you use a Telepass?

Aside from the motorway function, you can also use the Telepass for various other driving services, such as car parks, accessing ferries and paying congestion fees like Milan’s ‘Area C’ traffic restricted area.

In car parks and on some street parking, you may see the Telepass function displayed in its usual blue and yellow signage.

If you see this sign, it means you can go towards the barrier, you’ll hear the beep and you can enter the car park. On exiting, the exact time you’ve spent there will be calculated and charged.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How do you dispute a parking ticket in Italy?

A motorway toll showing cash, card and Telepass lanes. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

You may also see them at airports when you go to drop off or pick up passengers – and again, in some of their car parks too.

The same system applies, where your time will be automatically calculated and you can enter and exit without a ticket or paying at a machine.

The system has widened its services to cover a raft of transport options, such as paying for train tickets and taxis, paying for fuel, paying your car tax, booking scooters to get around cities and bike sharing.

Telepass also offers scooter sharing services with the app. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

For a full list of their services in English, see here.

There is also a European version of the Telepass which can be used similarly in France, Spain and Portugal. There are plans to expand its use to additional European countries in future.

“The Europe device gives you access to the Autostrada in Europa service so you will be able to travel freely by car or motorcycle without barriers or borders,” the official website says.

You can sign up for this service for a €6 activation fee, with usage charged monthly. Find more details about it here.

Are there any alternatives to the Telepass?

The Telepass system has enjoyed its monopoly within Italy for more than 30 years, but just a few weeks ago a rival competitor launched a similar product – Unipol’s ‘UnipolMove’.

It replicates the Telepass function by means of a device – again, a type of small box that you put in your car or on a motorbike.

The UnipolMove allows automatic payment of motorway tolls through dedicated lanes and an ID system that communicates with the barrier, just like the Telepass.

Paying for the device and charges are currently restricted to Italian IBAN numbers though, so the Telepass currently has wider appeal for international drivers.

READ ALSO: How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

Unipol’s packages aren’t yet as diverse as those of the Telepass, as you may expect. Due to its recent launch, there is only one type of contract for the UnipolMove, whereas Telepass offers various packages.

The monthly fee is competitive at €1 per month, but at the moment it’s free for the first 6 months.

This new product also offers other services aside from motorway tolls, such as car parking and congestion charge functions.

For more details on the new UnipolMove, currently only in Italian, see here.

For more information on driving around Italy, visit our travel section for the latest updates.

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